My Reclining Nude Scrolls exhibition took place at the LOFT, Croydon Arts Store, Croydon’s Whitgift Shopping Centre, from the 22-24th February 2018. As part of the opening, I chaired a panel discussion on the potential to create a new queer place for Croydon’s diverse LGBTQIA community led by people of colour. This formed a part of Croydon’s LGBT History Month activities, and also a part of the wider queer place-making discourse that is taking place in London. The exhibition was a series of Indian Ink drawings exploring the reclined nude over fifty metres of paper, along with a series of self portraits across ten metres of paper, these comprised of friends and lovers. The discussion followed an open question and answer session, and live music by Tom and Jet of the Ninetales Collective, in the LOFT space. More than fifty people were present throughout the evening and participated in the conversations. The panelists were: Almass Badat, Ana Benlloch, Mandisa Apena, Fahmida Islam and Asifa Lahore and the session was chaired by Ruhul Abdin. Along with the panelists, space and time was provided to David Page, Secretary of the Croydon Area Gay Society, who expressed some of their shortfalls in attracting female and younger members to the group, and Fabio Schiffano, a member of the Croydon Pride Steering Committee.
Panelists shared their experiences of places and spaces where they felt safe, and put forward suggestions such as mentoring schemes, events and cultural representations of the queer community in and out of Croydon, as well as the nuanced diversity that also exists within the LGBTQI community. This initial discussion, for me exemplifies both the need for a much more sensitive acknowledgement of the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality towards the potential to programme activities as well as events that cater not to a homogenous group, but to specific ones, thus not diluting the diversity that exists, but acknowledging and reflecting and celebrating the importance of difference that does exist. The beautiful networks and support that exist already means a queer place will take shape in Croydon, hopefully sooner, rather than later. The potential to do something meaningful, led and driven by the queer community, especially people of colour, working together across generations and cultural heritages will be crucial. It was interesting that the conversation did not focus on just the potential for a new ‘night’ venue, but rather something for those that maybe less keen to be seen in a loud evening venue. For those desiring or needing a safe place to be, its not so easily available. Whether it will entail arts, food, intangible and tangible cultural practices, is to be seen in the coming months.
The audiences’ feedback and questions were also pertinent and timely, suggesting to work closely with the Croydon Council, with other groups that exist already and to be tactical in the openness of the process of establishing a place. We were told that Croydon is the largest London borough with a population over 380,000+ people and itself has a deep history with LGBT+ activities. It is represented currently in events such as the Croydon Pridefest, which Fabio told the audience will take place again this year, hoping it to be bigger than ever. The Borough participates regularly in LGBT History Month, IDAHO as well as diverse groups such as the Croydon Area Gay Society (CAGS) and TRANSPAL that meet regularly. Another issue to keep in mind is, should or does the conversation only need to happen online? In virtual spaces? To save costs and to create networks, online spaces maybe a way forward. This is one of the means of mobilizing and sharing, but not something that takes precedence over a physical place that can provide more sensitive and safe ways of meeting, socializing or learning.
‘Wonderful diversity of voices, colour, age and backgrounds’
This event also links with the wider debates, as there has been the erosion and closure of entertainment and other venues that catered specifically for the LGBT+ community across Croydon, and in London and this means new models of place-making that have a congruent strategic and pragmatic approach is crucial, this looks at learning about governance structures that are more transparent and flexible and creating a vision and plan that is led by the queer community, beyond the night life culture. Here, is perhaps the most challenging of any task of a new queer place in Croydon – its diversity and potential to be a learning, engaging and supportive environment, as well as being one that generates revenue and sustains itself in to the future. Learning closely from venues such as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, or The Glory in Dalston, but also further afield such as Cafes in Berlin, cultural cafes such as Café Otto or, closer to home, Turf Projects in Croydon, or even more eclectic – the DIY Space in South London, just off Old Kent Road – to the nuanced ideas being proposed for a community-owned pub in the name of Joiners Arms in East London, to Gays’ the Word bookshop. It is important to learn from diverse organizations, and definitely not just LGBTQ+ venues, but rather the importance to collaborate with allies that share the visions that are being developed.
‘A thought-provoking and entertaining evening of art, music and community building, bringing young and creative spirit to Croydon.’
Finally, in order to test the mettle, financial considerations are crucial to keep in mind, and quite possibly, how the meanwhile use of spaces – especially units that seem to have been underused or inactive for long periods of time could be better capitalized. Its time to pilot and test the potential to have again, another queer place in Croydon. The fundamental issues to keep in mind, is that the representation of people of colour, of different abilities and class and cultures need to be central to any place that is developed, in order to continue pushing the boundaries for Croydon and London in its ambitions to become safe places for all.
