how art shapes Sheffield’s identity

Sheffield is one of the greenest cities in the UK. Nicknamed the steel city because its unique geography provided excellent steel-making conditions in the past, its architectural heritage is impressive. But beneath the steel exterior beats a vibrant artistic heart waiting to be discovered.

“It’s a vibrant city”, says Sarah Joseph, a fine art acrylic artist from Sheffield “when me and my husband moved to Sheffield from London, I was surprised to see how vibrant the art community is and how much activity there is surrounding the arts – there’s always something happening”.

Originally from Trinidad, Joseph uses art to express herself emotionally; she has a compulsion to put her feelings down on canvas. “I remember when a very close friend of mine was going through a particular illness several years back and it really inspired me to sort of paint through that because I just felt it so much for her.” So for her, art can be therapeutic.

“To use the arts expressively means going into our inner realms to discover feelings and to express them through visual art, movement, sound, writing or drama. This process fosters release, self-understanding, insight and awakens creativity and transpersonal states of consciousness”, says Natalie Rogers, a psychotherapist and early contributor to expressive arts therapy.

Joseph says that since moving here four years ago she’s seen a change in the inspiration for her art. The change of scenery, light, temperature and seasons inspired her to do something with that; she was compelled to put what she could observe in her art pieces. She said in her more recent works the use of trees has become a common theme.

Elevating the ordinary

Art is not only a way for us to understand the complexities of our emotions; it’s a universal language that speaks to the core of our beings.

This view is shared by Samantha Groom, a printmaking artist, from Sheffield. “Artists make things beautiful, they make the viewer ask questions, they challenge you in some way. Or they reflect back at people the society that we live in. They just sort of make ordinary things more interesting as life can be quite mundane, they elevate our reality”. 

Her most recent inspiration for her abstract and semi-abstract pieces is the beauty of nature as she goes on her daily walks, a lot of which came during lockdown, “the pathways can be quite symbolic as well, a journey you go on and decisions you make”. These ideas were expressed in a previous art exhibition she held, showcasing the journeys, dreams and the places your imagination takes you during your daily routine.

Community, connection, healing

Although the art scene in Sheffield fosters creativity for many artists within the steel city, much more could be done to highlight the variety of artwork it has to offer.

Uura Niemi-Junkola, a watercolour, acrylic and mixed media art painter believes there should be more diversity.

“It needs to be broad” 

“Sheffield is such a beautiful place with such beautiful architecture, but they need more spaces for a diverse population of artists to showcase their work, because if you go to the city, and go to galleries or shops, you see the same thing. It’s too narrow and doesn’t represent the talent that is in Sheffield.”

Niemi-Junkola is inspired by all areas in life from personal identity to the dreams she may have. “The process itself can be inspiring” because the journey of her creativity can lead her into something else, and the process of that, in itself, is an inspiration. Her previous art exhibition in October, brought people together creating a sense of community and provided a space for connection and healing. “People just kind of felt that they could open up, they would talk about their life experiences and their frustrations, all because of my art.”

“So I kind of felt in the end that I’d done something, something really important for people’s mental health and for other people’s well-being and this is why art needs to be accessible, and diverse because people are able to empathise with the pieces.”

Revitalising Sheffield’s art scene

It is also why there needs to be more exhibitions like Open Up Sheffield’s art studios and Art in the Garden, which provide a platform for artists to exhibit their work whilst showcasing the diversity of art within the city.

Art, in all its diverse forms, provides a platform for self-expression and understanding, and Sheffield’s art scene is a testament to that. So, the next time you decide to go exploring our green city, take a moment to appreciate the artistic treasures that may be hidden in plain sight.

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