Her story
5 MINS

Reimagining touch through love letters during lockdown

by Emily Turner

Josie Beszant is an artist specialising in found object assemblage, collage and paintings. Her latest work, Love Letters, began during the first COVID lockdown in 2020 as a response to the idea of being separated from aspects of our sensuality and erotic life in the time of a global pandemic. Josie shared with us how her art work took shape.

Hidden codes and romance

Never before has there been a time when we’ve not been allowed to touch, hug our friends in their triumphs and when grieving, flirt sensuously with lovers or potential lovers, pat a back, or put an arm round the shoulder of a relative. We’re wired to touch each other, to reach out. Touch starvation felt very real, a defining phenomenon that our society may never have dealt with on such a scale before. 

I started to look back to the times when letters were sent between lovers, back when touch was perhaps not so prevalent or acceptable in society. I wanted to find out how they dealt with the absence. I discovered they wrote messages and letters with hidden codes and romance. They seduced in a different way using the textures of paper and cloth, sending messages across the miles by post.

Glimpsing the sensual

I began with piles of old envelopes, broken books and documents, cutting out words and phrases that made me smile, I liked or found unusual. I looked for images that I associated with abundance, sensory feelings and happiness. Many centred around taste, touch and smell and I ended up with a stack of images of flowers and food. 

The images, words and letters grew organically from there and I added other metaphors and layers as I went along. Some of these came from Ladybird books, Enid Blyton stories, gardening books and all sorts of strange and wonderful sources.

I like the way you can glimpse part of a sensual story in this series of works. It amused me to see different viewer reactions, sometimes initially just seeing a pretty picture and then a shock when they look a little closer!

Readjustment after menopause

I particularly love the technique of collage to reframe our world as it allows us to deconstruct, to literally tear or cut images apart and remake them to how we would like to see them. It’s an art form, I think, particularly suited to menopausal women. 

“Menopause for most of us involves a readjustment of our own self-image and how we view the world”

In a world where the attractiveness of women is often defined by youth, ability to reproduce and to have a certain body type, collage allows us to remake these messages and give the world our own viewpoint. It’s a creative art that many of us can participate in, it requires very little investment in materials or room to create. All you need is some tiny sharp scissors and glue to get you started.

Art as a healer

My art, like the majority of artists, reflects my life to some degree. My senses are important to me, especially touch. I am 50 and went through menopause in my 30s after an emergency hysterectomy at 29 due to uterine cancer. I have always had polycystic ovarian disease and this meant I was out of rhythm with my cycle and I felt somewhat ‘other’. 

As my menopause hit, I grieved for my loss of fertility and my changing body as my friends began having children. Looking back, it was a difficult time and I had to really work on my self esteem and sexual identity. 

“A lot of my artwork at the time formed part of my healing journey”

I particularly enjoy making art with a sensual and sexual edge from the perspective of an older woman, for this part of me to be acknowledged and to be visible as a postmenopausal woman. Menopause gave me the chance to rewrite the script and to be free of some of the messages we have internalised from a society, which has largely sidelined the older woman and her sexuality.

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