“It’s great to get the conversation started about how to bring Croydon’s diverse LGBTQ+ community together”
On the exhibition: “very evocative! It makes you want to strip off and recline with them”
To join the discussions: follow / like our page on facebook: www.facebook.com/queeringcroydon
Photographs from the evening courtesy of Enamul Hoque
Thanks to the Croydon Arts Store, Turf Projects & Conner and Associates for the support in realising this event and exhibition.
As the country (Bangladesh) retracts back to its normal busy self, a two day hartal seemingly goes by without much damage. I escaped into a coffee shop and read for a little while (The Science and Practice of Drawing) as part of my continual learning process. It seems it has become a challenge for me to do even this. What am I interested in, with all this drawing? I questioned myself today again.
How do I draw injustice and do justice to the Art produced? How do I show the struggle of everyday life, the inefficiency of the urban landscape, the toil and sweat that invisible souls produce to keep this city beating? How do I portray the beauty and the magnificent human beings that do this work? How do I express my admiration and love for the people that quietly get on with their struggle. How can I, or we, show these hard working souls that there is someone out there that acknowledges their struggle?
The purpose of Art continues to bring forward thoughts that I am uncomfortable with, it disturbs me to no end, and I am learning to look. I am enjoying the process of developing the technique and reading about those things that are personal to me. And when I am being introspective, looking at the space that I inhabit, versus the space that others inhabit, there seems to be very different thoughts that emerge.
I fly back to London on Friday morning, and the fear I have is that I will stop drawing when I get there, I don’t have that many subjects. What is it that inspired me to draw whilst being in Dhaka, and that does not excite me about London so much?
I think Dhaka disturbs me, the daily practice of majority of its dwellers, the daily struggle pains me, I can do little about it, it puts me in despair and I hope, through drawing these people, I portray how beautiful they are. As we continue our work with Paraa in developing our projects, it dawns on me the tasks that we have set ourselves are not small. We push, because we owe it to ourselves to become the best of who we can be through our art. It will take time.
It is a Jamaat-e-Islami party declared hartal today and tomorrow it will be led by BNP-alliance. Sad things about these hartals are that they seem now to serve little political end-goals, instead making daily life a pain for a majority of the city-dwellers. Political parties need to rethink their non-violent strategies, the Government seems to be sharper than all. I was at the Mohakhali flyover this morning, usually rickshaws are not allowed to cycle along this main road. It was 7.30 a.m, the city had already awoken, muted slightly because of the hartal.
At the same time, it was fairly quiet, giving me space to draw. I observed a little used flyover, the mega-projects of mega-cities to curb transport problems. On the ground, trains, rickshaws, buses, cars and people fought for the right of way, and all in all an empty flyover looms over them. There are more flyovers being built across the city, for what purpose, I am unsure – as they don’t seem to be helping reduce traffic congestion.
First 7 drawings – Architecture of occupation: Across the board in Bangladesh – the BGMEA building occupies land illegally and is safeguarded despite its illegal positioning – glaringly obvious tower in the drawings below. The railway communities have agreements in place with the ministry to be able to live 10ft of the train tracks yet are currently being evicted, with no safe guards in place – they have been there over 40 years now as a community. It provides a precarious living and working environment with many illegal activities rife. This occupation presents a dilemma for a city that is already packed with people. Where to place them if they are moved? The BGMEA building acts as a beacon of the corrupt elite cultures that are in practice, garments factory owners exercising their power and the inability of state institutions to adequately deal with such occupiers, be it BGMEA or the railway communities. At the same time, what is amazing is how the people adapt to life on the railways, with children playing cricket between the tracks, to cooking and preparing food to hanging out. There are more thoughts to add to this, will do so in the morning. Making do with the limited space is definitely an art and an admiration from me, despite the precarious lifestyle.
I spent some time in the national museum, after this, to study some of the Famine sketches by Zainul Abedin, always an inspiration to see these drawings up close, shame the Museum itself so dire! some studies are below after community the railway sketches. To end, we waited out the rain outside the museum, a crowd gathered.
These are all portraits of the children from the Transition Shelter for street children (LEEDO (SETU). We spent this afternoon sorting out some of the interior design issues along with trying to understand the process of field-workers that engage with children that maybe vulnerable on the streets, how they bring them to the shelter, how they find the families and what problems arise on the streets. It is a messy process, one that can be developed and strengthened, we are working closely with LEEDO to better understand how the city deals with children that run away and are returned.
My thoughts today are quite sad, as some of the children were joyful and craved attention, it forced me to rethink some of my own values once again. I leave more disturbed from the shelter it seems and the drawings remind me of that. More to follow in another post as I sleep on these thoughts and refine them.
We went to Mirpur 10 to survey some of the Bihari community, as part of the pilot for the wider survey and to test an app to see if it works as well. Laced in the camps are women and children, people being active, working, cooking, preparing, playing. Dhaka traffic will continue to surprise me, and I am sure a solution to the chaotic traffic is neither easy, nor forthcoming. We enjoy the milky tea at the stall, and often sit there to end the and begin the days work. CNG journeys capture the mess of the city roads.