Margate artist Phien to auction ‘Empty chairs’ and write book on isle’s rough sleepers

Creative Phien O'Phien

Empty chairs of all shapes and colours represented people homeless and discarded in a recent exhibition by Margate-based Irish Traveller Phien O’Phien.

The display at The Margate School last month has now ended and Phien says he intends to have the chairs auctioned off with proceeds donated to a homelessness charity.

But that will not be the closing chapter for the Consider installation as Phien now intends to write a book telling the stories of each of the people represented by each of the chairs.

Phien, who previously exhibited at Tate Modern with art delving into the issues of those who are disenfranchised, says he is not an artist but a person ‘with ideas who opens up debate and consideration.’

Consider by Phien O’Phien

Also a singer and a poet, Phien, 50, comes from a family of Pavee people and he and his five siblings spent much time in Medway, Swale, Canterbury and Thanet, with particular childhood memories of Dreamland.

The self-taught father-of-four uses the arts as a platform to campaign against discrimination, including that of race, sexuality or disability. 

He said: “I deal with social issues and try to teach so people understand homelessness, dispossession, eviction, mental health, disability. Most people come into contact or suffer with these issues.

“I have been active in the past standing up for communities but most people would come out against racism and stand up against discrimination on disability or sexual orientation – just injustice.

“I am now writing a book on homelessness and all the individuals involved and symbolised by the chairs in my exhibition. Each chair was a person with a story. I hope to write a chapter on each and then donate the book to a homelessness charity so they can gain the rewards to help the people on the ground. I think in the present climate there will be more homeless people – those who can’t pay their rent or mortgage. It is going to be a bad time so we need to start considering each other and looking to help each other.

“We currently have a situation in this country where we do not see homeless people, we observe them in passing. A lot of people have spoken to me about their experiences and if we can even give something as basic as a smile to someone sat in a doorway the psychological effect can’t be measured. Society considers homeless people as pavement furniture, not acknowledged, but a simple hello can make a massive difference. These are people who are at the bottom of their lives and they need some help or at least acknowledgement.

“I am also very concerned for disabled people on the road and on the street, not only dealing with disability but also homelessness. Many do not get help for those issues, including mental health,and it is so important we look out for each other regardless of who and what we are.”

Phien, who has lived in Margate for around five years, says he believes the town is on the up and much of that is due to the arts and people moving into the area.

He said: “Margate has been rescued by the arts. Yes, with that comes the artists and the gentrification, but are you happy living in place that’s seen better days or happy to live somewhere that is being pulled up.

“I think the arts have done a good deal for Margate and Thanet and I think that will continue.”

And Phien believes art is for the many, saying: “Art is something everyone can get involved in. Everyone has a picture in them.”

Phien hopes to complete his book by February.


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