Mandy & Charlene (Dock Scran Van) © Michelle Sank

North: Fash­ion­ing Iden­ti­ty’ returns

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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