Artist Profile: Alejandra Carles-Tolra

1 June 2021

Art for Life, an Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme Exhibition at Firstsite, Colchester, is the result of a number of workshops with artists and people on the frontline of the health and care sectors. These workshops provided a space to examine their experiences of the pandemic and the effect this significant moment in our collective history has had on their lives. The exhibition features specially-selected loans from the Arts Council Collection, a variety of pieces made by the key workers who took part in the workshops alongside NHS art psychotherapists (who generously gave up their time to support the sessions), as well as contributions from artists affected by the COVID-19 virus.

The wide range of works in Art for Life offer a creative record of this time and reflect many of the shared experiences of life under lockdown - the appreciation of nature, importance of family and community, and the longing for human touch. Three selected photographs from the series Where We Belong (2017) by featured artist Alejandra Carles-Tolra most strongly demonstrate the collective longing to return to a time when we could safely hold hands and hug one another. 

Alejandra Carles-Tolra is a visual artist and educator from Barcelona, currently based in London. She is interested in the relationship between individual and group identity, and the way in which these may influence one another. Where We Belong (2017) is a body of work exploring themes of belonging, femininity and escapism through members of the Jane Austen Pineapple Society. The artist spent over two years working with the society, who share a passion for the 19th century author, defining themselves as Janeites and coming together at special events to recite Austen’s work while wearing Regency-style costumes.


Looking beyond the historical dress, Carles-Tolra’s photographs offer an intimate view into the relationships between the group’s participants. They hold hands, dance, sit together and embrace.

In an interview with lensculture about the series, Carles-Tolra explains “ the photographs, the physicality is very important. For many people, it’s odd when they hear about the group for the first time. But when you actually learn about it, it’s not that strange in today’s society to have a group online with whom you share interests. But….when that moves from online to real life, it gets interesting. It was the physical part that fascinated me, as it was a direct relationship to that psychological support that many of them had mentioned from the beginning: how Jane Austen had become a support at a time when they were lost and struggling with their own identity.”


It is the physical and psychological closeness of the figures that creates the reassuring sense of safety and the empowering feeling of belonging; feelings that many of us missed during the months in lockdown. Carles-Tolra’s photographs in Art for Life help remind us of the existential need to belong and be together. As the world begins to reopen, they also remind us to celebrate the new communities and relationships that have been built and sustained us during the pandemic.


Art for Life: An exhibition made with key workers is the fifth exhibition by Firstsite as part of the Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme, and is open from 17 May to 05 September 2021.

Kindly supported by the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group.



The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

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