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Alumni in Focus

Bibo Keeley

Bibo Keeley

Bibo Keeley graduated in Contemporary Art in 2019 and lives in a two-artist household with her husband Brian Keeley. Her art focuses on her life experiences and being deeply connected to nature.

Last year, Bibo and Brian were approached by The Barn in Banchory to collaborate on a commission from the South Bank Centre. We find out more about the project, Bibo’s own journey to becoming an artist and the collaborative way she works with her husband Brian.

Before her husband was critically ill in 2013, Bibo had attended some local community art projects and began to work with clay and make small sculptures. She had her first solo exhibition in an Aberdeen café in 2012. She had also started to submit work to various open-call exhibitions across Scotland. However, in summer 2013 her whole life came to a standstill with Brian’s sudden and subsequently long, critical illness following a severe heart attack.

Many months of intensive care and uncertainty followed. When palliative care was introduced, the couple got married in an emergency wedding on the intensive care ward. From that day onwards - against all odds - Brian became stable enough to be placed on the heart transplant list and eventually received a new heart.

During his slow recovery, Bibo became his full-time carer. By September of the following year she felt she needed some respite, so she decided to enrol in a college course in Art and Design. Although the intention of the course was to provide Bibo with respite, she decided to send off one application for art school at Gray’s School of Art, which was accepted.

During her time at Gray’s Bibo valued any opportunity to pick up practical skills for creating hands-on artwork.  She has fond memories of spending time in the wood workshop and getting stuck into work.  She recalls the buzzing, inspiring atmosphere of the wood workshop and the supportive technician who would take the time to teach her new practical skills and techniques, including how to use a variety of machines, identifying the right type of materials for a project and helping to solve technical problems.

During her time at Gray’s, Bibo started to develop her own theme and practice. Meanwhile, her husband Brian was working independently on his practice as an artist. 

As two artists living in the same household, they have always shared ideas, discussed each other’s work, and supported each other. Inevitably they found that themes and interests crossed over. Reflecting on this experience and due to shielding together since March 2020 because of Brian’s health condition it seemed natural to start focusing on establishing themselves as an artist couple. 

Bibo explains that they both see art as a reflection on life. It is rooted in their personal experience and is an expression of it. So discussing and developing ideas together with the goal of creating an outcome which feels authentic, has led them to an even deeper understanding of their themes  as well as of each other  – an experience which has been extremely motivating, inspiring, fun, and sometimes emotional. Their collaboration allows them to utilise the best of their individual skill sets towards common goals. 

Due to shielding, both Bibo and Brian had to give up their studio spaces and cancel some of the creative opportunities they had planned for 2020, which left them feeling isolated. So, when they were invited by The Barn  to collaborate on a project for the Southbank Centre in London, this was not only an exciting opportunity but a huge gesture of support. It also proved to become a very positive and insightful process of working with both of these arts organisations.

The Southbank Centre’s project Art By Post is about bringing creative activity booklets to 3000 isolated people across the UK using collaborators such as The Barn.

In the project with the Barn and the Southbank Centre, the importance of biodiversity and the interdependence between humans and nature became the key focus. Bibo and Brian developed a booklet on the theme of soil. Bibo explains that soil is often totally under-valued, but it's really our lifeline. Without soil there would be no life on this planet. It’s a finite source, yet according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation over 30% of global soil is already degraded and this could increase to over 90% within the next 30 years. Bibo and Brian also used this project to draw parallels between the fragility of nature and aspects of their own life experiences.

Bibo brings this reflective practice into much of her work.  In her degree show in 2019, her work focused on her relationship with the natural environment and the evidence of negative societal impact on the environment. On the strength of this work she was selected to exhibit at the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries 2020 exhibition which took place in Edinburgh in February last year. The body of work she submitted was mainly informed by extractivism, the disharmony in global climate efforts, the passing down of corporate waste-reduction responsibilities to the consumer, and extinction and loss of biodiversity.  Her sculptures were described in an exhibition review by The Scotsman as “sombre… very impressive” and “ominous”.

Bibo’s thoughtful advice to anyone looking for a change of direction or who wants to learn a new skill is not to look back and regret what you didn’t do. If there is something in your life you feel you must do, then do it.

Bibo Keeley can be found at:

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