‘Continental people have sex lives: the English have hot water bottles’, claims George Mikes in his book How to Be an Alien.
This quote, from the Sex chapter of the 1946 novel provides a typically humorous snapshot into the native Hungarian’s perspectives on the English and their relationships with foreigners.
Now, 65 years after its publication, Soapbox Events is curating an exhibition of artworks that provide their own interpretations of each chapter of the novel.
The exhibition hopes to celebrate London’s extraordinary diversity and ‘the community of aliens who call London home.’
The collection includes painting, photography, poetry, murals, furniture and a unique collection of illustrations from the Central Illustration Agency (CIA), of which 12 artists have been invited to visually recreate the book.
Each illustrator has been chosen due to their own personal status as, at some point at least, an ‘alien.’
Alicja McCarthy, agency manager of the CIA, explains, ‘All the artists have at some point lived in London, but aren’t London or UK nationals. It’s basically their interpretations of each chapter based on their own experiences, like the English love of tea, or how they queue.’
The project came about when Soapbox founder Jenny Theolin – a native Swede – moved to London in 2000. Her father had given her a copy of George Mikesʼ book How to be an Alien ‘to enlighten and prepare her for the British way.’
Buoyed by the novel, Theolin set about paring up with fellow alien Michelle Mulholland to find out what exactly it is that made them both fall in love with London.
Theolin explains, ‘This exhibition is a catalyst to explore the reasons why foreigners flock here and what makes them stay. The exhibition is also an opportunity for “non-London borns” to show what they have got and it will give them a chance to stand out in this fishtank of a city.’
Alien Nation: the art of blending in runs from 16 March – 16 April at Great Western Studios, 65 Alfred Road, London W2.