Lois Muddiman had a degree in History and Politics (from the University of Kent) and several years of teaching experience – but when the opportunity came to return to university and study the one subject she really loved, she took it. And that brought her to Oxford Brookes.
“When my children were small, I had the chance to stop and think about what I do next. Art was something I had always, always wanted to do so the Art and Design Foundation course at Brookes was a great opportunity.
“As well as bringing up two children, I was also working part-time so finding time to study was a bit of a juggling act but it was fantastic – I loved it!”
Lois admits to not always working as hard as she could when she was a student the first time round. But she more than made up for that in her time at Brookes, progressing from the foundation course to a degree course – BA Fine Art. And several people at Brookes’ School of Arts helped her along the way.
“Clair Chinnery was a really great and supportive tutor. Also I was really influenced by Professor Shelley Sacks – a lot of her ideas about community and sustainability were similar to mine.
“And the technical staff were absolutely crucial. They taught me the skills to execute my ideas.”
One of Lois’s ideas was to spell out the word “ENOUGH” in giant red letters made of recycled cardboard. She took each of the letters to locations to highlight environmental issues – such as road traffic, energy production and flights. Interesting as this idea was, it really came to life six months later when the effects of climate change became all too real for the people of West Oxford.
“The Botley Road flooded. And reporters came from all over the world. My friend suggested we organise a demo and so I brought my letters. It was perfect – the word ENOUGH and the flood water with Oxford’s spires in the background. The pictures went viral.”
Lois is a committed activist – co-founding Low Carbon West Oxford and standing as a local councillor for the Green Party. She also founded Hogacre Common Eco Park on the site of Corpus Christi College’s old playing field.
“We lease the land from them for one jar of honey a year. We have planted thousands of trees for coppicing, set up beehives, established an apple orchard – also there are allotments and we’ve put up a wind turbine.”
Somehow, Lois also finds time for a paid job – although she doesn’t ever want to return to full-time work.
“I have what people call a ‘portfolio career’. I do lots of short-term contracts in part-time positions in order to work around the art.”
But it is the art that comes first. She has even found a way to make being an artist into a sociable activity.
“Last year I had a studio built at the end of my garden. One of my artist-friends happens to live next door and the studio straddles the border between our gardens. It’s actually two semi-detached studios. And there’s a little hatch we can pull back to share cups of tea and have a chat.”
Lois’s current project is a collaborative work with Enam Gbewonyo to make a piece for the Ashmolean, as part of the museum’s Windrush Day celebrations in May. It will be displayed in a gallery containing ceramics, drawing on the links between tea, sugar and slavery to explore anti-colonialist themes.
For Lois, the highlight of her time at Brookes was the creative freedom she enjoyed on her foundation course and she hopes to teach Foundation Art one day. To do so she needs a master’s degree, something she is considering as a next step in her ever evolving career as an artist, activist and teacher – a communicator of ideas.
Indigo on Cowley Road is run with an ethos of natural fabrics, fairly traded goods, sustainability and a commitment to community – Observe caught up with its founder, Sarah Wearden ’93, as she celebrated its tenth anniversary