How you can win an original Melissa Kitty Jarram painting inspired by Beijing Silvermine
As we celebrate the launch of our latest Inspiration Archive with Dropbox, we asked artist Melissa Kitty Jarram how she used the collection to create a new piece of work.
- 7 June 2022
Inspiration can come from anywhere. And sometimes, it’s the images we pay the least attention to that can offer the richest rewards. That’s the subtle power evoked by the Beijing Silvermine – an archive of found photography, capturing everyday life in China between the mid-1980s and mid-2000s. In collaboration with Dropbox, It’s Nice That has worked with the Beijing Silvermine to create a digital archive – making a selection of these photos accessible online for the first time.
Drawn from the million-plus images in the archive, this carefully curated Inspiration Archive collection has been sorted into a series of albums based on the intimate moments and domestic scenes they feature. From meals at McDonald’s to accidental selfies, they tell countless stories of leisure, work, family and friendship, backgrounded by a moment in time when Chinese culture was undergoing a rapid transformation. Thanks to the power of Dropbox’s organisational tools, they are now available as inspiration for creatives everywhere. Now it’s your turn to get inspired.
Win an original painting by Melissa Kitty Jarram by creating an artwork inspired by the Beijing Silvermine
We’re asking you to explore the Dropbox Inspiration Archive reflect on moments in time that feel nostalgic to you. Whether it’s family holidays in the sun or birthdays spent at McDonalds, we want to see original artworks created by you which reflect these sacred moments, much like Melissa’s artwork in this article.
We’ll be picking out eight of our favourite submissions in the next two weeks and featuring them on Instagram, and one lucky person will be gifted Melissa’s original artwork inspired by Beijing Silvermine.
Whether you use graphic design, illustration, photography, clay, or whatever medium you prefer, start exploring the archive and get involved.
How to Enter
Explore the Inspiration Archive and create an artwork inspired by the photos and albums that feel nostalgic to you.
Upload your work to Instagram with #DropboxInspirationArchive @itsnicethat.
Sit back and enjoy all the other amazing submissions on #DropboxInspirationArchive.
We’ll be selecting our favourite submissions to feature on It’s Nice That’s Instagram on 28 June 2022, and one lucky person will win Melissa Kitty Jarram’s original artwork.
Entries are open from 9 June – 26 June 2022.
If inspiration can come from anywhere, then it stands to reason that the possible creative responses to the Beijing Silvermine are limitless. That’s one of the guiding principles behind the Inspiration Archive. Using Dropbox, the materials have been made accessible so that anyone - yes, including you! - can view them, interact with them, and get inspired to create. Whatever your style or process, the material is organised and ready to go.
To get things started, we invited South-East London-based artist Melissa Kitty Jarram to produce a new piece of work inspired by the collection. We caught up with her to discuss her creative workflow: how she responded to the images, and set about distilling them into a single painting.
The first steps…
It's Nice that:How do you start the working day and get in the right headspace?
Melissa Kitty Jarram:I wake up at 7:30 for puppy duties, have a big coffee at 8:30, then sit down and start working at 9. As someone who naturally prefers to start late and end late, my routine is now extremely forced but I find it makes me far more productive as I get a huge hit of dopamine first thing in the morning. I should have got a dog sooner!
INT:What were your first impressions of the photographs?
MKJ:I was hit immediately with a pang of nostalgia, which made me extremely emotional. Having lived in mainland China from birth (1991) until 1998, the scenes in the photos were so familiar, but up until this point they had only existed in my distant memory. I think this is because I’ve not been exposed to any media documenting China’s past in this way – also there was no social media back then to archive things as they were happening!
INT:Did they remind you of photographs or images from your life?
MKJ:Yes! Some of them are startlingly uncanny, which felt very surreal as I never expected to see a collection of photos so similar in scene, character and detail, to the few family photos I have from this time.
INT:What do you listen to while you work?
