A summer of creativity at People’s History Museum
The Manchester Argonaut is the incredible vision of internationally acclaimed artist Jason Wilsher-Mills. With its intricate patterns, bright colours, and fantastical accessories the messages that this larger than life character carries are as impactful as the visual experience it generates. Manchester music and stories are hugely important, with particular focus on the songwriting of Ian Curtis (Joy Division) and work he has done to support disabled people. You’ll also spot things like the Manchester crest, bees and ships as historical references. It’s a fun piece, but with a very serious message about the activism and rights of disabled people.
Artist Jason Wilsher-Mills explains, “The Manchester Argonaut is a positive and authentic depiction of activism and the rights of disabled people, which are sometimes overlooked by those who see the cost of everything, but the value of nothing, including human lives. It is very fitting that it will first go on display at People’s History Museum as a place of activism and as part of its Nothing About Us Without Us programme of activity.”
Until it Looks Like This will be a multimedia experience featuring ceramics, illustration, print, photography, digital art, textiles and an installation. There will be the work of 12 artists to enjoy, all of whom are part of Venture Arts; a charity that supports learning disabled and neurodivergent artists to play an active role in the cultural sector.
Some of George Parker-Conway’s work is inspired by history and politics, so his work, which includes a drawing of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, will feel very at home at People’s History Museum. And making a direct connection to PHM’s new programme there is a portrait of Lord Alf Morris (1928 – 20212), who served as an MP in Wythenshawe and was a key campaigner for disabled people’s rights – introducing landmark legislation.
Justin Lees is really making a mark with his installation, where he intends to distort real life domestic settings with his own animation and illustration, forming a curious space in between the real and unreal. Justin often depicts himself in cartoons and comic strips, in this installation a life size Justin will be present too. Children in Need, Manchester City Council and Bounceback Food, a charity fighting food poverty, are just some of the organisations he has worked with.
Sally Hirst takes inspiration from everything and everyone in her life for the textile pieces that she creates. The ‘Sensory Quilt’ that appears in the exhibition was created for a visually impaired baby that her parents, who are foster carers, were looking after.
Dominic Bennett is from Manchester, however his work has travelled as far as New York. He works across photography, textiles and ceramics and will be showing a selection of images of his ceramic ‘weasel army’ taking over various parts of the city. He will also be showing his most recent works, a series of textile hand puppets titled ‘The Legion of Villainy’. “I love making art” says Dominic, “it makes me feel awesome and powerful.”
Louise Hewitt also combines a love of literature and a love of ceramics in her pieces, which include ‘Willy Wonka cake’ and ‘Banana Split’. These cleverly worked colourful creations give a nod to Louise’s affection for the storytelling and imagination of Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl. Talking of why art is important to her, Louise says, “With my autism it relaxes my mind and allows my creativity to flow. It used to be more of a hobby to me, but now I see myself as an inspired artist.”
Joe Mills echoes his nature-based research in his work, which spans textiles, print, light and movement. It is fitting at a museum renowned for its collection of banners, that the piece that he has chosen for the exhibition is the ‘Awesome Rainbow Sunshine Grooving Moving People’ banner which conveys the happiness that he feels in the hope that it will bring joy to all those that see it.
Michael Powell, Programme Officer for People’s History Museum, says, “We are off to a very creative start for the beginning of our Nothing About Us Without Us programme with artists leading the way with work that carries powerful messages and work that will inspire those visiting People’s History Museum. As the programme progresses through exhibitions, events and activities we’ll be sharing different stories and moments of disabled people’s activism through the work that we are doing with our Community Curators. Anis Akhtar, Ruth Malkin, Hannah Ross and Alison Wilde, who all self-identify as disabled people, have been working with us since 2021 and, having been immersed in research and planning, we are now looking forward to the delivery of an exciting programme.”
People’s History Museum is shortlisted as Art Fund Museum of the Year in recognition of its work with communities and individuals; exploring hidden stories, giving space to unheard voices and nurturing authentic content. In its vision for a fairer society, as well as being a museum about activism it is an activist museum, something that is demonstrated within its programming. The announcement of the winning museum is made on Thursday 14 July and the shortlist includes Horniman Museum and Gardens (London), Derby Museums, Museum of Making (Derby), The Story Museum (Oxford) and Tŷ Pawb (Wrexham).
People’s History Museum’s opening hours are Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.00am to 4.00pm (changing to 5pm from Wednesday 29 June). For the school summer holidays the museum will be open seven days a week (from Monday 25 July until early September). The museum and its exhibitions are free to visit with a suggested donation of £5. To find out more visit phm.org.uk,