“I Am at the Bottom of the Pile … But Everybody Is Equal”: In Conversation with one of Oxford’s Street ArtistsMary-Jean Nleya
Interview by Mary-Jean Nleya
This is the first article of this section referred to as ‘Grassroots Reporting’. In an effort to dismantle the silos and bubbles that plague society’s civil discourse; this section aims to gain insights from, and be in conversation with, those at the grassroots level.
On the evening of Sunday, December 4, 2016, The Global Communiqué sat down with Ms. Carol – a woman who sits daily on one of Oxford’s streets – to discuss politics and politicians, art and business, the economy and mental healthcare as they relate to her and her life.
Q: Hello. Please tell us your name and introduce yourself.
Carol: My name is Carol. I am a street artist – I make hats and draw pictures. I am at the bottom of the pile.
Q: Please elaborate what you mean by “being at the bottom of the pile” – are you homeless?
Carol: I’m on benefits and every day I sit here to make extra cash. I am not allowed to beg people for money in the streets or else I will get a £100 fine. Passers-by are the ones who come to me on their own terms to make donations. I do have a place I go to at the end of the day.
Q: And how is your art business doing?
Carol: It’s not a business. It’s my art. I cannot call it a business because I am not selling these items. I have no licence to actually sell them. I cannot afford a licence to sell these items. These items are my art. People passing by can
Q: Are passers-by generous and kind towards you?
Carol: You know, there are kind people around here. Someone today bought a chocolate gift pack and came over to give it to me as a Christmas gift – that was very kind. Another man earlier this week came with a stack of coins to give me. Others pass by and spare some change.
Q: Are you at all interested in current affairs and politics?
Carol: Nobody cares what I think. But I think politics is a lot of rubbish. They always do the opposite of what they say they will do.
Q: Why? What makes you say that?
Carol: They take from the poor. They’re not helping the poor. They took away my benefits.
Q: They took away your benefits? Do you mean to say you are currently not on any benefits?
Carol: Now, I am on benefits. They took away my carer allowance, but later reinstated the benefits again. So, now I am on benefits.
Q: What do you think of politicians?
Carol: I don’t understand politicians. They don’t deal with real people. They live in a fantasy world … they deal with statistics and figures – that is not helping us.
Q: What were you supporting, ‘Brexit’ or ‘Bremain’?
Carol: I don’t think any of them affect me. I’ll survive Brexit.
Q: But if you were to choose, which of them do you support?
Carol: What I will say is this, if they cannot improve the way of life of people like me already inside the country, how are they going to help others coming in from outside? At the same time, I do understand people coming here for better opportunities – but that is where the conflict is. It’s too upsetting what’s happening in other parts of the world. But I think the media shows one-side of things and I think there’s always another side of the story.
Q: What do you think of the 2016 US Elections and the results?
Carol: I think Trump acts up to the cameras. I don’t think he was to run as a candidate in the first place. But he might be a good president.
Q: What would you like to say to those in positions of power who can do something for you and people like you in your country?
Carol: I just want them to put money in the right places and not take carer benefits away at whim. Another thing is mental health is a major problem among the homeless, and these people need to be taken care of. Other times, people say “these people are lazy, they can do this and they can do that”. But sometimes people just have mental health issues.
Q: What are your hopes and dreams?
Carol: Money does not worry me. I am used to not having. I believe everybody is equal – those who have and those who don’t. But I want to be a part of society. I wish to be recognized as a proper artist and afford a selling licence so that I can get recognized and get a business going.
Q: Anything else you would like to say?
Carol: If I can survive, anybody else can.
Note: The interview and the images taken were done with the permission and consent of the interviewee.