I’ve become increasingly self-aware of the different roles I play within this society, that both intersect and fluctuate continuously and where my practice as an ‘artist’, (which I don’t currently label myself as and feel uneasy about) lies within it. I’ve been questioning, reflecting and challenging this role and path of the ‘creative’ that I have chosen to pursue, or perhaps the path that has chosen me or where I currently find myself.
I question, what does this role mean within our current socio-political landscape, structures and constraints? How does this role change and evolve, whilst progressing from one institution to the next? What does it mean, to work from within the institution, but also from the margins, and is this even possible to do both?
As well as, the most crucial question I think of most, as of now; a recent graduate, from an arts background, graduating from Camberwell College UAL in gentrified Peckham; what role did I play, do I currently play and will I consciously choose to now play, in the violent process of gentrification, the same gentrification that is already spreading within my own local area and borough of Brent?
How will I, as a creative, fight this violence without also accelerating the process and being part of the problem?
Gentrification, explained here by Xicanisima, is an act of violence.
Upon graduation and leaving university, I decided to not return and go straight onto an MA, deciding instead, to take on internships, to work within institutions, learn and network as much as possible, whilst also working within my own communities and within the margins, is the current path and journey I am on and have chosen.
Planning my short-term and long-term goals, finances, savings. Ultimately, how I will be surviving whilst also doing the urgent work that needs to be done, where my place within the world could be, where I could be of better use, of help and assistance whilst also trying to better the life of my own family. It’s an incongruous dilemma, is it even possible to do both or would I have to sacrifice one for the other? Can both take place at the same time or will one have to take priority for now?
I’ve been engaging in many conversations about our communities, our local boroughs and what they mean to us. Going to UAL for me, I spent over 3 years travelling back and forth from North West London to South East. As each year went by, more and more I felt myself distancing from my area and naturally gravitating towards South London scene; where my uni friends would live, go out, have shows, put on exhibitions..none of this was going on where I live. There still is nothing like the South-east scene in my area of the North West ‘den’s’.
Naturally, the intention to move out, leave NW and move down south crept in, and had been on my mind for a while. Why would I stay and for what reasons? My community, the one I had made away from home were all down south, I didn’t want to stay up here, for who and for what purpose? Nothing was keeping me here. All the people of my generation had moved out, left for university, or just moved on from the area, to more ‘attractive’ and popping areas of London, where the hubs and the thriving communities are. There was nothing to strive for around my ends, so naturally, the attraction and gravitation to leave the area once I had graduated (and even well before then), to move out and live within my illusion of ‘independence’ the thought then struck me: Isn’t this what gentrification does? Isn’t this exactly what they want me to feel and do? All the young creatives with skills to move out of our ends in zone 3 and 4 to move in closer, to the already gentrified areas with extortionate prices, so they to could do the same to our own communities and homes? Change them overnight, chase out and price out our corner stores, our local Latin Villages, our local youth and community centres. Who is fighting for them? Who will stand up with them in solidarity if we all leave?
In addition, what impact does my moving into an already gentrified area mean? or an area already undergoing the violence? Am I too, not also adding to this? What is my purpose here and how does my presence detract from or benefit this area already subjected to so much violence? Am I not just taking from, with nothing to really contribute?
I would like to think that as someone with decolonialist intentions, with the intention to challenge and to resist these violent acts from taking place, that I wouldn’t be accelerating the process.. yet again I think here too, in this case, the concept of intention vs Impact applies in the case of Gentrification and the role of the artist within their communities also. I may move into the area with the best intentions at heart, yet the impact may still be just as unhelpful, adding fuel to the sweeping bushfire of Gentrification that consumes our grassroots foundations, our small businesses, our community and youth centres, and spits back out the private housing developments, hotels, shopping centers with a sprinkle of overly priced, inaccessible, gluten-free & organic barista cafes, that look a bit artsy and edgy.
‘Regeneration’ they like to call it.
Isn’t this what they want? For me to leave, take my skills, my knowledge and my intent elsewhere? In recent months, I have made the decision to not move out from my area.
I refuse to leave.
I’ve decided that for now, my practice will entail being radically visible within my local area. My role will be to stay and create, support, collaborate, organise and resist, in my local area and borough as a form of resistance. A resistance to Gentrification, a practice that encourages me to be resourceful from where I am and with what I have to hand, on my doorstep, I will organise share information, try to mend those broken links within my community, with my neighbours and start having and engaging in these intergenerational conversations that need to take place.
I’d recently spoken to a woman under the bridge next to Maxilla Social Club that is a location memorial, hub also where people will gather throughout the day at random times, to talk, read books, eat food share soup and engage with the community and have conversations. A year ago, I remember being under this very bridge, a lot had changed in a year, the community in the wake of the horror of Grenfell was more united than ever before. I felt it there under that bridge. Where creatives had also come together within the community to create this video such as Lowkeys Ghosts of Grenfell Tower, such as the memorial wall, and creatives to this day that are still engaged and part of the movement and the fight for justice for Grenfell that is still ongoing.
The women said something that stuck with me since: ‘The revolution will start from here, from this place, from under this bridge. From the community, from the people.’
Further Reading and References:
- An Artists’ Guide to Not Being Complicit with Gentrification
- Can The Latest Gentrification Plan For South London Succeed Where Others Have Failed? http://www.refinery29.uk/2017/09/171670/catford-houses-regeneration
- On ‘Gentrification’
- LOWKEY ft. MAI KHALIL – GHOSTS OF GRENFELL (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztUamrChczQ
- Not Gonna Leave: 3 Times Neighbors Got Together To Fight Gentrification
- Attention Student Activists: Here’s How To Avoid Being A Gentrifier