Reading artist fighting for equality
PUBLISHED: 14:31 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:54 01 October 2020
Jessy Blakemore has raised over £1,000 for local causes selling political fashion
“Don’t accept criticism from people you wouldn’t take advice from.” This is the sentiment of 20-year-old Philosophy student Jessy Blakemore, from Caversham. Now in her third year of studying at the University of York, Jessy moved back to her family home in Reading during lockdown, and decided to use this time and her artistic talents to raise awareness about things that need to change in society.
“I loved sitting by the river earlier in the year; Christchurch Meadows and Caversham Court Gardens are lovely,” she says. “But lockdown was also a great chance to be creative. I love to sing, write songs and play the guitar, and I also draw and paint. Having the opportunity to work on writing and recording music has been so valuable. I realise I’m so lucky with my circumstances because so many people haven’t had the same privileges as I have, such as having a roof over their heads and a full fridge!”
This got Jessy thinking. She wanted to make political statements about vulnerable individuals in society, racism and an underfunded health system in the UK, so she began hand-painting acrylic Basquiat-inspired art onto t-shirts and corsets. “I’ve been obsessed with art and drawing since I was very young. I used to make clothes for my Bratz and Barbie dolls from all sorts of random materials, like gloves and socks and old pieces of fabric. I discovered Basquiat’s art when I was 16 and have been fascinated by it ever since.”
Jessy made her first corset top during a spell of procrastination from completing an essay and posted a picture of it on her Instagram. “It got such a positive reaction, with many people asking if I was making any more that they could buy. I’ve since had hundreds of orders from all over the UK and my tops have even made it across the sea to Paris, Finland, Portugal, Singapore, Amsterdam and the US,” Jessy says. “I think the art reflects the feelings and frustrations of many people at the moment.”
All profits from her sales have been donated to Reading’s homelessness prevention charity, Launchpad; You Okay Doc?, a mental health charity for doctors; NHS Charities Together; and Black Lives Matter charities and crowdfunding pages for people including Belly Mujinga and George Floyd, Shukri Abdi and Breonna Taylor.
Jessy says: “I’ve picked charities that directly relate to the statements the tops are making – all of which mean a lot to me personally. I live in Reading and see the amazing work Launchpad do to support people who are homeless and in need in my town, and they’ve continued that work with the pandemic going on.
“One of my compositions centred around the fact our NHS workers don’t get treated fairly or given decent wages for the life-saving work they do, especially in how they’ve put themselves at risk during Covid-19. It included text such as ‘overloaded, underfunded’, and ‘broke system’ or ‘system overload’.
“Another mentioned ‘justice for Belly Mujinga’, a black key worker who was racially abused and heartbreakingly passed away. There has been social, economic and political inequality and a systemic maltreatment of black people that has lasted hundreds of years, which continues today with no sign of relenting. Many of my designs make reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, which is very close to my heart. Given the persistent racism BIPOC [black, Indigenous and people of color] communities have to face on a daily basis, which have been heightened recently, the BLM charities and GoFundMes were a natural choice.
“Overall, the money raised is a small way of supporting minority communities through the racism they face in the UK, for people in need in Reading, and for key workers risking everything to care for and support the rest of us.”
What started as a distraction from university work and lockdown has become an amazing opportunity for Jessy to do something creative for some good causes. “Like the fashion I’ve been making, many of the songs I write reflect my own BIPOC experience and experiences of racism living in the UK along with the struggles and frustrations that come with it.
“I write about Eurocentric beauty standards in my songs Black Venus and Vanilla, where I describe how black culture and features from black people are looked down upon and negatively labelled. I also write about how black culture is appropriated, but black culture through the medium of white people is praised and glorified. I write about my own experiences of racism and especially racism towards women, as well as white privilege, the colourism (‘light privileged’) that benefits me at the expense of darker skinned people and how feminism is involved in all this. I also write a lot about socio-economic injustice and how that is involved in systemic racism.”
Jessy’s mother is from Zimbabwe and her father is from England, and she is the eldest sibling of five. “My mum raised my sister and I as a single black mother and worked two jobs to support us. She’s had to deal with so much, face so many stigmas and make so many sacrifices just so I could have a better shot, and for that I am eternally grateful for. Angela Davis is also an inspiration for being a pioneer in civil rights and feminism throughout the 1960s and still to this day. And BIPOC creatives, such as Nina Simone, J Cole and especially Noname have taught me that living and creating authentically as a woman of colour - or a member of any other marginalised community - is often a form of activism and resistance against oppression.”
Jessy attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Reading In June, where hundreds of people turned out to show solidarity for anti-racism campaigners all over the world. “I had the honour of marching with and listening to so many inspirational people, and talking to them about their experiences with racism in Reading. I was also so thankful to have the opportunity to speak during a part of the protest where I recited some lyrics of part of song I had written and free-styled. I spoke about police brutality and the difference in treatment of black and white people within legal systems.”
So what is next for Jessy? This is her final year at university, yet she hopes to go on to study a Masters in Philosophy or Politics, while also persuing her singing and songwriting career. But she says she has one overriding goal: “To continue to learn about these issues affecting society, help educate others where I can, and fight the fight against oppression and ignorance for equality and equity for all.”
Jessy is taking orders for her hand-painted tops and corsets via her Instagram page @JessyBlakemore with payment being made by Paypal, which she then donates to her chosen charities minus costs for the garments and paint. There is currently a one week wait for orders