The Art Insider: December '17

Ruthie Collins gives you the lowdown on arty happenings around Cambridge in December 

"She walks in beauty like the night, of cloudless climes and starry skies…” wrote Byron, one of Cambridge’s most infamous poets – for me, these lines sum up the clear, bright beauty of winter, that you can see everywhere in the city at this time of year. All gilded, sloping rooftops and naked trees. Romantic rebel he might have been – the very definition of male genius. But, let’s give a high five to Lola Olufemi along with the hundred or so academics who also supported Cambridge University’s new, outspoken Women’s Officer, who challenged the colonialist restrictions of authors taught at Cambridge, but was then wrongly accused of trying to get Cambridge to ‘drop’ male, white authors by The Telegraph

I first met Lola in Sa’adiah Khan’s The Women’s Room art installation, inspired by Marilyn French’s 1970s radical, bestselling novel. She and other FLY girls of Cambridge joined young women from Romsey Mill to talk all things Woman as part of our Arts Council-supported feminist programme, Women of Influence. Inclusion does not have to mean exclusion by its nature. 

Having said all that, I love She Walks in Beauty by Byron – it’s a stunning poem. I just don’t love how self-appointed vanguards of a literary canon that is supposed to be fluid oppose fluidity. Who, when asked to become more open, are so defensive, they incite racism. Yes, you’ve probably heard this before, but we need to keep on reiterating the obvious until it’s, well, obvious. And by the way, if you’re looking to buy for political activist loved ones this Christmas, look no further than Cambridge-based Art of Protest’s fabulous offbeat offerings – check  

December also sees our Pearls of Wisdom Postcards project, that brings old and young together through art, exhibiting postcards by children from The Grove primary school at Stir Café from 1 December. For the last few months, I’ve been talking to elderly residents in care homes throughout the city, asking them for their Pearls of Wisdom that they would pass onto younger generations. Artists Cathy Dunbar, Sa’adiah Khan, Sukey Sleeper and Daisy Tempest all helped the children create the designs, in response to these pearls, which are on sale and are the perfect presents. 

“Inclusion does not have to mean exclusion by its nature"

As Christmas comes closer, this is a time for family to strengthen ties, so snap up the postcards supported by Cambridge City Council, plus the High Sheriff Award, and send a few to relatives and friends you haven’t seen in a while. They will be on sale at the Mill Road Winter Fair in Anglia Ruskin’s foyer, a new space for the fabulous one-day event which draws thousands every year. While there catch the ever-brilliant artist Jane Helling, who will be selling Art for a Fiver in Covent Garden. Or why not head over to a Christmas Market with a twist on Sunday 3 December? “Everyone has that friend, someone who you never know what to buy as a gift for them,” says Last Gang’s Laura Freestone. “Well, have no fear this Christmas – the Last Gang Alternative Xmas Market Is back! Handmade and quirky gifts, art prints, unique jewellery, awesome accessories, peculiar homewares and clothing that is too cool for the high street!”. With a DIY punk spirit, this will be at Blue Moon from midday until 4pm – search LastGangInTownUK on Facebook for more info.  

They say the best gift you can give someone is your time, but how about buying someone a creative experience? I’ll be sending a special someone off to paint with one of their favourite artists this Christmas. If there’s an artist whose work someone loves, then don’t be shy – reach out and ask them if they might consider it. It’s better than the usual gimmicky gifts and could have a transformative impact on someone’s life. 

Meanwhile, those of you who are in search of Christmassy theatre, make the most of Cambridge Junction’s festive show, Rapunzel. Independent theatre at its best, each Christmas production they host is a fantastic alternative that ruffles up pantomime cliché to leave you genuinely inspired. Dancing Brick, the production company behind Rapunzel, did a fantastic job with Thumbelina’s Big Adventure in 2013. This year, expect dreadlocks and all in this bold, feisty take on the classic fairy tale.

Finally, those of you hunting for Christmas treats for literary types, then pick up a copy of Cambridge novelist Ali Smith’s Winter, which launched last month. This is the incendiary second novel in her seasonal quartet of offerings. One to rug-up with in front of a roaring fire (Hygge, anyone?). Yes, this may be the season of shivering, naked trees. Of bleakness. But new beginnings are just around the corner. “Winter makes things visible,” Smith tells us. So, let yourself dazzle the world and shine this season, dose up on glitter and sparkle your way into a new year. Happy festivities all.