“If you know, you know” - Proverb
“History has many hearths and academics are not the sole history teachers in the land.”
- Marc Ferro
#MappingUs! is an art-research project comprised of two workshops with young artists that were the foundation to four films, a zine, and a set of posters by one of our artists, Sameer Qureshi (@artbyresistant). The premise of the project is to explore the gap between the maps that have been created for us and without us, and our own self-authored representations of our neighbourhoods, which are often demonised or misrepresented in the media.
From Lee Green to Ladbroke Grove, each of us conducted interviews with local experts and our friends and family, which snowballed into a whole collection of stories, myths and legends that retell and refresh the narrative about our neighbourhoods. Each young artist produced their own creative response and map for their area, crucially, from the perspective of residents.
But what would be the value of such a map based on anecdotes? After all, this map won’t help you get around and has no conventionally ‘useful’ cartographic function that you might expect from a map.
One young artist-cum-cartographer tells us about the tree in Lee Green that was cut down and how furious residents protested the council. Another recalls Bessie who used to park up on Powis Square and make her famous slushies. But, who cares?
Maps have historically been a tool of violence, but they are also potentially a means of self-authorship and self-determination for traditionally excluded communities. Beyond mapping assets in only a narrow, physical sense, how might we begin to map relationships and connections, which are at the centre of all communities? Places we associate with love, community, camaraderie, reflection, family, but equally heartbreak, loss and so on.
Bessie and her slushies made the place what it was. She was not just a random, replaceable person, or a ‘service’ that could be outsourced to somebody else – she was a part of the community.
The project thinks about filmmaking and zine-making as a means of documenting and uplifting ordinary people’s geographies – places of otherwise no significance – earmarked as brownfield sites for redevelopment on another person’s map somewhere.
‘Placemaking’ is now all the rage, but what would it look like to just invest in the ordinary-looking heroes and assets that already exist and make up a place, rather than creating new ‘interventions’.
Often, when there is a dearth of representation and a lack of resources, inventive and determined working class communities develop alternatives out of necessity. For example, unchecked abuse of power by the police and no available or effective means of accountability has resulted in self-initiated police monitoring projects. Similarly, in the absence of council leadership in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, there was an overwhelming community response and self-mobilisation of local people. This speaks to the importance of community – informal and spontaneous – in the most difficult of times. However, this type of community mobilisation often relies on overstretched and under-recognised community leaders and huge unpaid labour.
This mapping project is a small step towards recognising and valuing the contributions of those people, projects and places – even those that are informal and unfixed, like Bessie’s cart – that make a place what it is.
Yet, the mapping process also revealed the challenges of our time – one of these being the frontier between the public and the private. Many young people mapped the significance of private space in their lives, because in the absence of public space, we make roots wherever we can. Stories were told about homeless people sleeping in reference libraries and riding buses at night, and students revising in McDonald’s because it was quieter than their homes. These are the challenges that we face. The assault on community space is a threat to the most vulnerable. At the same time, we must make efforts to honour, document, preserve and fight for the spaces and assets that do still exist. Our artwork is a small step in that direction.
The zine and films will be out later this year. Follow @madeinourhands on Twitter and @inourhands_ on Instagram for updates. The project was delivered with support from Voices that Shake! and Creative Interruptions.