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 The source of art is in the life of a people.

Walter Crane Marquetry floor. South London Gallery.

I do love to pop in to my local galleries on a completely random basis, (often to grab a coffee in addition to cultural input, it must be admitted!) The South London Gallery is a haven of the Camberwell/Peckham culture scene, and in addition to having a great cafe next door, shows pioneering contemporary British and international artists as part of its mission to “bring art to the people of south London”.

The current exhibition of  Slovakian artist Roman Ondak in the main gallery has uncovered the original Walter Crane marquetry panel inset into the gallery floor, and he uses the quote in the panel as his exhibition title; “The source of art is in the life of a people”. The exhibition lasts for one hundred days and a significant element of the work is an oak tree trunk sawn into one hundred disks, the disks have each been marked around one of its rings to represent a key historical event that happened in that year of the tree’s life. each day a new slice is mounted on the gallery wall and tracks the passage of time, demarcated by Ondak’s selection of significant events. it is fascinating to ‘read’ this timeline as it evolves through the show period, and realise that each of us has a different perspective of what we consider to be ‘significant’ historical events.

Roman Ondak has invited local young people to get involved in the creation of his work ‘Awesome Rules of Language’ where he has taken illustrations from a 1960’s textbook and recreated them on the walls of the gallery. The illustrations have been drawn over by the adolescent collaborators and these doodles and comments have given  a quirky contemporary twist as a commentary on social and educational norms.

Still in the theme of education, Ondak has salvaged four large school blackboards from his native Slovenia, entitled ‘Four Moon Phases’ a bowl of a ladle is inserted into each of the boards,  symbolising the four phases of the moon, referring again to the passage of time and the transition between past and present that informs our existence.

I will certainly be popping back periodically to check what has happenned next in Ondak’s ‘tree of history’.

Hair looms exhibition

Photo by Robert Taylor for the hair looms project

The Saturday night crowd in Peckham’s trendy Blenheim Grove must have wondered what on earth was happening in the Me’lange hair salon. Usually full of people having their hair braided, nails done or feet pedicured, this Saturday instead saw the official opening of the ‘Hair looms’ exhibition of photographs celebrating the natural beauty of black hair.

 

Photo by Robert Taylor for the hair looms project

Hair looms exhibition. Photo by Robert Taylor 

Melissa Jo Smith, director of ‘Illuminated Arts’ generated the project in a response to the growing concerns about the misconceptions around black hair styling traditions, and perceived unfairness particularly within the education system where students of both sexes are often unfairly penalised for wearing traditional plaited or braided hairstyles or having large afro’s, whereas long or extreme European hairstyles are often disregarded.

Robert Taylor, whose work is held in major collections such as the National Portrait gallery and the V&A, has worked with local people within the salon to explore the forms and effects of natural black hair styling. The resulting images are forceful in their natural effervescence and character with an immediacy that belies the thoughtful approach he has taken to presenting real down-to-earth people. It is this down to earth aspect of the exhibition that I loved; Simple black and white images about hair, being shown in a vibrant and bustling hair salon. If you have ever visited Peckham High Street (which I thoroughly recommend) and it’s side streets you will know  that these salons are true social hubs for the local community. The mere fact that combing and plaiting black hair can take hours to achieve, necessitates a real connection with the people around you in the salon. None of that “would you like a coffee and a copy of Vogue to read whilst your hair is being cut?”  Here you find children, friends and family hanging out, gossiping and generally making themselves at home whiling away the hours of intricate styling. The heady fumes of nail polishes, steam treatments for hair and a myriad of styling products pervades the air as we take in the photography and note the pride of all concerned in this exhibition. Mr Taylor is being interviewed, comfy rococo sofas are drawn up for a panel discussion, a little girl has one half of her head a mass of downy curls whilst the hairdresser plaits it into a beautiful swirl around her head. As the photographs are interspersed between the salon’s mirrors and styling tools.

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Robert Taylor 

Saltfish fritters and sticky lemon cake were served with Carribean fruit cocktail punch, and we settled down to a discussion on the imprtance of the traditions of black hair, it’s cultural identity in the modern world and the political statements integral in the changing trends in Black hair styling over the decades. The debate was sparked by a video of archive footage of Britains first recognised black hairdresser Carmen England in the 1940’s. It was here that the attitude to ‘alien’ black hair became apparent as the narrator refers to ‘secret oils’ and hot combing required to achieve a stereotypical 1940’s hairdo! The Hair loom exhibition’s visitors were variously horrified, indignant and amused by this glimpse into hairderssing history. Debate ranged from the inevitable references to slavery traditions, today’s ‘Black lives matter’ campaign and the practicalities of nurturing a healthy head of afro hair. Overall the consensus accross the panel was that the overwhelming pressures on modern women to conform to stereotypical straight, Eurocentric and treated hair are too heavy to ignore for the majority of women.

