#ArtThursdays: Artist Spötlight - Aida Wilde 🎨⚡
We are finally back with another Artist Spötlight! 🎨⚡ This time we went directly to the amazing Aida Wilde at her studio in Hackney Wick. We viewed pieces of her art, heard a little bit about her story and art journey, welcoming us to have a deeper look into who she is and what inspires her to keep doing what she's passionate about.
Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Aida Wilde, a printmaker, predominantly working in screen printing. I've been screen-printing for probably 28 years now, since quite a young age. I also have two different practices. I have a social commentary side where I work predominantly and the works about education, equality, gentrification, displacement and that's the more graphic side of what I do.
And my other side is what you see here in my studio. It’s a lot more Fine Art of paper editions and studio-based work.
Tell us a bit about your heritage:
I was born in Iran. I’ve got two sisters and my father was in government, when I was only two, there's a picture of him there. Probably one of the last pictures of him. Due to the change of government in Iran, because there was a revolution in 1979, he was shortly killed by the government. So, after that a few years later, the Iran / Iraq war started and we were there, it's quite turbulent and my mum did a really brave thing actually. We had a little bit of money saved and she took us out of there and we came to England when I was about 10 years old to seek asylum. I’ve been here ever since.
What was your introduction into the art world like and how did you get into the industry?
I was really interested in art when I was growing up and I was very studious. Not having known the language when I came here at 10 and by the time I got my GCSE’s - I got two C’s in English and Literature and that was within five years. I worked really, really hard because I liked art. I took it as a subject for A-Levels. I wasn’t very good but I had ideas and I had real passion.
You know, it wasn't the strongest subject I was in and after finishing my A-Levels, I went to do a foundation course where I found my feet and I think that's the best introduction to getting into the art world.
What University did you go to?
It was called London College of Printing but now it's called London College of Communications. I actually graduated from the London College of Printing, you know, back in the day there were so many courses there about print and publishing.
Okay, so we've had a look at your work here at your studio, so we wanted to know what is the type of message that you are trying to put across into the world?
I’m making a book based on these notes that are scattered around the studio. In about 2015, when Hackney Wick, this is where I'm based, was being really heavily bulldozed and gentrified to the max, loads of artists were getting kicked out. So, I was working on really beautiful prints at my studio on things like vases and flowers, and I had this angst.
I started grabbing paper as I’m mid-flow, writing little angry rants, so they started developing naturally, so they were just like passing thoughts. Some might be about my relationship. Some might be about men, some might be about political views.
And that one specifically, I think that I did that very recently last year, it was about gender equality because of how hard, and I speak about this quite often, how hard we are. So visible is like, you know, if you're a woman, if you come from a minority group or anything like that, you have to try three, four times harder. It's just having that, you know it opens doors. It's true.
Where do you think all the anger and all the rage that you put into your work stems from?
The kind of work that I've been making in the last few years, especially about displacement, being a refugee and addressing that because I blocked it out for a number of years. I figured it comes from the unlawful killing of my father, of having to flee a beloved country. Iran is beautiful, so much culture, so much food and heritage.
Not to mention, having to leave all your family and come here with just your sisters and your mother. In a country that doesn't care. You know, a place that’s ready to bulldoze everything good that’s impacting our whole society and creativity. Just not even protecting it and bulldozing it, of course I’m angry!
What is it like being a woman in the art industry?
I was sent an article that Tracey Emin wrote in The Independent that asked her to make a comment on International Women's Day. Reading that piece was just so harrowing, especially with what she's gone through with cancer.
You’d think a woman and female artist that is so on top of her game, right? I mean, world renowned, even what she had to say about the struggles, even her own internal pain, it just encompasses everything because no matter how far we think we get, I do project after project and I think that's what keeps me going. It's never enough. I'm sure you understand that already. It’s just never enough.
What is the biggest accomplishment that you’ve achieved so far?
