Interviews with Artists

Foka Wolf

Interview by Dr Linzi Stauvers


Published in March 2023


An impossible maze, with no beginning or end, forms the basis of a new gallery installation and inner-city billboard campaign by Birmingham artist and activist Foka Wolf. Produced by Ikon, Why Are We Stuck in Hospital? illustrates the invisibility of people with learning disabilities and / or autistic people in long-stay hospitals.

Dr Linzi Stauvers, Acting Artistic Director, Education at Ikon spoke with Foka Wolf about their new project.

More information on the project can be found here.


Why Are We Stuck in Hospital?, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

Can you give an overview of your new work Why Are We Stuck in Hospital?

I wanted to create something that could be used as a vehicle to spread the information about people stuck in hospitals. The facts need to be shared, so they had to be more important than the actual artwork. I went with something quite theatrical with two different states - one to represent the facts and figures and another to represent the humans that make them up. I have a quote from a patient that references their mother too - I want people to understand that behind the numbers there are actually people’s babies stuck in these machines.

Why Are We Stuck in Hospital?, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

How are you using graphic design to highlight this violation of people’s rights, which is invisible to most people in the UK?

I am not a graphic designer, I am actually terrible at it and have always avoided jobs involving it as my attention span is not built for it! I did however realise that if something is written big on a wall with something that looks sort of legit, people will stop and look - I think our brains have become rewired by advertising to do this. This artwork acts in the same way.

You have included an ‘impossible maze’, with no end, in your new work. What does the maze represent?

I see the impossible maze as a representation of the situation the patients and their families are in. It is in red to highlight the bureaucracy in some of the cases and it also has a horror film aesthetic.

Old Crown, Digbeth, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

All your work is issue based, highlighting the inequalities arising from corporate greed and political corruption. Who is to blame here? How have you adapted to working without your usual parody or humour?

There are a lot of different people to blame as all of the cases are unique and in some cases government officials can't even pull some of the people out.

I really enjoyed working without humour as it put me in a place I'd not been before and forced me to use something else.

[left] Thumbs Up, screen print neon yellow, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
[centre] Thumbs Up, screen print neon green, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
[right] Thumbs Up, screen print neon pink, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

There is a sense of theatre to your artwork which magically appears in public spaces overnight. How are you bringing this experience into the gallery for Ikon’s visitors?

I have had to approach this differently. It had to achieve the same effect but in a different setting so I have tried to create something that magically appears using lights instead.

Matthew. Image courtesy of Changing Our Lives.

What do you hope to achieve through this two-week exhibition and billboard campaign? Is it long enough, and where else might the work go?

I ultimately want the billboards to send people to experience the installation. What I have found putting stuff up on the streets is that it could only be there for a little while, but if people take photos of it and share it on the internet it will be there forever. I think the artwork would work well in a disused building or an active institution.


︎ @fokawolf


If you like this why not read our interview with Margo Sarkisova.


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