This Pompey Event Didn’t Look For, But Found Me

Image courtesy of Esti Chivite.

S&C’s newest team member and Contributing Editor, Esti Chivite, describes her experience of the recent launch of a local arts project and a pleasant, if unexpected, surprise.

When my editor Tom Sykes emailed me asking if I would like to cover the opening of an art exhibition called The Snow Witch on Saturday evening, I instantly accepted. I saw it as an opportunity to prove my ability to the editor in chief of the newspaper, as I’m currently doing a student placement year with S&C. To be honest with you, I didn’t even click on the link at the bottom of Tom’s email for more information.

That afternoon I had a quick read through the exhibition information. The art exhibition was created by local artists inspired by the novel The Snow Witch by Matt Wingett, a Portsmouth author. I began to worry. I was going to an art exhibition when I don’t know anything about art, made by local artists I didn’t know, based on a book I’ve never heard of.  

The next day, I went to work at 10 am. S&C is a not for profit run by volunteers and we provide our own equipment.  I was three hours into my working day when my laptop screen turned black. I tried to do those tricks that you find on the internet, but nothing happened. I ran to the nearest shop and an hour later they called me back saying that the motherboard had failed. Basically, the most expensive piece of hardware in the laptop was broken and there was nothing to do, apart from paying the store £25 for the service. You can imagine how pissed off I was. I was stuck in Portsmouth, I had already cancelled plans due to my career interests, and I was going to an art exhibition that I wasn’t interested in. I had to do the majority of research with my mobile phone, just what you hope for at the weekend. 

After lunch, I gathered enough strength to start writing my notes; the hosts were Lucy Scott (a blacksmith) and local author Matt Wingett and the event featured both music and spoken word. The Snow Witch is written in the style of magical realism and has been classed as a ‘masterpiece’ of Wingett’s work. For the summary, I went straight to Amazon, where apart from the story you get the chance to read others’ opinions.  The book is about a refugee girl, Donitza, who comes to Portsmouth and starts playing the violin for a living, meeting people who help her to confront her traumatic past and build a better future.  A fox character seemed relevant in the reviews, but I couldn’t find out why.  

That was all the information I found and because of the short notice, I didn’t even have time to read the book, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to understand the pieces. I was definitely not feeling this event.  

Saturday arrived and my pessimistic attitude remained . I headed down to the exhibition at Cascades early leaving enough time for a cigarette. After my nicotine dose, I walked to the doors and entered the foyer. There was a large spread on the table in front of me: beer, white and red wine, fizzy drinks, grapes and cheese, crisps and something else that I can’t remember. People were gathered around, talking amongst themselves. I took a glass of white wine thinking alcohol would make the paintings more appealing. 

The entrance had creepy drawings of foxes, skulls and skeleton hands in dark colours weaved with yellow, using music sheets as a background. I guess this is because the story’s protagonist plays an instrument. By the door was a 5 foot tall steel statue of a girl playing the violin, next to it 2 tables with information and copies of The Snow Witch book. 

Inside the exhibition, you could see a clear visual differentiation between the two sides: on the right, the predominant colours were black and white with hints of red, and on the left, yellow, blue, red with a touches of black. I felt this represented was the actual divisions of Donitza’s life: past and future, darkness and joy. 

I had a quick look around, over-hearing conversations about the exhibition paintings and people remembering other paintings they enjoyed. Listening to the lively conversations made me realize how diverse and active the Portsmouth community is. 

Image by Esti Chivite.

Looking around me, I estimated about 100 people were at the launch.  I grabbed the exhibition guide and began to look at the pieces, reading the information boxes on the side. The paintings had a quality that I wasn’t expecting. As I said, I know nothing about art but I could tell that this wasn’t a last minute job, or an amateur one.  The viewer’s perspective was forever changing due to the variety of materials used by the artists: acrylics to glass, ceramic and forged steel, copper, aluminium, oils and recycled textiles, through to mono-print, multimedia, digital print, paper marbling and glazed stoneware.   

The fact that the exhibition was based on a book added to the interest of seeing different representations of the same character. Soon after the exhibition, a young girl went up on stage with her guitar and began to sing; it just added something to the atmosphere. After the singer finished, local writers read work inspired by the book and half an hour later, there was a play. The atmosphere kept changing, hand in hand with the variation of art work, turning this art exhibition into a social event that kept me comfortable, welcome, fed and entertained for an hour and a half.  

As I walked back home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how naive I had been. I thought I needed to know about art, local artists, techniques,  The Snow Witch book or the author before I could even consider going. I thought of the number of times I had not gone to events like this for similar reasons. But in reality, you don’t need to know about a local event, project or activity to enjoy it: just give it a go and you may surprise yourself just like I did.  This exhibition has inspired me to keep a close eye on events in Portsmouth  even if at first glance, I think they’re not ‘for me’. 


The Snow Witch is part of a transmedia storytelling project Cursed City, Dark Tide, funded by the Arts Council. The exhibition event also marked the launch of DarkFest 2019, an annual creative and cultural festival exploring all things dark, supernatural, and sinister, inspired by the work of Dr Karl Bell and University of Portsmouth’s Supernatural Cities project. Find out more about the art exhibition launch and this year’s DarkFest programme in the video below, published by Portsmouth DarkFest on Facebook for more information. 

#Darkfest19 Rough & ready Launch Party Highlights

Saturday 19th Oct. saw the launch of #Darkfest19 at the opening of The Snow Witch Exhibition in Cascades shopping centre. take a look at the mash up of the live stream we did from Unit 22 and find out whats on for this years #Darkfest19.

Posted by Portsmouth Darkfest on Wednesday, 23 October 2019


Find out more

Snow Witch website

DarkFest website

DarkFest on Facebook 

Check out the interactive story project Dark City, Cursed Tide