North: Fashioning Identity’ returns

Mandy & Charlene (Dock Scran Van) © Michelle Sank

After two successful stops in Liverpool and London, the exhibition exploring depictions of the north is back with an even fresher perspective.

We are thrilled that it’s coming back up north,” says journalist Lou Stoppard, co-curator of North: Fashioning Identity: a group exhibition celebrating the north of England through the eyes of artists and designers. Having opened at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery in 2017, the exhibition travelled to London’s Somerset House, and will now move to The Civic, Barnsley on its final stop.

Co-curated by lecturer Adam Murray, those exhibited include photographers Alisdair McLellan, Alice Hawkins and Jamie Hawkesworth, fashion designer Matty Bovan and Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller. Many are either from the north or create work informed by the rich cultural history of the region.

It’s a mixture of personal identity and imagined identity,” Stoppard says. For some, it’s a really intimate connection, a reflection on one’s youth or upbringing, as in the way the north inspires the work of artists such as Alasdair McLellan or Christopher Shannon. For others, it’s more exotic, the North as an imagined place.”

The lat­ter is clear in the inclu­sion of Raf Simons’ SS18 col­lec­tion. The Bel­gian design­er ref­er­enced Man­ches­ter art direc­tor Peter Saville’s exten­sive col­lec­tion of graph­ics, plas­ter­ing tops with New Order’s Substance album art­work. The region’s international appeal is further cemented by the inclusion of American designer-cum-artist Virgil Abloh, who collaborated with Haçienda architect Ben Kelly for an Off-White installation in Miami.

Closer to home, however, the third-coming of the exhibition will offer a fresh perspective about what the north of England means, be it environment or reference. Barnsley offers a different environment because it is a much smaller town,” Murray says. Hopefully, people come out of the show feeling motivated to engage with where they live, their identity and to consider how their current experiences can inform new creativity.”

Photograph by Bryony Walsh from Matty Bovan’s 3rd zine Beautiful Teddy, July 2019.


Matty Bovan is a knitwear designer born and based in York, whose work interrogates the history and folklore of the region.

What does the north of England mean to you?

What is your favourite thing about the north?
The landscape.

What do you miss most about the north when you’re not there?
Being able to escape the city. And I do love the accent.

What’s your favourite thing to say in a northern accent?
What do you know, owt or nowt?”

Water's Edge, Blaze (Stripper at Dock’s Pub) © Michelle Sank 2014


Leaving her hometown of South Africa in 1978, photographer Michelle Sank has lived in the UK since 1987. Her work focuses on issues surrounding social and cultural diversity, with portraits from her book The Water’s Edge (main image and above) featuring alongside oral interviews of the women who work, or worked, on Liverpool’s docks.

What does the North of England mean to you?
A sense of soul and space.

What is your favourite thing about the north?
The social warmth.

How has the north had an influence on your work?
I think the light and the element of space that is familiar to me from my upbringing in South Africa.

Photograph by Alice Hawkins, Tanya Tevaro & Nik Page, Layton Institute Performers, Blackpool, 2008.


Born in Suffolk, photographer Alice Hawkins has documented the north, most noticeably in her series The Liver Birds, which captured the glamour of Liverpool women and featured model Abbey Clancy.

What does the north of England mean to you?
I grew up in Suffolk on a daily diet of Coronation Street. My favourite character on the street was the iconic blonde Bette Lynch. She is the epitome of what I love and admire about women. When I find myself photographing people up north, Bette Lynch is always on my mind.

What is your favourite thing about the north?
There is a sense of a permanent glamour and I love it. The women in Liverpool take extreme pride in their appearance. They are brave and bold and beautiful. Heels, handbags and hair come rain or shine.

How has the north had an influence on your work?
My favourite film when growing up is Rita, Sue and Bob Too. I also relished the TV series Band of Gold, set within a group of sex workers in Bradford’s red-light district. All these fictional and non-fictional characters definitely influenced my work. They were signs to head North!

What do you miss most about the North when you’re not there?
Girls walking around during the day with rollers in their hair. That dedication and brazenness lived as a normal way of life is a real treat.

Designer John Alexander Skelton’s MA Collection (photography by Ryan Skelton), 2016.


With a sustainable-design ethos, York-born, London-based John Alexander Skelton exhibits various items from his Central Saint Martins MA collection, which was inspired by Mass Observation – a social study of working-class people in Bolton.

How has the north had an influence on your work?
It’s very subconscious, I can’t point out anything that is really tangible but I am from York which is a very historic city and my interests in the subject play a key role in the work that I produce.

What do you miss most about the North when you’re not there?
Being outdoors and a good country pub.

What is your favourite memory of growing up in the North?
Cycling out of York into the surrounding countryside causing general mischief.


Originally from the Polish town of Puszczykowo, Ryniewicz uses his base of Newcastle-upon-Tyne as the backdrop for his honest portraits. Last year, he exhibited a series of portraits about the youth of Gateshead at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

What is your favourite thing about the north?
My husband.

What do you miss most about the North when you’re not there?
My garden, lesbian friends and The Eagle – an old gay pub.

What does the north of England mean to you?
A strong feeling of belonging and an attitude like no other. It’s beautiful up here and also a great mine of inspiration for both my personal and commercial work.

North: Fashioning Identity is exhibiting at The Civic, Barnsley 14th Sept – 21st Dec. Free admission.

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