Artist Holli's anti-establishment art challenges stigma of poverty

Before graduating this week with a First Class Honours in Fine Art, student Holli Armstrong created original art for an LJMU project challenging poverty stigma.

The cross-Faculty project, led by Dr Rachel Broady, Senior Lecturer in Media, Culture, Communication, brought staff and students together to seek ways to promote respectful, inclusive, and useful discussions about poverty.

The QR-funded participatory research saw people with direct, lived experience, from human rights charity ATD Fourth World, working with the Faculty of Arts, Professional Studies and Social Sciences. The intention was to empower everyone on campus to feel confident in tackling a sensitive topic while also acting for change.

Holli’s work was inspired by comments collected on the day which both defined and described the experience poverty.

She explained: “As a political artist and activist I consider it essential to centre my art around a purpose, to use my artistic ability to speak up and be the voice of the disenfranchised.

'No one should have to live their lives feeling this way and we need to fight this stigma' - artist Holli Armstrong

“When one in five people in the UK - the fifth-richest nation in the world - live in poverty or when people are forced to use food banks despite working full-time jobs or eating pet food to survive, something needs to be said and I am here to say it.

“Poverty sadly leads to people feeling shame, however, it is the broken system that we live under that creates this. No one should have to live their lives feeling this way and we need to fight this stigma.”

The art is created with words cut from a newspaper in a décollage technique. This approach appealed to project leader Dr Rachel Broady, whose research focuses on media representations of poverty.

She said: “I loved Holli’s art as soon as I saw it. There have been many column inches in newspapers dedicated to demonising people in poverty and contributing to the very stigma the project sought to challenge. Holli’s art - which looks like ransom notes - very cleverly uses news print to turn that on its head.”

Holli said: “This style of cut-up text was inspired by the Sex Pistols album covers created by artist Jamie Reed, as well as Socialist Workers posters that I see day to day on the streets of Liverpool, that follow a similar cut-out technique and give off an anti-establishment aesthetic.

“I have found this project very insightful into how poverty stigma affects people living on low incomes. It has allowed me to look and think about poverty through a different viewpoint. Understanding the impact poverty stigma has on people's self-esteem, mental health, and day-to-day lives.”

ATD Fourth World wrote a blog saying: “Our aim is push conversation about poverty in the right direction at the university but also in society as a whole. It was a day of empowerment for people to speak up about this topic and to raise ideas of change.”

The art, which will be displayed and distributed around campus, uses five quotes from the day:

  • Poverty is being at the mercy of society’s judgement and not being taken seriously
  • Poverty is feeling like you are different and living on the outside. It is cold, it is a struggle.
  • Poverty is fear, like a permanent cloud
  • Poverty is shame and embarrassment, it is interminable, it is boring, nothing is smooth or easy
  • Poverty has not set timeline even if your circumstances change you are stuck in a survival mindset


Dr Rachel Broady

ATD Fourth World

Holli Armstrong


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