Cultural and creative life

Artwork tells secret stories in billboard-sized letters

Surry Hills artwork, Village Voices, reflects personal experiences.

Village Voices street view

Inspired by moveable lettering at churches and art deco cinemas, Astra Howard has created a public artwork reflecting changing community ideas.

The words displayed in the Surry Hills artwork, Village Voices, will change every few months. New poems or text will share stories of the area.

Embedded content:

“Through the constantly rearranged letters, this artwork recalls intimate games of Scrabble, prompting passers-by to think about diverse issues that affect them, from the local to the global,” said Astra.

Personal experiences, often of great consequence, sometimes humorous.

Artist Astra Howard with Surry Hills local Coralie Hinkley.
Artist Astra Howard with Surry Hills local Coralie Hinkley.

The first text to feature on the artwork was offered by local dancer and poet Coralie Hinkley, in a workshop at the Mission Australia Centre. More workshops took place in local community centres, libraries and schools to develop narratives for the display.

There is also a drop box at Surry Hills Library, where people can submit their ideas.

Astra said of the discussions so far, “The contributors described personal experiences, often of great consequence, sometimes humorous, and certainly always informative.”

Public art can reveal hidden stories

For Astra, public art has the ability to reveal hidden stories and facilitate unexpected interactions between people, often strangers. “It can be the catalyst for discussion and debate about social, cultural, political and environmental issues,” said Astra.

Astra’s long list of projects spans various cities in Australia, the US, UK, China, Vietnam and France. Many of these projects address social issues like homelessness, reflecting her engagement with this sector over many years in inner Sydney.

Closer to home, Astra talked about her work in the late 90s and early 2000s in Sydney. “I felt that my low-impact action research/performance projects were legitimate ways to better understand the city.”

Read a full interview with Astra. She talks about her engagements with cities, her design and community services background and her site-specific and public art practice.

Published 17 August 2018, updated 29 November 2023