It was when I used to have a shop in Brick Lane. I started off in fashion and I used to do streetwear hoodies. I started in the markets around 2003 or 2004 and built my business up. Managed to get a really beautiful shop, I don't know how! I saved loads of money and I had to close that because of the credit crunch that happened during the stock market crash in 2008. And I'd made this piece called “There's a credit crunch, not a creative crunch”, it was on wallpapers and I was pasting out in the street and the remnants I was doing at this market stall for a Christmas fair. This woman comes up to me, she buys the poster for 15 quid. It was printed lining paper from B&Q, it cost me £3 in total. After she bought it, she wanted it wrapped really carefully. I was thinking “What the hell is this?”, then she gave me a card - she was from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
This is in 2009, she's like, “Oh I'm collecting work. It's about activism and this piece might be in a show. We’ll be in touch.” Alright. Fast forward a few years. I think it was 2014 or 13. I got a tweet from a student who was in the V&A Museum. I was in college actually, I was teaching and she tweeted “Great to be standing by your work in the Victorian & Albert Museum, Aida”
What? I was like, what’s my work doing in the Victoria & Albert Museum? That's strange and I saw the picture. For me that was it, just the whole thing about, number one being a woman and two being a living female artist because, you know what, the way I was educated in England was that you've got to be dead to be in a museum or you've got to be dead to be successful and I was in my early 30’s and I’ve done it!
Who would’ve thought, this refugee girl who didn’t come from a lot but she made it! That changed my life because the show was touring. It toured to four or five different museums across the country. Then because I had signed some waiver, imagine they had all these political posters from way back, my poster was just being used to promote the shows around the country and that was it. It was probably one of the most empowering things I've ever done actually.
How would you describe your artistic style and your aesthetic?
My aesthetic is MAXIMALISM!!! To the max!
At uni, people always used to say “Aida this is too much!” I was obsessed with Versace at the time, and Gianni Versace before he was killed. They were smashing it as well as Dolce & Gabbana. Because I was doing fabric and fashion, I was fighting it. I was trying to design very minimalist stuff and it just didn't work and I thought, Aida, you know what you've got to embrace this, go all out. And I did, pushed it and I've just refined it.
I think my work is bold, it’s to the point, you know my studio or street work or commentary work. They're all just really in your face, not over designed or anything but just right.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
I don't think feminism is all about the equality of just being a woman. Feminism is just believing in equality of everything on a human level, right?
And feminism to me, what it means is that, let's say we're all in a room, right? And we're doing the same project, we're all on the same team. As long as everyone, all of us, are getting the same treatment, getting the same space. Same amount of money. That is my feminism. To be treated equally. Within a job, within whatever we are doing.
There's been so many instances where I've gone somewhere, we've all got the same opportunity, but I’ve got the smaller space or I'm not getting money for production…I'm having to pay. I’m like, “What the hell is this? We’re doing the same thing.” That's what my feminism is. It's every day, feminism.
Have you always had a big political view on certain things? Have you always been interested in politics?
No, I haven't. In my early 20s, even after I finished college, I was never politically inclined. But looking back at some of the stuff I'd made, I realised it was coming out. And I think the more that I progressed in my career, the more barriers that were placed upon me, mostly by people actually because it didn’t matter how hard I tried, that started getting me going and as I mentioned earlier, around 2009 because I worked so hard to get my shop, I can't even tell you, I had three jobs and saved so much. I was doing the markets in the cold, whatever, just saving. Having that taken away from me, and I had no investment, I had no family money. I had nothing, right. So, I had to close. The displacement came about around 2008 and it just triggered this whole domino effect of coming to this country and the same thing happening and I never realised how much leaving Iran affected me.
Have you ever received any hate or backlash from the work you have produced? And how do you overcome that?
I know so many talented people that have got this fear set in them. That they’d rather not do what they want to do or set out to do, in the fear of getting criticised. When I started doing the clothing and just being out there, I think I prepared myself. You become more resilient as the time goes, but it's part and parcel of what we do.
