Zemni 2018 Personal Statement

I am an artist and illustrator aiming to make images and animations that encourage people – including myself – to think more deeply about the world and their place in it. Image-making is my way of discovering and exploring new experiences, finding new ways of seeing, thinking and living. Finding connections and contradictions, light and dark and transitions between. Exploring different emotions and my responses to the world around me.

As part of my professional work as a participatory facilitator of visioning and planning processes in Africa, Asia and Latin America I am also looking at ways of developing pictorial animated on-line interactive resources with and for communities that people anywhere can download and use for community-based trainings on a range of sustainable development topics.

But as I was born and brought up in Europe, specifically England, my starting point is the world at home. The more I travel, the more questions I have about everyday things I have taken for granted, seen as boring and unremarkable or ugly and unavoidable. I am interested in how image-making can raise awareness and promote communication between people from different backgrounds – gender, identity, poverty – and promote creativity in managing our physical environment.

My work does not follow any specific style or medium. More a working approach to set or self-identified briefs.

I work in a range of media including drawing, printmaking, photography, collage, painting and digital media. Seeing how to exploit and extend the specific features of each, pushing them to the limit and layering them in combination. I am currently exploring how to convert my still images into different types of interactive experience using Adobe Animate, Photoshop and After Effects combined with video.

I enjoy working directly from life, sketching people and imagining the stories they might tell. Exploring different perspectives and moods. I am very interested in different cultural styles and meanings, how they use line, shape, colour and abstraction and the different meanings artists intend and viewers bring to the image.

I work with collage and photomontage to discover and explore connections and contradictions of meaning, particularly in my more political work.

I also work a lot with found images – doleful zebras in the woodgrain, monsters in the marble, dinosaurs in the clouds, faces in the sheet folds. I work with natural, mixed and print ‘accidental’ lines and  textures as a basis for ‘imaginings’, exploring the types of stories these suggest. Then I develop these images to clarify shapes, or as the basis for drawings and paintings, often combining these digitally in Photoshop or with Corel Painter.

Central to all my work is a ‘Zemni’ vision based on a mix of socialist, feminism, environmentalism and a belief that simple living and love are the best routes to happiness and long life. At the same time a realisation that none of these are straightforward or without their own complexities and contradictions, and I myself do not always live up to my worthy goals.

Me Me Me

Much of my Visual Communications work to date has been part of my own search for artistic identity and self-reflection of my own life, motivations and instinctive reactions as an essential understanding from which to move on. My best work has attempted to combine some humour with a darker poignancy as I worked through a mid-life crisis.

From Life

In parallel to this inward-looking work, I have used sketchbooks to record life around me, both at home and overseas.

Feminist Gaze

Underlying much of my image-making – linked to my professional consultancy – is an exploration of feminism. What this might mean for men as well as women. Going beyond anger towards real change.

Life of Zemni

This is a live project where I hope over the next few years to communicate my ‘Zemni Vision’ in a series of cartoon-style graphic novels around ‘Zemni’s World’. A humorous but provocative questioning of ‘meanings of life’ and what we are doing to the world.


‘Every mark, every splodge has a story to tell’

I am fascinated by the way in which the brain tries to make sense of, and see patterns in, apparently random marks and textures. I experiment a lot with different materials and textures that create images in my head as the basis for deeper reflection on possible meanings and narratives.

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My ‘imaginings’ have included work in a range of physical and digital media:

A future area of my practice and live projects will be to develop more coherent allegorical narratives to link the images.

Long Term Projects

Much of my best work is part of ongoing live projects.

As part of Advanced Practice Module I am planning to work further on:

A longer term body of work I am hoping to develop is around my Zemni alter ego, with a series of ‘alternative’ travel books and guides to different places that entertain, inform and provoke. Possibly for the final Sustaining Your Practice Module.


My documentary work explores the multi-layered nature of experience of places and interplay of subjectivity and observation. It has included a range of different approaches and media:

  • Oromia: Reflected Journey used my own photographs from a car as the basis for an on-line interactive pdf of gouache paintings and collaged photographs.
  • Greed Game: Politics of oil was an altered book project that used experimental illustrations for secondary source texts following different Islamic cultural styles using a range of materials and media.
  • Return to Goma was a ‘single image documentary print’ collagraph series on events in Goma, DRC from my own sketches and photographs.
  • Japan: a cultural journey used my own sketches and photographs as the basis for linocuts, drypoints and monoprints in different Japanese aesthetic styles.

My work takes a socio-political and post-modernist approach, concerned with:

  • ‘whose documentary’ are we talking about and why? how do we work with other people to get multiple perspectives both in terms of information and feedback
  • how do potentially conflicting perspectives modify the message
  • what are the strengths and challenges of communicating the ‘message’ – photographs (referential but subjective selection and editing), photocollage and photomontage (possibilities for juxtaposition and multi-layered questioning), illustration and printmaking (possibilities for invention), video and interactive presentation
  • how best to disseminate the document and engage with the audience to make a difference

My Visual Communication work draws on parallel work on landscape photography, particularly:

Assignment 4: A New Safari : some reflections on ‘shooting’

I am particularly interested in the ways in which photographic and/or ‘fully created’ images in different media (drawn, painted, print etc) are used and combined (eg in video/animation/collage) to create illusions of ‘truth’, ‘myth’ and ‘imagination’ in different types of political illustration from ‘direct messaging’ to political allegory. I am particularly interested in which types of media and approaches are most effective in drawing particular viewers in, and getting beyond mere shock and compassion fatigue to inspiring change. Specific considerations are:

  • do photographs create a greater sense of ‘reality’ than ‘fully created’ images – to what extent, in what ways and contexts, and why? Given the inevitability of subjective choices in photography, the potential for almost total digital fabrication of photographic images, and the potential for drawing and painting to accurately record events and ‘distil the essence’ behind multiple complex realities.
  • how is narrative constructed in individual images? Cartoons? Information graphics?
  • Does narrative combination and sequencing of images differ between documentary and fictional illustration? Between photographic and fully created illustration? Between printed work and on-line animation? Why and what are the effects?
  • How is text/speech used to complement the images?
  • What are the implications for my own political illustration practice?

Selected travel and documentary photographs to other countries worldwide that I envisage using in future documentary illustration and/or printmaking and/or photobooks can be found on:

My future work will increasingly focus on the role of humour, metaphor and symbolism in communication of political messages – how to overcome ‘compassion fatigue’.