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Labour Relations: learning about the mill workers’ struggles

Inivator Tara Brown discovers the plight of the mill workers in Mumbai

I was kindly invited to the Labour relations discussion and workshop – this was led by Iniva’s curator Grant Watson and Neera Adarkar, an amazing woman who has been involved in the urban struggles of the mill workers in Mumbai.

I rushed in 15 minutes late, to watch a film on YouTube about the decline of the mills in Mumbai and the anxieties the workers had, including their living space, and the financial future for their children.

When the film had ended, the lights came back on and everyone could introduce themselves. The majority of people were involved in textiles and industry in some way, as artists, practitioners or working within charities that involved crafts, and people (like me) generally interested about the exhibition and issues it highlighted. There were also people who had come from industrial towns where mining used to be the local economy. The workshop was more like a discussion, salon-style presentation as Neera talked about the history of the struggles, highlighting the essential conflict between declining industries, civil rights and urban planning.

Showing a map of the mill lands in Mumbai, and how the classes organised themselves, Neera told us about how globalisation moved the mills away from Mumbai to other parts of the world and the resulting land grab where there was an alliance of civil rights activists, feminists, environmental rights groups and mill workers against the mill owners. The empty factories gave rise to a creative middle class who used them as galleries and creative spaces, before the factories were sold off as the land in Mumbai became more prosperous.

I couldn’t help but see some parallels to Shoreditch, where there are so many galleries and creative projects in a factory/industrial setting, along with waves of middle class people and rising prices pushing old industries out of the city. I had discovered with many others during the Social Archive project with Shiraz Bayjoo, where we talked to new and old businesses in the area.

Further parallels were also found when talking about towns in Britain such as within Lancashire and Paisley, where the towns had suffered following the decline of the mills. Young people in Mumbai, Lancashire and Paisley were all leaving the towns they grew up in, towns that resembled each other, with the universal towers and shapes of the factory – these places in France, India and Britain all resembled each other in images in the slide-show; the group were surprised and intrigued by that. It clearly presented that the themes of urban change and poverty were universal and through uniting on issues like these, it’s far easier to understand people along these lines.

It brings to mind the last lines of the song played in the youtube video: “Oh brother, for how long will you watch?”

For now, it’s the last week of the Social Fabric exhibition, so have a look and let me know in the comments if you see what I see…

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal

 The Militant Image, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal – by Tara Brown
Art is great – it can serve you with underwhelming and overpowering emotions. It can also help you notice and challenge perceptions that you may have never thought about. I’ve had one of those rare moments; a moment where I’ve learnt about something I’ve known absolutely nothing about. Before Tuesday 29 November, I did not know that Portugal had had a fascist military state, let alone that the people of Portugal had started a revolution of their own from 1974 that lasted for around two years. It’s been called the last revolution in Europe, and American filmmaker Robert Kramer may have realised this in his decision to produce Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal, released in 1977. Themes that often crop up in Iniva’s programmes are explored in the film, such as economics, human rights, and politics.

Watching the film with its fantastic Portuguese music in the background, I got to see the daily struggle of the people as they stormed the streets, reclaiming and occupying public spaces as citizens and united workers. They occupied schools, factories, and public spaces, working together as a team. With the term ‘occupy’ so prevalent this year, I wonder how many people camping in the cold and hostile streets all over the globe realise that the working heroes from Portugal had succeeded in bringing democracy to the country through this ethos?

The Marxist politics in this film are loud and undeniable. The narrative places the workers as an homogeneous mass against the bourgeois, who are never really represented in the film. There is no subjectivity within the film either – in the final notes at the end of the picture, a card has blood dripping into its message, a very unsubtle metaphor.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film was its physical quality. The curators  for this programme, Kodwo Eshun and Ros Gray, had chosen films that were unseen and hard to find. The picture is full of spots and the aesthetics are rough and overexposed – at one point, there is an interview with a soldier, whose face has been obscured to a white mask from the quality of the film. With its style and narration, militant cinema is a genre all its own and the programme at Iniva has hopefully presented its audience with new knowledge and perspectives.

*The programme has come from the publication of a special Third Text journal ‘Militant Cinema: A Cine-Geography’.Find out more about The Militant Image programme

Tara Brown is an Inivator, a member of Iniva’s Youth Advisory Board and is also currently an Education Apprentice at Whitechapel Gallery.

Social Archive One – Interview with Shiraz Bayjoo

Conversation with Shiraz Bayjoo by Inivator Tara Brown

Last week, I managed to meet with Shiraz Bayjoo to have a conversation about Social Archive One: An Economic Forecast (Shoreditch) and about his practice. The project has been two months in the making, and asks questions about economics, migration, class and society.

Shiraz has also been working with Providence Row for the last ten years, where the first Social Archive was created, collaborating with the homeless community in the area. I started the conversation just asking Shiraz what the social archive was about:

“The main purpose of creating the social archive of Shoreditch is to explore the area – its economic context and the impact of the current economic environment. Social Archive One asks local businesses about the nature of what they do, and their reasons for migrating to the area… all adding up to the social, geographical and physical makeup of the area. It’s not just about people but also about place, the issues of identity and the fracturing of identity, congregating in new places and making new alliances.

It’s an ambitious project in the timeframe allowed with a huge amount of work, researching the area and creating the archive. Because of its scope help is needed from the ‘citizen archiver’, bringing in the voices of people who may or may not know the area. The outcome hopefully is that people realise there’s a strong local community beneath the surface.”

