Urban renewal – an artist’s message

Contemporary art often allows for the exploration and interrogation of political issues. One artist who engages with the political is Jo Whitby, a cartoonist and mix-media artist studying in Cardiff.

'Urban Renewal' by Jo Whitby

Her piece entitled ‘Urban Renewal’ is a photo-manipulated image that layers several scenes of Cardiff and Bristol’s urban landscapes in an interesting examination of the two cities’ complex relationship with nature.

The piece comprises buildings that make up Bristol’s industrialised skyline, the backyard of a house in Beddau, and the graffiti-covered walls of the beer garden outside Cardiff’s favourite kitsch bar, Milgi.

Whitby has arranged these manmade structures around a grass lawn with a blossoming tree at its centre. The resulting image suggests an anxiety between the isolated natural environment and the sprawling urban landscape that encroaches on it.

The way in which the sunlight seeps through the clouds and encircles the tree suggests something of the divine, and invites the viewer to connect nature with something almost Godly. The darkened structures that wrap around the grass form a physical barrier between the picture’s idyllic centre and the gloomy cityscape beyond, which implies nature’s struggle to resist negative human impact.

Ultimately, the image asks its viewers to adopt a consideration for nature and warns against the destructive effects of urban growth. With cities like Bristol and Cardiff undergoing such vast regeneration at present, it’s more important than ever to ensure that cities are not wiped of any tangible connection to the British countryside. After all, if we overdevelop our cities, and eradicate any traces of green, they will become homogenised grids of grey that fail to go beyond the predictable. What better way to reinvigorate a city and preserve its sense of individuality than with an arbitrary scattering of something green?

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