The irony of assosciations with slavery and poverty were not lost on me during the discussions about hair extensions and wigs, with the current concerns over the ethics of real human hair extensions. “Much of the hair on sale comes from small agents who tour villages in India, China, and eastern Europe, offering poverty-stricken women small payments to part with their hair. As one importer, based in Ukraine, told the New York Times recently: “They are not doing it for fun. Usually only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair.” More worryingly, back in 2006, the Observer reported that in India some husbands were forcing their wives into selling their hair, slum children were being tricked into having their heads shaved in exchange for toys, and in one case a gang stole a woman’s hair, holding her down and cutting it off.” Homa Khaleeli, The Guardian 201220161015_194006.jpg

Robert Taylor photograph

Hair looms exhibition. Photo Robert Taylor

“Historically hair was very important in Africa and was, in many tribes, a way to show one’s status, identity, religion, and ancestry. The importance of hair in determining one’s status became even more apparent during slavery in the United States as black women with a kinky hair texture had to work in the fields while those with a more Caucasian- like hair texture were house slaves (Robinson, 2011; Lester, 2000). However, despite their looser hair texture, house enslaved Africans still had to take a step further in order to be presentable as white masters had control over them and forced them to have an image as close to white as possible (Thompson, 2008).

Therefore, emulating white standards of beauty for body image and particularly for hair meant having more status, the possibility to pass as white, become free and even survival in some instances (Patton, 2006). The mixed children from slave masters had looser, straighter and softer hair considered “good hair”, which added to the pressure African Americans experienced to appear as white as they could (Tate, 2007). That helps understand how black people’s need to alter their natural hair came about and still persists in our times.

The Politics of Black Womens’ Hair. Vanessa King & Dieynaba Niabaly 2013

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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The event was finished of by a piece of traditional african dance by Marta de Sousa of the Nzinga dance company, based in Forest Hill.

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Nzinga Dance company

Politics aside, the striking images in this exhibition are worth a look, you shouldn’t expect an uninterrupted view as in a standard gallery setting, but enjoy the atmosphere and banter as you do!

Arty East Dulwich

Stephane Godec

East Dulwich is now renowned as one of London’s up and coming areas, this formerly dowdy corner of South East London boasts broad leafy streeets and burgeoning high streets. Property prices are rising a higher rate here than anywhere else in London and this ‘gentrification’ bemoaned by some old timers, has resulted in an upsurge of trendy restaurants, design-led shops and personal trainers in every green space. Of course, the past inhabitants of East Dulwich (formerly known to many as part of ‘Peckham’) were those drawn to a cheap area of London to live in, and voila, a community of creatives emerged. The Camberwell and Goldsmith’s Schools of Art are within easy reach, so many ex-art students have remained in the area, growing careers and families in this leafy corner of South East London. ‘Incomers’ have been attracted by great transport links to the City, Docklands and the West End, bringing a whole new demographic to the area.

Jeannie Avent gallery

Jeannie Avent Gallery

 

The Dulwich festival incorporates the Artists’ Open House event, two weekends when the local artists literally open their homes and studios to the public, and this is a fantastic opportunity to see how artists work and live. As an artist, I know how much pleasure comes from the opportunity of meeting like-minded people, getting face to face reaction and feedback to new work, and chatting about art and design. This melting pot of artists and designers spreads over the ‘Dulwich’ corner of South East London and I love the opportunity of seeing, not only what these creative souls have been working on over the past year, but taking a sneaky look behind the facades of the Georgian and Victorian streets into other people’s homes! A stroll around the back streets is punctuated by the Artists’ Open House signs posted outside the participating properties, some front doors are left open, (Something unimaginable in this area twenty years ago!) some doorbells need to be rung, but in either case a warm welcome, often with the offer of a glass of wine, and snacks is always to be had, so don’t be shy, go out there and see what there is on offer!

This weekend we made the most of a blisteringly hot day to visit a few of the open houses around the Lordship Lane and Bellenden Road area, and the artists have kindly agreed to me sharing a few images of their work, of course this is only the tip of the iceberg as there are in all over 150 homes or studios open for the event, which runs over next weekend, the 14 – 15th May.

Tig Sutton Has been working on expressive brush marks, gloriously free in their movement, the subtleties of colour have been enhanced in their translation ito fine art prints, this is a bold move forward from his monochromatic prints of fine linear expressive drawings last year.

