WOM Collective

Meet the teachers turned street artists adding colour to London’s streets

Two teachers are among the street artists adding colour to the walls of south west London with their creations.

Mural artist Layla Cope is an art therapist who helps teenagers from referral units, many of whom have been expelled from school or are in and out of foster care.

Cope took up graffiti three years ago to pass on what she learnt to her students.

She said: “I like working in the community with teenagers to show them that you don’t need to go and spray swear words, you can do something good with it.

“I want to promote the positive side of street art. It’s a lot more acceptable than it was 20 years ago.”

International Women’s Day: WOM Collective paint a mural on the side of Brixton gym.
Credit: Layla Cope

To mark International Women’s Day, Cope and five other artists, known as WOM Collective, adorned the side of Brixton gym with a mural celebrating female empowerment.

She continued: “A lot of women would feel a bit nervous walking into a graffiti jam. People think it will be horrible but I’ve had a really great reception. It’s a lot more welcoming than you’d think – it’s like a party!

“WOM Collective want to create a safe space, a welcoming platform, for girls to come and join in. We want to get female artists out there and be seen!”

Alistair Wilson, also known as Atila8T4, has been graffitiing for 18 years.

Alongside his artwork, Wilson works as an English-language teacher but plans one day to also enter the world of art therapy.

Wilson reflected on a number of experiences in his youth that led him to where he is today.

He said: “Growing up in London I was completely mesmerised by the stuff I saw. The boldness and the colour spoke to me. I found it absolutely mind-blowing. 

“During my GCSE’s I had a really cool art teacher who allowed me to incorporate graffiti into my work, which fuelled the fire and passion in me.

“I was obsessed with graffiti from an early age and studied fine art at university. Both worlds spoke to me and I was adamant I would keep them separate but it was a natural progression for me to merge them together.”

While many occupations have been harshly affected by the lockdown Wilson considers himself lucky to have been able to continue his work.

He added: “It’s sad that a lot of small businesses were unable to make it through the pandemic and had their shops boarded up. At the same time, I’ve gone to paint on those places to put some colour into these grey times.

“I count my blessings. I’m so thankful, I wake up every day and do a gratitude meditation because I am so blessed to be in this situation where I have work.”

To see more of the work by teachers and street artists in south London you can visit the websites of Wilson and Cope.

Featured image credit: Layla Cope

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