Street artist Stik has always used his public-facing work to campaign for change. His Sleeping Baby pays homage to the UK's National Health Service, and comments on the vulnerability of the national lifeline.
The Sleeping Baby series is based on a mural Stik painted on Homerton Hospital in London, his local hospital. At the hospital, members of the public queued in their thousands to pick up a signed edition of the print. Stik explained the philanthropic motive behind this project: “As an artist I’m acting as a representative of my community, showing fondness and love for an institution we all need, and expressing its vulnerability – and strength also”.
After his original mural was painted in 2015, Stik's Sleeping Baby became the mascot for striking junior doctors in the UK. With the Sleeping Baby image at the centre of their placards, text banners around the image read "The NHS is our baby", "Hands off the NHS", and "Stop privatisation".
In front of a boldly coloured background, Stik's cutesy figure appears in the centre of the composition dozing. With eyes closed in sleep, the curled up stick-figure rests its head on its hands. Contrary to a lot of Stik's animated figures, Sleeping Baby appears vulnerable in this sleeping state, speaking to the fragility of the NHS.
When Stik originally released his Sleeping Baby prints in 2015, he sold them in an array of colours to raise money for the NHS. The prints fetched a total of £50,000, which went towards funds for the Homerton Hospital Regional Neurological Rehabilitation Unit's art therapy Creative Media Room.
Since 2001, Stik has been painting his socially-conscious murals around East London. The street artist became renowned for his six-line stick figures, which he has represented in various positions over the years.
With its eyes closed and a hand delicately placed on its sleepy head, Stik's Sleeping Baby invites the viewer's empathy. Much like the innocent baby he represents, Stik strives to show viewers the vulnerability of the NHS. By likening his sleeping baby to the NHS, Stik instills in his viewers the desire to protect the NHS as the nation's baby.
Most of Stik's iconic figures have been depicted standing, walking, and dancing. His Sleeping Baby series sees the stick-figure curled up on the floor, emphasising the innocence and vulnerability of this specific character and the socio-political concern it represents.
Stik originally conceptualised Sleeping Baby in his earlier work, Rough Sleeper. Though the work features an identical figure to the Sleeping Baby series, this particular work has an even more emotive quality as it alludes to Stik's own feelings of vulnerability while he was homeless.
For the most part, street art is democratic and socially-conscious. Artists graffiti or paste their imagery in public places to send targeted messages in the service of the general public. Stik is not the only artist to use his philanthropic art practice to raise funds for the NHS. In 2020, the elusive Banksy left his painting Game Changer in a hospital. The work was eventually sold for a colossal £16.8million, and all proceeds went back to the NHS.
It was no coincidence that Stik's original Sleeping Baby mural was painted on the side of London's Homerton Hospital. Stik himself recalled that he visited the hospital several times throughout his life, and that “They saved my life a few times, stitched me back together”.