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Mary Martins: Departing


Mary Martins, a British Nigerian multidisciplinary artist and winner of CIRCA X DAZED CLASS 2022 joins me in a full-circle conversation, where artistry meets activism. Two years after her landmark win, we delve into the trajectory of Martins’ artistic evolution, the unveiling of her latest project ‘Departing’, presented 5 June on Piccadilly Lights for the launch of CIRCA PRIZE 2024 and the powerful narratives she weaves to preserve and honour communal histories. The following interview explores what she hopes to be the impact of her latest film and her unwavering dedication to safeguarding the cultural landmarks that embody the spirit of love and community.


LIZZY KILLORAN: Two years after being awarded the CIRCA PRIZE 2022, your multimedia documentary Departing is being premiered on Piccadilly Lights for the launch of CIRCA PRIZE 2024. What is the idea, intention and creative process behind the work and why is it imperative that this is shared now?

MARY MARTINS: The idea of community, connection and belonging are the motifs behind much of my work. Departing is a part of a larger body of work that explores how we come together, what these community spaces mean and how they enrich our lives.

It got me thinking more about this idea of movement and migration. I know people are aware of this topic, but I don’t think they have the information of what was really happening years ago. I think there’s a lot of people whose lived experiences have not been documented in an accurate way.

Growing up I was witness to a community that lived in fear of deportation, leading secretive existences, driven by the fear of banishment.  That’s just one perspective, one experience. Then there was the separation of entire families and communities. I want Departing to provide a different insight into what has happened and what does happen.

They call it a refugee crisis and I’m thinking if it’s a crisis then there’s a root cause to this, why are we not addressing it at its root? So that’s where I think Departing came from. Its purpose is to initiate questions around these laws and decisions that are made without us even having a say.


Sonia B interviewed by Mary Martins for Departing (2024)


LK: In what ways did receiving the CIRCA PRIZE award of £30,000 impact the trajectory of your artistic evolution?

MM: During the time of the CIRCA PRIZE I found myself questioning my artistic identity. As both an artist and filmmaker my work interchanges between the two mediums, it was this transitioning that prompted me to delve deeper into self-exploration.

I’d sat on this one idea for almost a decade, I never abandoned it, but knew at the time I didn’t have the funding, nor connections that it deserved. I think everyone has that one topic that they feel innately drawn to, that defines and fuels their artist pursuits. Thanks to the CIRCA PRIZE award, I was able to initiate the creative process and bring Departing to life, a crucial element to my artistic journey and counterpart to my first feature length film Queen of the South. The fund has allowed my work to transition its focus from British societal topics to those of the global South, facilitating connections with communities beyond the UK, something I’ve always wanted to do.

LK: Do you agree that without funding initiatives the creative space would remain a somewhat exclusive industry, unrepresentative of the wider population in terms of social, political, and demographic factors?

MM: I think funding initiatives are paramount to the preservation and equal representation of the artistic industries. While discussions often revolve around cuts to arts education funding, I’ve noticed a surge in funding, many with international reach. Whether large or small funding offers support and encouragement within the artistic sphere. 

I believe it’s not just about creating the work itself, it’s about the freedom to experiment with your artistic practice. You have that option for experimentation as a student but even after that, you’re still learning, there still needs to be an ongoing process of learning and evolution within your work. That’s another reason why funding is essential to the progression of art, as growth can only be achieved through continuous practice and exploration.

I think that without those resources, the diverse and rich array of artwork we currently enjoy could be at risk. I think these pockets of funding and their international reach makes art accessible to all, regardless of demographics.


Mary Martins holding the CIRCA PRIZE 2022 trophy with Josef O’Connor, Laure Prouvost and Sophie McElligott. Photographed by Santiago Franco Schicke


LK: In your work you often use animation and non-representational images. Does this help you deconstruct and communicate complex societal issues to a generalised audience base? 

MM: I’ve always been intrigued by how we express ourselves through these non-literal forms. Early animators from the Avant-Garde period were using animation in a very abstract way, focusing on the emotions it evokes as opposed to these visual literal images that we can connect with. Similarly, I try to make an audience feel something through my images compared to representing a story in a very literal and traditional narrative structure. Sometimes I wonder how to represent something, but then I realise that maybe I don’t need to, perhaps they just need to feel something.

I realised that no one wanted to talk about difficult subjects. I had to ask myself; Does animation make it easier for people to feel comfortable discussing such topics? I don’t see how we can resolve these issues unless we have real conversations with each other. I really thought I would reach a wider audience through this medium and it was one of the reasons I developed my work in animation and moving image.

LK: Art is inherently political and a significant vehicle for social change, what conversations are you hoping to spark through your art?

MM: Initially my work centred on depicting social issues, my more political stance came through following my summoning to Jury Service. I didn’t know it then, but it would later inspire my film ‘Something More’ which explored knife crime as an epidemic and symptom of a larger societal issue. Receiving the CIRCA PRIZE enabled me to follow a similar vein of political debate.

I’d always admired the fact that animation had been used as a political tool. I wanted to bring this art form back to its origins and pay homage to the period of political art that inspired my work. I never use my work to look for a solution, remaining neutral is something I really aim for. Instead, I seek to ignite thoughts about where we see these issues in the future and what changes we need to make.

To counterbalance the misinformation portrayed in the mainstream media I try to get as deep as possible using those directly connected to the issue. I think this brings an authentic and rich perspective that could not be achieved otherwise.