When I asked what he thought about Shoreditch, Shiraz mentioned that side streets were becoming populated because of rising rental prices on the high street, and older businesses such as Syd’s coffee stall (on Calvert Avenue) were experiencing vandalism and are being slowly squeezed out.  Shiraz has also found lots of small lifestyle businesses, all different, some with a lot of image involved but a lot of honesty too.

“Although central London won’t become completely elitist, this social archive would be essential for plotting a pattern from the people who live and work there and where they’re from. The social archive will be online as well. It’s good to have them online – archives are only useful in this context if they are used or analysed by others. You don’t have to be an expert – it’s a very plural and democratic way of keeping an snap shot  of the present. I would like to see others expand and add to them.”

“The Social Archive has become part of my practice, growing into a much bigger scale, but anyone can do it. It is important when non artists do these projects it is a human transaction, a physical act of doing.”

Social Archive One with Shoreditch is not his first collaborative project and when I asked what draws him to this kind of work Shiraz says that his work explores issues of migration, identity, society in a visual way, and it’s important to work directly with people to gather a depth of understanding.

Watch the films here

Discovering Shoreditch past and present through film

Inivator Tara Brown explores Shoreditch with the Social Archive One filmmaking project

As someone born and raised in North West London, only moving to the ‘far east’ last summer, Shoreditch first appeared to me as if fully grown and always hipster. And so getting an opportunity to take part in creating a social archive – an economic map of this dynamic area – was definitely of interest to me.

I attended the second workshop on the first day with two other women in the group. After a quick introduction we went off on a flash history tour of Shoreditch and learnt about its transformation from a green and pleasant land to industrial overcrowding, destruction by WWII bombing to the trendy playground it’s become today. The tour was great, if only to orientate myself better. I’m so used to going in one straight line via Rivington Place to Hoxton / Dalston when actually Shoreditch is full of allyways, nooks and crannies to explore.

Back at Rivington Place we were introduced to artist Shiraz Bayjoo who gave us a quick lesson in using technical equipment and we were off, looking for businesses to interview and document. In independent hand bag shops, art galleries and places with no names at all, just addresses we met a variety of people and asked them about their business and the economics of Shoreditch.

Economics is a funny word; it seems to demand expertise and academic excellence on the subject, but in reality affects all of us so strongly we’ve got a view on it. This made all of our subjects shy, but with a bit of pressing we managed to get a sample of their struggles and successes. After a nervous start we all had a turn asking questions and had a rapport with everyone we met. We had our own struggles with the equipment as well – I was a bit rubbish on the camera and the battery ran out part way through the last interview. They were all fantastic and I hope we did them justice… They might even come to the screening – that would be absolutely brilliant.

I left leaving the workshop wanting to have a proper wander around the area, resting in Arnold Circus, site of the world’s first social housing structure, watching reliant robins whizz past by artisan bakers and jewellers. I had seen a new side to the town, a new sense of reality and true grit next to the shiny glass mountain range that is the City. I hope it stays that way, but it’s not Shoreditch’s style – I’ll just have to go along with it she decides to do next.

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Films created as part of Social Archive One: An Economic Forecdast (Shoreditch) will be exhibited at Rivington Place from 19 – 23 July, as well as online. There is a screening party on the evening of 21 July from 6:30 – 9pm, all welcome.

Tara Brown is one of the Inivators, a group of young creatives who work with Iniva’s Education Curator and professional artists to create exhibitions and events in response to Iniva’s main programme. Find out more about the Inivators programme here.

The Inivators’ interrogation room – there is no escape

Last Thursday myself and a small band of Inivators put on a glorious event for ‘Possible Damage’, our exhibition response to Rabih Mroue’s I, The Undersigned – The People are Demanding. We had created audio tours in response to the pieces in the Education Space, with an added surprise. At the end of the recording, people were selected to meet with an Iniva staff member, waiting with a message…

This was me, in a black uniform and a fake badge, smiling brightly and chatting inanely as I led them, either one by one or in small groups of ‘witnesses’, to the interrogation room. A lot of people came along on the night, so a bit of rushed reorganisation was required of us, but everyone who came into the interrogation room left looking anxious, bewildered and slightly shaken by the experience. Discretion was advised to all, but word spread within Iniva gallery, and so the atmosphere was tense, but buzzy and excited.

The event went so well, and after working within a group over several months, it was so exhilarating to see other people enjoying the exhibition, and reacting to our audio tour. All of us are full with such a strong sense of achievement, and I think what amazes me so much about the whole process is that it was a true collaboration between several talented individuals with such different ways of thinking, doing and being. And from that we have curated and produced a show that reflects all of us and that we are all proud of. For me, having never studied or practiced art in this way, it’s a perspective tilting experience that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Our last event within the space is a series of performance lectures on the 30th April. I have no idea what’s happening, which is all the more reason to come and see it.

Hip-hip hooray to all the Inivators who have taken part: Alexandra, Ella, Gita, Hailey, Hussain, Karli, Luke, Quincey, Raziya, Ruth, Ryan, Tara, Yemisi and Yolanda….

Huge thanks to artist Tania El-Khoury for being amazing…

Finally, a heartfelt thanks to Education Curator Teresa Cisneros and Jess Harrington for all their hard work and long hours – there wouldn’t be an exhibition in the first place without you.

by Tara Brown, one of the Inivators