Ceramicist Sacha Tanyar ( Twitter handle @bansheeplum) is showing her gorgeous ceramics with friends illustrator Angus Robertson and painter Louise Hardy. A little foray into the back yard unveils cute hand painted bird boxes created by Sacha’s partner too; a real family affair!

bird box

hand painted bird box

David Hopkins

David Hopkins. Portraits

The home of David Hopkins is that of the archetypal artist, canvasses stacked against the walls, paintings covering every surface, portraits gazing around every corner, and occasional lighthearted looks at patisserie and foodstuffs. It was a delight to talk with the softly spoken David, who explained that his portrait subjects’rarely look directly at the viewer as he finds it disconcerting, and sees this as a tribute to Velazquez who also avoided the direct gaze of his subjects.

Sarah Kier

Sarah Kier

Scenic artist, Sarah Kier has been working on a series of paintings exploring the maps showing bomb damage to streets in the Blitz. The maps have been stencilled onto canvas and painted using scene painting techniques that she has used in her work for shows such as War Horse. Sarah is currently working with the National Theatre.

Ellen Hanceri

Ellen Hanceri 

Printmaker Ellen Hanceri has translated her block printed designs onto textiles, ceramics and homeware. Simple printed images tessellate in a style reminiscent of the woodcut designs of the 1940’s. Ellen is showing her work alongside ceramicist Ben Swift who has recently been developing a body of work that explores the torus form. I, however was instantly captivated by a display of his mini ceramic animals and a mantlepiece crammed with small cylindrical vessels before looking around the front room with the beautiful collection of suspended torus’ (or should that be torii?) along the walls!

Staying with the Liliputian theme, my next visit was to the front room of Stephane Godec who works under the label NoBookEnds. Stephan creates fantastical worlds from cut and folded paper using vintage books. He transports us from the city to the seaside with his little row of beach huts emerging from an old book, and his meticulous paper cuts are also shown as framed pieces of multi layered collages.

No Book Ends

No Book Ends. Intricate paper cuts from vintage books by Stephane Godec 

My final visit this weekend was to the workshop of Richard Wood who makes bespoke furniture. Richard’s pieces are refined, simple and elegant with a lightness of touch that is truly contemporary, the aroma of wood shavings permeates the workshop, and instantly transported me to my childhood, watching my grandfather turning wooden bowls on his lathe in the garage – happy days!!

If you happen to have the opportunity of wandering the streets of Dulwich next weekend, I would thoroughly recommend it, you never know what treasures you might find behind those front doors!

Rooted in…..

I have been beavering away in my workspace, putting together my first collection of limited edition block printed cushion covers. The pure joy of creating a product from scratch had me literally jiggling for joy when my first lino cut printed succesfully onto the antique French linen that I have been collecting for years and wondering what to do with!!

Inspired by local London street names, I wanted to combine my love of plant drawing with my return to South London after many years living in France, and what better way than to combine them in a collection of prints? Hence the “Rooted in” collection was born! My first two designs are “Love Walk, SE5” With an image of the delicate Love-in-a-mist flower ( just in time for St Valentine’s day) and “Elm Grove SE15”. In keeping with the traditions of multi cultural Peckham and my extended family I have used traditional hand tie dyed fabric from Nigeria to create the piping around the cushions; a truly multi-ethnic product!

The first two designs in the collection went into my first stockist SE storehouse which is a social enterprise store in Peckham, and I am so excited to see my cushions in their window!

So, watch this space for more designs in the Rooted in collection, there are so many fantastic plant forms out there in the streets of London!

Yuta Segawa

Yuta Segawa 7

Two of my favourite things have been combined in one place; great southern Indian food and delicate ceramic vessels! The colourful Ganapati Indian restaurant on Bellenden Road is hosting a show of Pottery by Yuta Segawa. I first saw Segawa’s work at the Design Junction London show last September. The view of an expanse of his multi coloured collection of miniature vessels was entrancing, I have always loved the concept of repetition and editioning as a means of making collections, and this graduate of Camberwell College of Arts had explored the idea via ceramics.

Finding Segawa’s ceramics on show in Ganapati, was a lovely surprise, and I love the fact that he has continued to explore the idea of multiples through his study of traditional Indian terracotta cups.

Through the Marius Dean Travel Bursary, Segawa has studied the production of disposable clay chai cups. These cups are made of local clay and fired at very low temperatures. Indian potters throw them quickly, producing approximately three cups a minute. Segawa says ‘They throw by the same motion and apply the same amount of pressure. It is an amazing technique that reveals one of the ways in which the human body and artwork are related in the creation process.”

There is a mix of Segawa’s glazed vessels and simple biscuit fired cups, all exhibited in long rows along the walls of the restaurant, enhancing and emphasising the repetition element of the show.

 

The exhibition runs until the 6th March 2016.

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