Thursday, 5 July 2012

We collected some of the works and props that children made and took last few photographs ... and then when everything was packed and the door were closed together with Saima we displayed some of the works around our walkway. They destroyed their work few days later... maybe it was for fun ... I guess I might have forgotten how it feels to be a child ... but I find it a bit sad that there was so little respect for their own work.

We all moved out. My diary, filled up with notes and unfinished texts lays on the living room table. My sofa is covered with drawings, letters from children and many other things that we made together... I try to make sense out of all of it, understand what those years spent on the estate were about. It's not easy and I often feel confused and frustrated ... finding no answers ... or  at other times things seem just too obvious...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Magda: What was the funniest thing that happened here on the Leopold Estate?
Saima: mmm…I don’t know, we only live here for 4 years.
Ashraff: I don’t know any funny stories, but I know about two sad stories that happen here ... a boy got beaten with a bottle….

Monday, 30 April 2012

It's been a long time since my last post. I came back from Pakistan with a head full of ideas, motivated to work work work. But it takes time to adjust to London, and so those first weeks weren't that easy and coming back to live on the estate didn't feel that great. I found it much emptier then when I had left.

It really feels like the end. Metal panels that block the whole frontage of the flats cover most of the estate at the moment, and there are new ones being put up every week.  On some floors there are just these panels, or panels and one lonely door, an entrance to the last occupied flat. My friend Sandrine lives on a floor like this. With no one else around it doesn’t feel safe.

As the building dies, and people keep moving out I start to realise that I only met a very small group of the tenants, and that my knowledge about this place is very limited.

I attended a Benagli Wedding last week. I went to the engagement party two months before, but the wedding felt very different. I had never experienced a wedding like that. The nicest thing about it was that some of my neighbours were there and meeting them outside of the estate, seeing familiar faces in a crowd full of strangers, felt like a confirmation of something, and as I'm writing this now I think about what that 'something' might have been.

I was seated at a table with other non-Bengali guests. We were the only table of foreigners and there were hundreds of other guests who seemed to know what was going on and what their role at the wedding was. Everyone except our small table seemed to be immersed in the wedding. We were observing, carefully moving around, always keeping a safe distance, cautious not to offend or disturb the wedding ritual.

Its funny how one can tell the difference between someone who is waiting, knowing what they are waiting for, and someone who is pretending to be waiting. Choosing the safe position of someone who is standing, someone who is walking around, coming back, having a lassi, then a bit of pakora, then again five steps forward, a very shy smile… I was pretending to be waiting, hoping for one of those familiar faces to tell me what to do. But no one helped me to find my way around.

I realised that the lack of attention didn’t come from the lack of care, but from an expectation that I would feel 'at home'. My neighbours, in some way, considered me as a family member. And here my Western scepticism came in to play and my own understanding of family bonds revealed as so different to that of my Bangladeshi friends. I was a bit lost after all, and people around didn’t feel like my family because despite the fact that I knew them and liked them, I was aware of all those cultural rituals that were so important here and now, and my lack of knowledge about them made me lose my safe ground for a while. Not wanting to offend people around me by doing something inappropriate like sitting at the wrong place, I felt relieved when I saw others who looked like they didn’t know the rules either and I joined the non-Bengali team at their table.

So is it possible that awareness of our cultural differences, instead of making us closer to one another, created an obstacle in our relationship? A  sort of distance? Or is it that those differences would always be there? And some sort of distance too? Perhaps by getting to know the exact type and scale of the difference we are able to position our selves in relation to it, making it acceptable and obvious, not a black hole of uncertainty anymore but rather a field of the known that we can walk over without much emotional engagement.

The Bengali wedding seemed to start and end in chaos for me. We arrived, ate, and then everyone took photos with the groom and bride. Zillions of combinations between aunties, cousins, mothers, fathers and brothers, the end to photo arrangements seemed never to come. No speeches, not much chit-chat, how different to all the weddings I’ve been to before!  There must have been a perfect sense to it, I even looked it up in Wikipedia. But the description of the wedding rituals didn’t match up to what I experienced. I guess the weddings held in London are slightly different to the way it’s done in Bangladesh, adjusting  to what is and what is not possible in the UK, or maybe it’s not about a place but about passing time.

