Who Is the Brilliant Mind Behind the Brexit Still Life?

Britain may now enjoy its lonely can of beans.

Maddy Shaw, Brexit, a Still Life. Via Facebook.
Maddy Shaw, Brexit, a Still Life. Via Facebook.

Since the shocking news of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, social media has been abuzz, with much of the art world and the general public still reeling about the Brexit vote.

While artnet News has analyzed some of the potential effects that Brexit may have on the art market, one widespread meme tackles the issue from a uniquely accessible point of view: Food.

In a still life photograph that has been like over 300,000 times on Facebook, a wide array of European food stuffs occupy a wooden table. Rich cheeses, juicy grapes, fusilli pasta, Irish butter, Polish chocolate, French wine—even a Dutch stroopwafel—they all sit clustered together, a harmonious melting pot of delicacies from across the EU.

At the edge of the table, segregated from all else, sits a lonely cans of beans, its contents unceremoniously dumped into a small white dish. Post-Brexit, the photo implies, the UK will be cutting itself off from all the wonderful things Europe has to offer, and will be restricted to its own limited resources. (Canned baked beans actually originated in the US, but have become a staple convenience food in the UK.)

It’s a clever visual metaphor to the situation the country now finds itself in, but it’s unclear who is behind Brexit, a Still Life. Although it has been shared on Instagram and Twitter, the meme appears to have originated on Facebook.

The UK’s Metro credits Maddy Shaw as the original source of the image. She told Metro that the photo’s symbolic meaning is that “Too many beans make you Trump.”

However, Anastasia Piliavsky, who appears to be a photographer, also posted the image on June 24 at 6:45 a.m.

One comment chimed in with a screengrab of Berlin-based musician Subb-an’s popular post with 314,000 likes, noting “this guy snitched your picture!” In response, Piliavsky wrote back, “Never mind! Share the goods. Xx.”

Neither Shaw nor Piliavsky responded to Facebook messages from artnet News. In a Facebook comment, Piliavsky told friends upset with Shaw’s apparent appropriation that “this was just a laugh to cheer the hubs. They are welcome to claim ownership!”

Maddy Shaw posted this follow-up photo to <em>Brexit: A Still Life</em>, in which the beans have turned moldy, on July 4. Courtesy of Maddy Shaw, via Facebook.

Maddy Shaw posted this follow-up photo to Brexit: A Still Life, in which the beans have turned moldy, on July 4. Courtesy of Maddy Shaw, via Facebook.

UPDATE: The brilliant mind behind the Brexit still life is, in fact, Maddy Shaw. In a follow-up to the viral photo, Shaw rephotographed the beans, still in the white ramekin from the original image, on July 4. In the weeks since the original work, the beans have, as one might expect, gotten quite moldy.

In a Facebook message to artnet News, Shaw confirmed that she was creator of the work, saying “I spent the morning of the vote preparing the table and taking the picture in my kitchen.” She has plans to sell a limited edition print run of the photograph.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share