Profile of Mandy Webb

Following on from Mandy Webb’s work being shown in the Outside In: National exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in 2012 and her subsequent inclusion at the Feminisim in London conference in September 2013, Outside In volunteer Linda Davies catches up with Mandy to find out more. 

1. As you yourself say your work is humorous and sometimes vulgar but it is also beautiful and detailed. Is it important for  you to create something that is beautiful as well as significant? 

I say this as someone once mentioned it to me and I quite liked it (vulgar). It is important for there to be beauty in the work I produce as it’s such an ugly subject matter (HIV), still full of judgemental finger pointing and ill informed presumptions. I also love to be a little humorous in some of the pieces I produce and hopefully break down some of the stereotypical images that people have of this disease.

2. You make it clear in your Outside In statement that your work is inspired by your HIV positive status. Do you feel that your involvement with Outside In has changed your attitudes and maybe the attitudes of others to your HIV diagnosis?

A lot of my work is HIV based as it has made a huge impact on my life, but I have also done pieces on feminism and have for a long time wanted to create  a piece about the Sex Trade of human trafficking. There are major, major struggles for women around the world. I’m forever filling out petitions. I go on lots of different demos. I love the Alice Walker quote, “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.”

Outside In have been a help and an encouragement. I’ve met a lot of different people, and it’s been really nice. We’ve all got different stories, but with the same problems. I’ve had my ‘Sexy Quilt’ at Pallant House Gallery. The Guardian has called the Gallery the most prestigious gallery in the South of England outside of London, so it’s really good. I’ve exhibited there a couple of times. It was lovely to be with so many really talented artists: such an amazing collection of people of all different backgrounds.

3. I understand that you are a feminist. That clearly influences your work as well as your HIV status. How would you see the balance of those influences in your work?

I want to show the impact of this disease. People think HIV is all OK; that taking a tablet is the solution, but tablets are toxic as is the condition itself. I wanted to show it’s toxic. It’s like a war on HIV. It’s a war against the benefits system. With feminism I’m always struggling with what’s going on with women’s rights all over the world. It seems more women get diagnosed later with HIV than men. That’s a huge thing for me in feminism. Young girls need to have more help.  When I got involved with the London Aids Memorial campaign I said I was going to recreate the dress I’d made some years back (the red dress). The red dress has been shown in Brighton and London a few times. The last time was in Brighton last year for Worlds Aids Day.

4. I have looked up FiLia (Feminism in London) and their conference in London in September 2013. Which piece of work did you exhibit there and why did you choose that particular piece?

I had two pieces there. The first piece titled 'Bang Bang, One Prick is all it took!' is of a woman with the roses made out of panty pads and a gun poking out from them. She is covered in spikes, but you don't realise this until you get up close. The second piece titled 'The Luxury Collection' (Handbags) are all made of panty pads and modelled on Chanel handbags and their excessive price tags. These bags are all displayed together bound by chains and padlocked, very much like they can be sometimes seen in shops.

5. Your red ribbon dress is really impressive and the message of the material is also clear. How long did it take you to complete and was there a particular moment that inspired you to create the dress?

The red ribbon dress was the first dress I’d made. I was hand sewing each individual ribbon - I made thousands. I just get used to the routine of doing it, but my hands aren’t so good nowadays. I try to do things now before I lose the use of my hands. A friend made the dress out of calico strong enough to hold the weight of all the ribbons and as soon as she’d made it I dyed it red and then started sewing these ribbons on. Once I started it took about two weeks. I just blitzed it. Every day it was just rrrrr on the machine. There were about 6,000 ribbons on that dress.

6. That dress was your piece for ‘The London AIDS Memorial’ - How did the exhibition at Waterstones go and did the exhibition go on tour anywhere?

I recreated the dress as the original one had been more sculptural, but had sadly become damaged over the years of being moved about. So I had already decided that I needed to remake it and make it wearable and permanent so it would be a constant reminder of how many lives have been lost to this disease and how many it still infects/affects and sort of tied it in with the launch of The London AIDS Memorial. The branch of Waterstones where the dress was shown was in an area of Russell Square in London. It was a pity it was a Saturday and not as busy as on a weekday perhaps, but it was good. I’ve made a big book, which I’ve designed around the memorial quilt and I took it to Waterstones for World Aids Day. I researched the original memorial quilts in the States. Each panel is 60 x 30cm which is a grave plot. I’ve also shown it in the Portsmouth Arts café and then the Old Vic Pub in Portsmouth too.

7. Your Sexy Quilt was exhibited in the Outside In: National exhibition in 2012 at Pallant House Gallery. How did you feel about that?

The quilt in the National exhibition was really good. The condoms kept falling off! I showed it in a place in Bethnal Green and one guy said, “You’ve probably had about 600 people see that tonight.” Someone gave me loads of out of date condoms – about 600 or so. I had so many condoms!

8. I hear you have done the Step Up training. Has that affected the way you feel about your own work or the way that you approach it? Have you enjoyed running workshops at other venues?

The Step Up training was really lovely. I really like the workshops as its lovely to see people really enjoying themselves and enjoying being free to create.

9. What is a typical day for you?

I work at home. I’m working on a dress. It’s a new way of working for me.  I usually create three-dimensional sculptural items. The dress has become like a canvas for me. I don’t have a lot of room in my home and the dresses seem to take up less room and also have become very popular. This is the fourth time I have used this pattern. The design of this dress is grenades. The dress has been inspired from an idea that I am currently working on. I have been making a year’s supply of plaster of paris grenades that represent my HIV medication. There are two different medications I take. One is the orange one and the other is the off-white one. There are 365 of each and I have completed the first half and now I’m starting on the other 365. I have a solo show in October at the Crypt at St Pancras in London. I wanted to represent my medication as bombs as it can be as toxic! It’s a war against HIV!

10. Has art always been important to you?

I was always doing creative things, but getting ill got me moving again. I did interior design one day a week and then a foundation course, which led me to a degree. I believe art has saved me and continues to save me.

11. Any dreams for the future?

I’m going to pull out all the shots for the October show in London. I have created lots of new work to stand alongside previous work almost like a journal of my life with HIV. I’m not very good at organisation, but my sister is really efficient and supports me and we’re going to blitz it and make sure it’s a success. It starts on October 1st and goes on for 11 days. I’d like to be able to work independently for myself as I know that my health and my HIV status can put people off when I have applied for jobs in the past.  I’ve got to make my own way and keep raising awareness through the work I produce.

To see more of Mandy's work visit: www.outsidein.org.uk/mandy-webb