MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH MOSIAC
Most people think of mosaics as coasters or pot plants, but artist and activist, Peta May Salmon, has used her passion for mixed media mosaics to not only spread the joy of creativity but send out powerful messages about social issues that everyone needs to hear.
“It’s so versatile. You can create anything with any message – there are no limits. It’s been quite a journey and a wonderful opportunity for me to create, connect & engage with others, share my skills and even gain skills,” she says.
LIFE TAKES ON A NEW DIMENSION
Peta’s life has taken “many twists and turns” and seen her work in both the NGO and corporate worlds both in South Africa and abroad.
Many were somewhat stunned when she left her corporate desk to start her small business, Piece Project Mosaics in February 2019.
I remember getting a few weird looks from my colleagues at the time – not everyone understood why I was giving up a stable job to be an artist! But I had been creating mosaics for more than 15 years and I knew in my heart that it was time to make the move and make a difference through my artwork.”
She explains that mixed media mosaics is quite different from the more clichéd versions that everyone imagines when the word mosaic comes to mind. This medium not only uses mosaic tiles but also conventional and mirror glass, ceramic tiles and even jewellery, beads, semi-precious stones and old crockery.
Peta says her love for mixed media mosaics started when she was young and began collecting all sorts of beautiful objects – from jewellery to buttons, little badges, old coins and other memorabilia. One day, on opening her cupboards to find them packed with all sorts of beautiful little things, she decided it was time to stop storing them away and rather show them off in artworks that could be experienced every day.
Since then, she has not only been inspired by the actual materials but also by the overall meanings behind her creations.
“I’m so inspired by the natural beauty around us, by the resilient South African people and their ideas and aspirations for a stronger, better country. Mosaic artwork not only brings a reminder of possibility and potential in life but also provides inspiration for us to tell our own story. I get the opportunity to experience and create it all in mosaic form. I love what I do and wouldn’t change it for anything!”
A MEDIUM WITH A MESSAGE
“This is very versatile and I have learnt so much over the years. The experience has given me a perspective and approach to working with the mosaic art form. It has also given me the inspiration to never give up and to keep on creating no matter what we are going through or what lies ahead. Mosaic especially gives artwork depth, particularly when you are using a lot of mirror glass. I try to use as much as I can. It is generally understood to be multi-racial because it will only reflect the person who is gazing into it, regardless of race, gender, background or social status. So, the only identity experienced is the one that is reflected in the mirror glass. Therefore, all you will see is yourself if you look into the mosaic,” Peta says.
Having worked for the QuadPara Association of South Africa, she was well versed in campaigning for people’s rights, so the transition to creating awareness about social injustice came naturally.
Her first major piece after leaving formal employment was a female torso mannequin overlaid in mirror glass that stands in the Durban City Hall to remind the mayor and his task team of the dangers of human trafficking and to encourage all to never give up the fight against this horrific problem.
Peta is currently proposing and trying to raise funding for two artworks in response to gender based violence. These would aim to shift social mindsets and attitudes in a good, positive way and will hopefully engage with local communities, encouraging them to endorse the message portrayed in the artwork.
“It’s not going to change lives overnight but we have to start somewhere, so I’m waiting to see what the outcome on those proposals are,” she admits.
Peta is self-taught. “I have my own style and I think that my designs are quite contemporary, unique and, I hope, thought provoking.”
She employs a local lady to assist in her tiny studio at home. “We both share a passion about teaching and training in this medium. It’s great to give others the opportunity to express their own stories or share their own life experiences through the artworks that they create,” Peta says.
The Covid pandemic has put a hold on mosaic lessons “Lockdown has made it a lot more challenging to teach because of the nature of what we do. We need to be present, to have eye to eye and physical contact so that we can show people how to hold the equipment, cut, assemble and put the mosaic together. It’s very hands-on”
HER LARGEST ART WORK TO DATE
Instead, she has concentrated on commissions and she has just finished the design work for her largest artwork yet – a six metre square mural sponsored by the African Culture Fund. To be placed on an exterior wall at the Pinetown Senior Primary school, it will depict a truly African response to the Covid pandemic, communicating unity, community resilience, strength and hope for the future.
As with most large projects, the planning has taken some time. Recently, the overall design has been captured using Illustrator programming and will be printed to scale. This will then be placed underneath a mesh overlay on to which the mosaic tile will be assembled and attached. Overall, she expects the entire project to take three to four months before being transported to the school where it will be installed onto the wall.
Peta is proud to be able to use her work to communicate such an important message, especially to her fellow creatives who have taken the brunt of the pandemic.
Although we aren’t the only ones, the creative sector has been severely impacted by the effects of this pandemic. It is going to take a while to recover. This is an important opportunity to use art as a platform to restore a sense of hope in the aftermath of Covid. For some, it might even be a symbol of strength and unity. Despite everything we’re going through, we will overcome this pandemic at some point. The journey will continue. It has to, there are no other options.”
With this in mind, Peta is also planning to take her teaching to a whole new level. With all the relevant protocols in place, she is looking for funding for materials for small, unemployed community groups to come together to create their own public artworks and, ultimately, acquire skills that might help them earn from creating their own artworks in the future.