A British couple that I met at the table turned out to be from the Leopold Estate. They've lived there longer than anybody else I've met. We had an interesting conversation about the way the Leopold estate was changing, about the people that lived there at the very beginning and the people that live there now. Although it was very interesting to hear them talking about the estate I couldn’t escape the feeling that there was a reluctance to address the real problems. Was it because we were at a Bengali wedding?  Or was it because as years went by the couple chose to focus on what was positive in their lives, leaving problems aside. They were a part of the Estate board and initiators / promoters of  various communal actions on the estate, they were just about to organise a jubilee party and then planning to open a new social club.

They told me that in two weeks time every tenant would be moved out, well, everyone except tenants like us  (not on a council list, but renting a place as a affordable housing through one of the private organisations or charities) and "homeless people". I wasn't sure who they meant by "homeless", as no one seemed to be homeless around here, but they explained that this term was used to describe people that are still on a council waiting list. These people are waiting (often for years, Ashraf’s parents – 6 years) for a permanent house with controlled, much cheaper rent than the market offers. This is because they are unable to rent a house at the regular market price.  So apparently two of the families that live on the same floor as me are considered as 'homeless'.

Last week one of the ‘homeless’ families moved out, leaving just one last family left on my floor, and some new tenants that I haven’t yet met. We had the last workshop with the children who are leaving their flat on Saturday. I decided to explained to them again the concept behind the project and why I thought our film was needed. I showed them fragments of the footage that we filmed together before. I also showed them examples of how this could be edited. We talked about how we could change the mood of the film, how we could direct the viewer towards a certain way of looking, making them hear what we would want to say. Then I showed them articles with the work I did some time ago for two different magazines, a work where I used their images, presented their work, and wrote texts inspired by what they had told me.

I  also told the kids about how I thought about this place before I came here, that to me and to many people that I knew estates like ours seem scary. When we think 'estate' we think poverty and crime.  But do they always go together?

I asked them if all their friends come from estates and they said yes.  It made me think of a colleague of mine that once told me that the first time he went inside of a non-estate house was after he started to go to college and he went to see his new friend at their home. Is it possible to imagine how a different way of living is if we have no chance to see it?

So I said that I wanted to make this film to show people that don't live here that life on the estate is not about crime and gangs and that we are all nice and friendly here.  Are we? – I asked. They initial response was that not, but after a bit of consideration they noticed positive sides to themselves and other people that live here. I think it was important for the kids to distinguish 'I' (I as the individual or as 'me and my family') from the estate as a whole, or from those who come here and make mess or steel. Not everyone is the same and not everyone has to stay the same.


They asked me ‘but who would watch our film?’ I listed all the people that already looked at what they did and that made them realise that it was possible for other people to listen to them. The mood changed and the children started writing. It was really amazing, a very rare moment when we were all working together, in agreement, all on the same plane. This is when Shuhana wrote the opening lines for the film, and I don’t think anyone else could have said it better:

People think that places are bad or good by the looks. But is that really how it is? Shelmerdine close has very dirty and scary walls and that may scare some people but it’s not what’s outside that counts, it’s the inside. People in Shelmerdine Close are very nice. People lend, help and do favours for neighbors. This is why you are watching this today’

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

I'm on an art residency at VASL in Karachi, Pakistan. It's an amazing time full of interesting conversations and meetings. There is ten artists involved in this projects, but two didn't make it to Karachi ( Egyptian artist was refused visa just before boarding his plane). On Thursday I'll be giving presentation when I'll also talk about the Walkway Press project. It's interesting to talk about a project like this in a place where class divisions are so present.

I live in a nice little bubble here... moving by car from one place to another.... less fortunate people's shapes and faces passing by... their images dissolving in a dust of the everyday... sometimes becoming painfully sharp when my car slows down... forced by the traffic... rarely by a red light.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Machines rumbling in my ears. 'Monday to Friday' sound of the Leopold Estate.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

I'm watching footage that we filmed on the estate three weeks ago. CHAOS! total chaos! but so funny! and so much of how it really is over here... Annalisa came from the outside of the estate... she held the camera still... keeping the distance between her and everyone around... I live here and I'm too involved in what's going on to keep that distance, so I never film like that. I am a part of that chaos...