The personal is political

Sean Edwards’ non-traditional sculptures use objects from the artist’s childhood on a council estate in Cardiff, giving voice to working-class communities

Hero image

“I always describe myself as a sculptor,” explains Sean Edwards from his Welsh home during yet another period of government-enforced lockdown. “But a sculptor who uses cross-disciplinary approaches and will make work and use materials that suit what I want to say.”

Forty years old and a native of Cardiff, Edwards’ work links the autobiographical with the cultural, often utilising what he refers to as found items.

“That term applies to things I come across in everyday life and covers things I physically find when I’m out and about but also personal stuff I’ve recently re-found,” he says. “The main idea of much of my work is reappropriation.”

A previous piece that demonstrates the Edwards modus operandi is Maelfa, a 2010 film set in a Cardiff shopping centre that reflects on the demise of once vibrant communities and the failure of places originally billed as utopian and aspirational.

“That’s a portrait of a place that was on the council estate where I grew up and has now, finally, been demolished. That was actually the first named work I made that touched upon autobiography, this idea of a working-class voice within the arts.”

Maelfa was recently due a revival as part of Edwards’ Undo Things Done show, scheduled for Liverpool’s Bluecoat galleries but now obviously delayed. This was to be the first opportunity the artist had to show this early piece alongside newer works, something permitted by the expansive exhibition rooms offered by the Merseyside venue.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“To me, the idea of giving space for the viewers is almost as important as the work itself. It allows people to have their own thoughts and ideas about this work,” Edwards says. “And that space lets viewers put themselves right in there with it.”

Is he ever tempted to anonymously lurk in the gallery’s shadows, witnessing first hand visitor reactions? “Absolutely not. I’m usually lurking by the bar if I’m at my own exhibitions,” he replies with a laugh. “It is nice to talk to people once they’ve seen the work but I think it’s important they have that initial, direct discussion with the work by themselves.”

As to the overarching nature of his art, Edwards says there is a political message – “both personal and wider, global politics” – but draws the line at claiming his work as that of an activist.

“What I certainly am doing is asking people questions about the welfare state and how we look after people. Most of my recent work was first shown in 2019 when Brexit was the main issue, but obviously while that remains important, there are other things getting everyone’s attention right now.”

Edwards, currently course director for fine art and photography at the Cardiff School of Art and Design, concludes by explaining just what he’d like viewers of his work to take from the experience. “The hope is that my art will give people a sense that they can start a discussion, a conversation, around being conditioned to have this lack of expectation from life. It’s relatively easy to hear what a working-class voice sounds like in radio or TV, in a book or a cinema, but it’s not as common to see what a working-class voice says in art. That’s the key thing I’m trying to explore.”

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to The personal is political

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.