Olivia Twist is an illustrator and lecturer who lives and works in London. She collaborated with us on the second instalment of our ‘This Is Our Home’ project - a 12-month collaboration which invites artists to create their own take on familiar estate agent signage, covering the signs with their stories and memories of home as an act of joyful protest. You can read more about ‘This Is Our Home’ here.

Olivia's evocative piece, called 'Go for it', is a celebration of food's power to bring people together. For Olivia, home is a place where food is shared and abundant - a place where people cook for each other and eat together.

"I wanted to celebrate the communal aspect of our home. Everything is for everyone. There is always more than enough. There are different cheeses, the tea cupboard is always full and there’s always cake and custard. It's these small things that really make us feel grounded. Cooking for us is a gesture of love and eating together as a house is a bonding experience we don't take for granted."

Go for it

We got together with Olivia to discuss the benefits of communal living, her dream dinner guests, and her diverse sources of artistic inspiration:

Where did you grow up? And where do you live now?

I grew up in Tower Hamlets, East London and I haven’t moved far. My family still lives in Tower Hamlets and I definitely wanted to maintain those East London roots.

What’s your earliest memory of home?

My earliest memory is probably of my grandparent’s home. They would pick me up after school while my mum was at work. I remember changing into warm, comfy clothes, eating dinner, and watching TV together.

Is home a place for you - or is it all about people?

Definitely people. It’s not just about the outside shell - it’s also about the community within. The people make the spaceAnd it doesn’t matter whether that’s blood family or not, it can still be a home.

Is home ownership something that’s important to you?

I would say yes. It’s something that, culturally, I was taught to aspire to while I was growing up. Home ownership can also provide a sense of stability, which I think lots of people crave.

Your work often looks at intergenerational links and conversations - what is the intergenerational discussion around home ownership?

I think people of all ages are starting to recognise that it’s harder for my generation to buy a house than it was, say, for our grandparents. 

For me, it’s about embracing that and enjoying where I am right now and not putting pressure on myself to get on the property ladder. Living in communal housing and house shares is something that’s really valuable to society and, in London it’s something that you can’t escape - and I don’t think we should run from it. We needed that togetherness throughout the pandemic. 

Did living through a lockdown change your priorities when it comes to your home?

I’ve always been someone who values community and home as a true place of rest. So the pandemic made my belief in those things very practical and tangible. I’ve always made very considered decisions about who I live with, because I am looking for truly communal living - not a relationship where we only see each other in passing in the kitchen. Lockdown made me realise that I’m lucky my housemates and definitely brought us closer together.

What does community mean to you? Does it extend beyond your home and into your local area?

I’d say ideally yes, but since leaving home I haven’t lived in any one house for a very long time so it’s been difficult to really embed myself into the community. When I lived with my family, we were really connected to all our neighbours: we’d go to each other’s weddings, celebrate Christmas and Eid together, stuff like that. I definitely recognise the value of connecting with your local community and it’s something I want to do more of in the future.

I did have a great relationship with my neighbours in my old house share. It started when I first moved in and I didn’t have curtains on my window yet; I looked out into the garden and I saw them waving at me. I think being open to those spontaneous moments of connection and embracing them is something that I do.

Who or what inspires you creatively?

I like to celebrate my local community in my work and draw everybody who’s around me - old people in the laundrette, people using internet cafes, young kids laughing on the back of the bus. I’m basically really into people just living and enjoying their lives.

I’m also really into archival images. I like seeing what the Caribbean community looked like in the 80s, what east London looked like in the 70s - basically everything that my gran talks about. That’s really inspiring for me.

I really like an artist called Ephrem Solomon and a French illustrator called Chloe Wary. I like the way they use line and texture. 

How did the place where you grew up influence your art?

Growing up, I saw representation of council housing that didn’t feel fair or accurate. So through my work I try to show my experience, my truth, the people around me, and the mundane things I appreciate.

One of the things I miss about living in a flat is that if you cross each other on the stairs you have to talk. Whereas when you live in a house you can just do a little nod. There’s more intimacy when you live in a flat and I do miss that.

If you live in council housing, you’re there for longer than if you were renting from a private landlord. You go to school with your neighbour’s kids and you see people grow up. So I think ownership doesn’t necessarily have to be financial - it’s more about owning your space.

How would you describe the relationship between art and protest?

Visual communication is brilliant because you can communicate with a wide range of audiences on a number of different levels. You can put esoteric messages in your work - like the layout of a kitchen that is instantly recognisable to anyone who has lived in a council flat. You can communicate on a deeper level.

What’s your favourite form of joyful protest?

Feasting with people. This is what I was trying to get at with my piece: coming together, sharing ideas, sharing food. Eating together is an intimate thing - it’s not something you do with just anyone. You can invite people from different parts of your life and see them forming new connections over food. I think that’s my form of joyful protest.

Your piece is all about the power of food to bring people together. If you have anyone - living or dead - round to your house for dinner, who would you invite?

There’s an activist called Olive Morris. She was part of the British Black Panthers and was really into squatting, which I find really interesting and empowering. She’s passed away but I’d definitely like to invite her.

I’d invite Maya Angelou too - for old wisdom and I reckon that would make for a very fruitful discussion.

I’d also like to invite the artist Faith Ringgold because her work is amazing and I would love to be able to ask her some questions.

And finally, I’d like chef David Chang to be at the table. I’ve watched all his netflix shows and he really is a teacher. I have one of his books too. I love the way he pairs things.