Every time I do a release, although everyone goes “Oh, you smashed it”, “Oh it's great”, I'm so nervous releasing it to the world. And, you know, I have been trolled online. But what I've done, I'm so lucky with my Instagram. I don't have many followers. If you compare me to my friends who are artists, I don't have as many followers as them, but that's just because I've always spoken the truth. And the people that follow me know this- that's why they are there. I haven’t attracted anyone a bit prissy saying “Oh my god. She's swearing again!”
So that online community is really, really supportive because they understand it. I've always spoken my truth. Sometimes we have a debate. I think you can set your own agenda but there is no point in holding yourself back with fear or else you are never going to do anything.
Have you always been quite outspoken?
I was very quiet as a child, very silent. I think that was the trauma in my mum’s belly, if we are going to go spiritual with this. There was so much going on when she was pregnant with me and my little sister. But I will tell you this, I was a course rep at college. Causing and unleashing havoc so yeah, I was quite outspoken!
What are your main sources of inspiration?
I think watching people, being out and about, that's always an inspiration. I am an observer, I love eavesdropping. A lot of the slogan posters that I rehash and re-jingle are little words that I've heard people say or comments on the street.
At college, or when you are creative anyway, they always tell you to look at trends, who learns to rehash a style or a trend, Right? Everything's been done.
You're setting your own trend. I just withdrew in. Stopped looking at magazines and reading a lot of crappy newspapers or whatever. I started observing people and having conversations. People inspire me all the time, you guys here today have inspired me so much.
How did the pandemic affect your creative process?
This is a long story! I was asked by The Other Art Fair, I've done two projects with them. First one was, oh my god, a dream - 2017, they gave me this huge room, a featured project where I recreated my studio there. Five days, because at the time I started my other passion project which was Sisters In Print. So, I started Print Is Power in 2013 where I've got a mobile print setup. I was taking screen printing out to the masses, out to the streets, out to wherever and people were making posters with me about their commentary. Sisters In Print came after that and that's what The Other Art Fair wanted. So I did that with them. It was great, it was all female show with the Sisters In Print. We did workshops all week.
So they reinvited me to do another featured project where I was curating. This came from one of my notes, my rants on Instagram, where I said, “Oh, I think I’m going to curate a show with all women and one man”. Just because of the gender balance. Even today, you see line-ups for shows and it's like two women and 30 guys. They loved the idea.
It was called “2020, A Brief Survey”, and I decided to collaborate with my friend from college that I was telling you about that I met when I was 18, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski.
Imagine we got 39 women, because it was going to be 2020, so we decided to do 39 women and one man. This show was global, so we invited people from America, Australia, Italy, huge. We were all set. One week before the opening. We're in lockdown. Jess, who was the fair manager at the time. She rang me in the morning, being very emotional down the phone with the cancellation.
The logistics was mad, but by the way, let me backtrack. We did do the show in 2021. But the twist was, which I've never revealed, so this is a scoop, Ego at the time thought “Oh, we can't tell people”. We made up a fake male artist because we didn't want the attention drawn to a real one. So we invented this whole character, a bio and everything because when we were doing the press release, there was no mention of a man in the show.
But then, at the same time, another project came through as that fell apart, I was asked to do a big project with Schoeni Projects X Hong Kong Walls called disCONNECT.
It was an international cross collaboration show and they had delays with it initially and I couldn't do it because of the fair but because they were delayed and the fair got cancelled, I worked all through the pandemic here at my studio for it and it was bloody great! The show opened in July 2020, in a big house in Clapham and then it travelled to Hong Kong. It was an amazing year, actually.
What advice would you give to your younger self while working in the creative industry?
I would have said, looking at the pictures that I mentioned I pulled out yesterday, I should have stayed in Ibiza and just danced my way without a care in the world…
In honesty, what I would say is that when you're young, no one truly nurtures you. I believe, anyway, yeah, your family does to a certain extent but let's say the education system or you go to work. You are on your own and I don't know if this is a thing about being in the UK. No one tells you how beautiful you are. No one tells you how talented you are. No one tells you that you could do whatever you want. Work hard, just keep going, you're gonna be there. I think if someone had just said that to me.
