I spoke to Ria about her artwork, Integrated Society. It's a beautiful textile banner that hangs in front of a window, so when the light shines through, the colours are really bright. It's been admired by so many visitors to the exhibition.
We also moved on to talking about Ria's early days as an artist, and her current plans. Here's what Ria said:
The idea behind Integrated Society was that there's a lot of supported living in Morley, but it's in integrated buildings. When I say supported living, it’s not like it's a whole building for supported living, but instead, it's a mainstream block of flats and they might rent one or two floors for supported living, then all the rest of the floors are just people who rent and buy flats who don't have support or aren't disabled people.
So, I was thinking, that makes more sense, because it brings disabled people out more into the community. It's not saying, you know what? We'll shove you in a block of flats that are disabled people's flats. It's saying that disabled people can be in an ordinary block of flats where anybody can live. And that's where Integrated Society came in, because I was thinking, it makes sense, doesn't it? Why do we have separate buildings for separate people?
It also helps the other residents understand the disabled residents who are in the building. And hopefully they'll make some friendships or links somehow. Because as we all know, neurodivergent people can get lonely, isolated. And a lot of people don't realise. You can be any age to need support, not just the older generation, anyone might need support for different reasons.
Ria with The Decider
How Integrated Society was made
I took some photos in Morley and printed them off onto special paper, which goes into a screen or frame. I did this at Leeds Print Workshop. Then we coated the images with chemicals, put it in a machine and it magically goes onto the screen through a chemical reaction. Then we washed it all off and then screen printed it onto fabric using screen printing ink. And kept doing it and doing it in different colours. I only used five colours and kept changing the colours.
When did you become an artist?
I was 14 years old and came to Pyramid Yo Yos group every Tuesday. We did different creative activities, drama, media, stories, lots of different things. Then at 18 I started my own development group at Pyramid, working with an artist called Jenny. [Pyramid is an inclusive arts collective in Leeds that supports learning disabled artists]. I really developed my artwork during that time, doing massive pieces of artwork, painting on paper. And then I just continued, going bigger and bigger!
Then I thought, why do it on paper when it's going to get torn? Why can’t I do it on fabric, then it'll look after it better. So I started painting on fabric, using a projector to make the images bigger. When the projector broke, I started hand-drawing them.
I've also used other media: photography, digital artwork on my iPad, sculpture.
One example is The Decider, an artwork of a set of large dice, which is about the care system. When you have social work assessments, they make decisions on your behalf. It was about those support plans, how it takes ages to be able to change your support plans. So I made some quotes, such as 'Why can't you get funding to do a particular activity?' and gave them each a number of dots. So if you roll the dice and it has that number, you have to sit on the dice and you can't move.
I'm trying to show people how it feels, that you can’t change certain things on your support plan unless you fight and fight and fight. You've got to sit there! You can't move that decision. I want to create something that people can get involved with. trying to explain the story, if a person doesn't know what a support plan is. It gets people thinking about it. People don't realise that if you have a support plan you have to pay for it, you can't just keep the money in your plan, it's a complicated system.
Detail of Integrated Society
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I'm making prints and screen printing lampshades using the designs from Integrated Society. Maybe I could put them in a cafe or somewhere like that to advertise it and take orders.
I'll be having an exhibition with another artist, William Stapleton. Doing it together as equals, we can share the costs. Those large artworks I mentioned before will go in the exhibition, because they've never been seen before.
Ria and William's exhibition will be at Archive, 94 Kirkstall Road, Leeds LS3 1HD, from 27 February - 12th March 2024.
See more of Ria's work on the Pyramid website: https://pyramid.org.uk/ria/
Stronger by Ria (2019)