Appearing in the line up for the upcoming Peckham Fringe next month, Ribbon Around A Bomb celebrates autistic freedom while exploring the special interest of its writer, Molly Tompsett. Her fascination with Frida Kahlo's rich and varied life and creative artistry is incorporated in this show, that additionally uses lecture and workshop elements to make for a unique experience.
Read on to discover why this production is so important to Molly, and why she is immersing participants in the journey of the historical icon.
Can you discuss the concept of Ribbon Around A Bomb and why you decided to write the piece?
I created Ribbon Around A Bomb a year after graduating university - I hadn’t made art since graduating as I was adjusting to moving out and finding a job and all that other crazy “adult” stuff. The piece came out of wanting to celebrate my autism, something I’ve shunned since my diagnosis when I was 7. But also I didn’t want to wait around to create work, I’d often feel like the kid at school who was picked last for a team in P.E waiting around for people wanting to work with me. Creating work about my autistic special interest meant I could take the driving seat.
Why is Frida Kahlo your subject of choice, and how do you think discussing her work will be
As an autistic person, my special interest since I was about 14 has been Frida Kahlo. Growing up I was never told by adults or teachers around me that I should be proud of who I am, or that autism is something to celebrate. Making work about Frida has been really healing of my inner child. Allowing myself the space to celebrate such a quintessential part of my autism has been incredible.
Frida Kahlo’s image has become so commodified - you can see her on everything from household items to clothing. I wanted to share the full picture, what an incredible life she led, her art and how inspiring she is whilst making arts education accessible.
What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you've learned about Frida in the process?
I think [it is] Frida’s determination to always survive and fight for what she believed in. She attended
a communist rally only a few weeks before her death and was even lifted to her final exhibition lying in her bed.
How has creating the show impacted you personally, and what do you feel you have gained from the experience?
It's almost been like exposure therapy, this thing I was so terrified of people knowing I’ve decided to make an entire show about. I feel like I’ve become a much more versatile artist.
What made you want to combine a lecture and workshop with the show itself?
I come from an applied theatre background so wanted to reflect them within my work but also challenge certain ideas. Who says a lecture can’t be theatre? I wanted to make learning about art more accessible whilst allowing people to respond to Frida’s work themselves - build a relationship with it like I have.
Celebrating Frida has allowed me to celebrate myself. For so many autistic people - especially women we are taught to mask and hide who we are. Creating work from that part of me, the messy, excitable and child like part of me - and encouraging people to listen and respond is both scary and exhilarating.
How do you think we can improve autistic representation in the arts and why is this important?
There needs to be more of it. But also a focus on intersectionality, celebrating autistic female artists, autistic LGBT artists, autistic artists of colour. Anything that works against this idea that the autistic experience is just a white man sat in the corner obsessed with trains and who is really good at maths.
More autistic joy! - there is so much happiness and creativity in our diversity!
If you could talk to Frida, what would you tell her and why?
That you mean so much to me and so many people around the world. I know you’d probably hate being the centre of attention but all I can say is thank you, because through you I’ve become so much more confident in who I am.
What a lovely note to finish on! Huge thanks to Molly for expressing her answers to these- it feels as if sharing this not only means a lot to you, but is equally inspiring to other autistic people trying to find their way. I wish you all the very best on the run and for your bright future ahead!
Get your ticket to the event here:
Additional thanks to Caitlin Plimmer for coordinating this interview.