Because, you know, give it to my mum. My mum already had so much to deal with, with us here. She couldn't always do that and my teachers certainly didn't but I got my revenge because I actually went back to LCC and I taught with my teachers for 14 years, so that was great. I think it's just reminding yourself when you're that age that you can do it, it doesn't matter.
And would you still give that same advice to us here today?
Yes I would. I would say shut anyone down that’s going to be negative to you. Shut anyone down that’s bringing toxicity or anything that’s not nurturing you. Same if it’s not benefiting you or you’re not benefiting each other. It's just self-care and just believing in what you're doing. Don't even think about where you're going to end up. You never know. If you have an agenda, I will tell you, down the line, it will become so transparent and it can work against you. Everything you do, it's got to be spot on. Every single little project and every task.
So we entered 2023, what are the plans for the rest of the year?
Well yesterday, I just did a really big International Women's Day project with UNCLE. It was about the recent uprising and murders in Iran, which I'm so proud of because I managed to highlight a lot of the women’s names that have been brutally killed since September 2022 until the end of December- that went to Bristol, Manchester and London.
And to be honest, I was lying in bed last night and I thought, you know what? Comparing it back to the V&A thing, I thought this has come full circle for me just to try and get a little bit of justice for the women and for the world to know what's happened. Because currently, right now, the girls are being gassed in their schools- They are emitting really toxic gases at schools and girls are dying or vomiting or going to hospital. So, we did that yesterday and if that's all I'm doing this year, I'm happy.
I've been asked to be in a museum show in Rockford, in the USA, in the summer and I think I'm going to be in another museum show that is a travelling one. I was in one last year with the Fitzwilliam Museum and I think that's going to Toronto in springtime or maybe later. I'm happy. I'm just working on my prints that are going wrong! Ha ha ha
What would you like your legacy to be?
Would you get me that brown box? I think there might be one in there…
“I hope the legacy that you leave behind is more than how perfect your hair, pout, eyebrows, makeup, body or clothes were”
That's legacy. I did that in 2017. I was raging about this guy I liked. He started dating this girl. We’ve all been there? I'm sure all of us have been there in some way. Yeah, that was it and I wrote that. There's nothing wrong with that, right? This is the society that we're living in. We have to be on show. Everybody is on show. But as well as that, I think, if I die and people remember how I made them feel when they were with me. I'll be happy. Yeah, and my work will live on, it's already in a few museum collections and stuff and people will preserve it. This video might exist in 2050 when the world's burning up!
What are your thoughts about the #StookiMovement?
Behind every movement, I think it’s the people. And if I'm honest, I only met Nadia last December. Maybe it's just a little bit me, but I think we connected pretty much straight away. We've got a lot of commonalities and crossovers with our lives. Sometimes you meet your tribe and I think the Stööki Movement is my tribe and meeting you guys today. It's a family thing, and I think behind anything anyone does is, it's always the people.
Sometimes you keep going to a restaurant that’s the same restaurant all the time. You keep going to the same bar, you don't know why? It's just how Nadia makes me feel really empowered and I don't know, does that make sense? Plus, so talented and doing so many great things. It's very rare for other artists or creatives to have a platform like this to highlight other people's work.
For me, the way I do it is, if I'm curating a show or if I go to a friend's show, I'm always trying to promote my tribe. A lot of creatives just keep themselves to themselves but it is good to be quite open and also help other businesses by just supporting each other.
I think it's just fear. They don't realise that the more collaborations and the more conversations they have, the bigger the opportunities are going to be!
Where can we find more of your work?
Well, I'm not on TikTok! I know where I like my work to be. I'd like it to be in more institutions.
Just because I like it to be looked at. I’ve got an Instagram - Print Is Power. You can try and find it or @Aida_Wilde and my website but hopefully just shows, galleries and the streets!