MKJ:It depends on the weather in my brain usually, but for this project specifically I was working to a show on NTS by Suki Sou. Lots of beats from Hong Kong and China, mostly from the same era as the Beijing Silvermine photographs.
INT:Where’s your favourite place to work?
MKJ:I flit between my home and my studio. Both have their pros and cons and it totally depends on what mood I’m in or what duties I have that day. Sometimes it’s also nice to work in a coffee shop, another country, or at a friend’s house. I get so bored and uninspired if my life is predictable and governed by routine, so I really have to mix it up. I need novelty or I’ll die!
INT:Where did you create your piece for the Inspiration Archive?
MKJ:I worked from home for this project because it felt really personal and close to home!
INT:Talk us through the scene in your painting – which photos or details from the archive inspired it?
MKJ:It was so difficult to choose because there were so many things that stood out to me and I wanted to incorporate in the painting, so in the end it was just a matter of which shapes worked in the composition. My favourite photo is the one where the woman is lying on the bed with her dog, so I made this the focal point. I love the shape that the two of them make, the dress she’s wearing, and the bond clearly evident between them. She is surrounded by other details I liked. I really wanted to incorporate the fan and the plastic rose I noticed in the background of a couple of photos, so I just combined the two into one, which becomes a main detail of the background in my painting. There is also a Chinese character taken from one of the cakes, some droopy icing, also from a cake, and a pattern from a school uniform which happens to look like a butterfly in the way that it is folded and creased whilst being worn.
Starting the work…
INT:Practically, how did you work with the archive while painting? Did you refer to the images while you worked?
MKJ:I made observational drawings from a selection of photos that resonated with me the most. After that, I manipulated the drawings that I’d just done into more abstract shapes. Following this I chose a subject to use as the focal point of the painting, then created a composition based around this, whilst incorporating my shapes and patterns into the background. As I was painting, I had the archive up on my screen as a colour reference, so that it allowed a little improvisation.
INT:What do you do if you hit a creative block or are struggling to work?
MKJ:I don’t force myself. Forcing myself to work in this state is like growing vegetables in the dark: a complete waste of time and energy. I’ll usually take an hour or two to do whatever I want to do, then sit down and start mood boarding/reading about things I find interesting until an idea comes to me.
INT:Your painting is alive with colour – much like the archive. Was this an important aspect of the images to communicate?
MKJ:This was extremely important to me. I often find that I’m inspired by colour. Once I have a palette locked down I’m not afraid to start improvising, and the ideas begin to flow freely. The archive has a beautiful balance of colour: soft neutral and earthy tones alongside bright and bold colours. I actually think China is characterised by this. There are quite a lot of pops of colour amongst dusty concrete and tall, white tiled building blocks with blue-toned windows.
INT:Did looking at the Beijing Silvermine photos bring any other references to mind?
MKJ:Aside from the music from episodes 1 and 2 of Suki’s NTS show, the photos reminded me of a few movies from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong that were filmed in the same era and were centred around family dynamics and relationships. The texture and colours of the analogue film help them to fit seamlessly together in my mind. The most obvious one being Chungking Express (1994), which stars Faye Wong and her amazing Cranberries cover, and others such as In The Mood For Love (2000), King of Comedy (1999) and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994).
INT:The images in the Beijing Silvermine were treated as disposable, and are vast in quantity – much like family photographs in general, all over the world. What do you feel we learn from appreciating them more closely, or in your case, elevating them through art?
MKJ:I actually think photographs are precious. They are stamps of fleeting moments that will never happen again (as far as we know), and we can revisit them any time we want, to explore our memories, or the memories of others. Our memory only serves us up to a point, but photographs can bring those moments back to us again and reinforce our existence. Family photos in particular can also remind us that humans relate to one another on a fundamental level across all cultures; we celebrate birthdays, weddings, eat together, love each other, and travel together. I hope this can help people become more understanding of one another. I believe it’s the antithesis of the “us & them” mentality.