To Gypsyland: 198 gallery, Brixton

IMG_1929Working with Delaine LeBas is always a collective call to imagination and action. With her fellow artist and  co-curator Barby Asante, who is also the curator of 198 Gallery, Delaine has taken her ongoing studio practice and archive project To Gypsyland  far and wide, throughout the UK and Europe. In each place she has paused, to gather a diversity of histories of making, adapting, being resourceful and occupying space. These histories may be verbal and intangible as well as in material forms: textiles; stitching; patterns; metal work; fugitive objects and signs.

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers continue to be objects of vilification and abuse owing to ignorance: the casual racism directed at them is perceived by those making it as not even being racist. Delaine’s work raises awareness. The mythical ‘land of the gypsies’  in people’s imaginations is frequently a pastoral place of romance, colour, music and dance, onto which we project our own lost fortune-telling, carnival and ludic spaces. Delaine’s work addresses the fact that today most Gypsies are pushed to marginalised urban land – land which is frequently too contaminated by landfill to be used for housing; land which is near tips and on the verges of motorways. Likewise, the homeless and the refused asylum seekers gather in these places where no-one goes.

In  To Gypsyland,  Delaine makes space around her and invites people in. People work collectively, using their imagination to create safe spaces, usually  in the midst of cruel and vicious danger.  The marginal becomes the liminal: the transformative place of entry into other dimensions. These are spaces in which human interaction and the humane can, not only survive, but thrive.  Delaine herself embodies her practice and by her example she has inspired people to heed the call of theirs.

For the public sewing in Brixton, we are accompanied by Rachael Adams, who has worked with Delaine in the past. Rachael has supported our project with her sensitive IT skills, and she took the photographs for this post. Rachael has shared with us her family connection with the military, and its impact on all their lives.  Today, we are not ourselves in immediate peril, but we are all aware of the people of Gaza, and of the in excess of fifty million refugees – half of them children – moving around the planet today, facing present danger in their search for asylum. We are aware of the Romani children today, being  taken away from their mothers; of the Romani mothers being sterilised at the moment they give birth, and of the Romani people, expelled from France and now being rounded up into camps in Eastern Europe. We are acutely aware of the immediate connections between the fascism of the 1930s and the fascisms still dangerously prowling the world today, fed by vested interests.

We share stories with Barby about the inviva project: ‘Baldwin’s Nigger’ Reloaded, which she is co-curating with sorryyoufeeluncomfortable at Rivington Place, Shoreditch next week. This extraordinarily timely project will screen and reflect upon Horace Ove’s film of the talk James Baldwin gave at the West Indian Student Centre in London in 1969, in which so much of what he says is intensely relevant today. The film is on Youtube:

We also share stories with Calum Kerr, who, with his partner Miyuki Kasahara, in May 2013 made a piece of work for DeCentreDer Space (Marseille): Rhone Nuclear Routes & the Folklore of Cutural Capital. Calum and Miyuki walked the length of the ‘nuclear corridor’ along the Rhone valley in France, linking the five nuclear power plants and fifteen nuclear power stations  and recording their experience in sound, image and ephemeral means. Calum told us about the ‘Tarasque’ – the mythical dragon-like creature from the region, trapped in a cave – which he likens to the unstoppable force of nuclear power, with which the French government has fallen in love, as St Martha did with the dragon, releasing it from its fastness, and letting it out into the world. The French company EDF is one of the UK’s biggest electricity providers – althought now in the UK there are a number of green providers who already sell 100% green electricity and who are rapidly developing the technology to make gas from waste.

Jann from The Caravan Gallery is inspiring also, telling us about the forthcoming Pride of Place tour, in which the caravan will host a touring exhibition of photographs from the “Is Britain Great?” archive, along with a selection of images curated by local people in each area.

Of particular note once more is the fact that whenever people sit down together to sew and talk, shared histories of war and the effects of war and militarism begin to loop and weave, connecting us all in an astonishing web of intersectionalities. Delaine’s dedication to this process of gathering yarns and threads is one which we share. It is a process that resists the dominance of the power structures which seek to diminish and undermine us. It’s a process which makes every voice and every stitch count.

Maude Casey

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