British artist and recent Central Saint Martins graduate Stephanie Francis-Shanahan is her own sunshine. At least that’s what her new book, released today, suggests: Dream Baby: I am my own sunshine (1995 – 2002) is a collection of work she’s shot, scribbled over, collaged and pasted over the past three years, exploring collective joy and her working-class experience.
Growing up, Francis-Shanahan would obsessively watch any archive rave clips she could set her eyes on, ogling at the sweaty bodies, smiley face-stamped T‑shirts and suspect wide eyes swaying in motion to acid house’s 160 BPM rhythms. But it was the rave movement being a symbol of joyful resistance against Thatcher’s rule that really dropped the pill for her – Britain’s hacked off youth unifying through music, drugs and togetherness, to push back against a Britain they felt was no longer theirs. But that integrated experience extended further, she cites her upbringing as a diehard Gooner while growing up on estates as her own collective happiness.
“I am fascinated by the practical and academic study of joy, and how to use the work as a mechanism of unity,” the 25-year-old says. “The photos [in the book] are a huge mix from mad costume shoots to days out with my pals, but I like to think of them co-existing as one body.”
With two of her mates from the MA course on the design, Dream Baby is like a DayGlo Post-It reminder to stay positive, even throughout the darkest of times. See: 2020.
Messages like “Forever grateful” are stuck over a black and white photograph of the artist’s grandparents, while a multicoloured butterfly is drawn over Francis-Shanahan’s face on another. Child-like scribbles appear over pre-lockdown snapshots of packed out dancefloors, and “if we can’t all dance, I don’t wanna be a part of ur world” is stuck across a double-page spread of the artist’s friends raving.
But aside from the coat hanger smile-inducing content, Francis-Shanahan is supporting three charities through the sales of the books. Solidarity Sports, which uses play as a method to move beyond trauma, with links to the Grenfell community. Dad’s House UK, providing food banks and group activities to single fathers, The Gate which uses the arts to support neurodiverse people, and Key4Life, working with young men within the prison system, providing them with a second chance at a life.
“This understanding of the complexity of human behaviour and that we don’t all start life as lucky as each other is truly beautiful,” she says. “When it comes to the book, I try to find fun in everything I do.”