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Guerrilla Kindness: The Sweet Surprises of Sayraphim Lothian

by Betsy Greer
craft & maker

Kathryn Clark (5)

Sayraphim Lothia wants you to make you happy. In fact, she wants that so much it has become part of her body of work, a part which she calls guerrilla kindness. But how she arrived at it, like most things, was due to several things in her life colliding at once, which eventually led to the creation of a career built on both play and joy.

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In part, this shift began thanks to a love of the street art scene in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives, and the way in which local artists sometimes leave bits of art behind for people to discover as they wander around town. Lothian found she wanted to join in, but, as she lacked strong painting skills, she felt as if she couldn’t participate and leave things for others to find and enjoy. The first time she found something by the Melbourne street artist Psalm, her reaction was, “’Oh my God! It’s proper art and I’ve just found it in the street and I don’t have to pay for it or anything!”’ It was just out in the world and I really love that moment of discovery.”

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Things changed further after taking some workshops with Tassos Stevens in 2011, whose work in immersive theater Lothian found inspiring. During one of his workshops the students were coming up with ways to brighten someone’s day without them knowing who did it, it was in coming up with these ideas that where she realized, “’You can do nice things for people as a body of work! That’s awesome!’” The time with Stevens was so transformational that afterwards she started Pop Up Playground a company that among other things, comes up with games for people to play in public, with her husband, Rob.

Stevens’ workshops were even more influential given that Lothian was beginning to feel like she had reached an impasse with her crafting. She had begun knitting items for her friends, but once she had made something for all of them wondered what else was there for her to do. “I had pretty much knitted every one of my friends a gift, and I’m like, I can’t just keep knitting them gifts because they start to pile up with all these plushies or I keep them all myself and become a crazy cat lady at 80 with just rooms full of plushies.”

And when thoughts of street art, Stevens’ work, and crafting all combined, she realized she could “keep making things and then put them out on the street for strangers to find. And that would be awesome.”

So she did just that. She made cupcakes made out of building supplies. Handmade journals with individual inscriptions from 30 different artists. Endangered flightless birds made with cloth. Tiny stitched houses. Each project leaving dozens of crafted things behind in the hopes they find someone who needs them or could use a tiny joy.

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But what if someone comes along and destroys them? Or the wind blows them into a pile of leaves? All part and parcel of what makes guerrilla kindness as much of a mystery as a practice. “So you might put it out and someone might think it’s trash and they might throw it away or it might fall off the windowsill and no one ever sees it and you’ve got to be just as okay with that as someone finding it and it making their day.”

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Later on the conversation, Lothian mentions there was another influence to her work. One that was neither contemporary nor handmade. It was an activity undertaken by Pippi Longstocking in the children’s books by Astrid Lindgren, a series first published in Swedish in 1944. Turnupstuffing. “The idea of it is whatever turns up you stuff in your pockets, which is why it’s called turnupstuffing. [Guerrilla kindness] is sort of turnupstuffing for adults.” And suddenly, the seemingly simple addition of adding handcrafted things to streets in your town has the power to turn an everyday activity such as your commute into a time for play and adventure instead of a street whose pavement cracks you know by heart. In this way, the city becomes a playground instead of an urban jungle.

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While what some of us make may provide our livelihood, whose to say occasionally it can’t be shared as an action of guerrilla kindness? This practice can turn the act of making back into a thing of wonder and experimentation as well as stoke a part of you that wants to bring your work to everyone, both those who can afford it and those who cannot. It also creates a ripple with which to inspire others as well. “And the cool thing about [guerrilla kindness] is that the people who see [the work] online who aren’t in town or in the country, they still get the kick of ‘oh, how nice is this thing?’ It reverberates out past the actual object itself.”

And to see Lothian’s work given so willfully and joyfully is inspiring, as not only does it light a spark of altruism, it also evokes a sense of play back into everyday life.

Find out more about Sayraphim Lothian and her work on her website, sayraphimlothian.com.

 

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Betsy Greer

Betsy Greer is a maker and writer from Durham, North Carolina. Her most recent project, You Are So Very Beautiful, is about stitching and sharing affirmations. Find out more: craftivism.com/youaresoverybeautiful/