The 2013 Mosaic Arts International in Tacoma, WA awarded my mosaic sculpture ‘Entwined Histories’ the ‘Best in Show Award’.
Here I reveal how the design came about.
In 2012 I was shortlisted to design a work which somehow represented or said something about the Leopold Estate in Bow, east London.
As with most site specific art commissions the project began by looking at the area and its history. The local area around the estate is very vibrant with a high migrant population, these days particularly characterised by Bangladeshi and east African muslim migrants but significantly the area has always had a strong migrant population stretching right back at least 300 years to the Huguenots and beyond.
Making ropes for the London Docks
Delving into the history of the local area I discovered that the estate itself was built on the grounds of Huddarts Rope Works, a major rope makers who supplied ropes for the London docks. It was this rope factory origins that sparked the initial design sketches.
Initial sketch designs
A heritage of immigration and textiles
As I read about the history of the local area, and sketched ideas, the elements slowly began to come together. The rope making and the long history of migration to the area. The migration was partly due to the location of the docks and the prevalence of cheap housing and unskilled work in the docks and factories, has given the area a unique feeling and a strong community. Waves of migrants from the French Huguenots in the 17th century, followed by the Irish weavers, then Chinese and Bengali sailors, the Ashkenazi Jews, Bangladeshi, Somali, Eastern European, adding to the layers of cultures that both became part of the east end but also retained their own identity. Interestingly many of these groups, and particularly the women, had ended up working in the many textile factories of east London, each wave bringing their own textile heritage.
Tailors sweatshop in the Jewish east end
A foundation in the past, looking out to the future…
But I didn’t want the work to be just a historical record. As the design came together I began to see the rope as a symbol of the communities. Each strand with its own unique identity, but each coming together to form a stronger whole. I set up a design workshop at the local secondary school, St Paul’s, with the assistance of Bow Arts. There I was able to engaged with young people from the area and together we researched the textile link and made mosaic patterns.
Whilst looking at possible textile patterns for the Jewish strand of the ‘rope’ we looked at some ornate embroidered Tallit Atarah sashes and I thought that the idea of ending each strand with a prayer or sign of hope in the future would be a positive note. So each strand in the rope turns outwards to reveal a golden core.
The completed sculpture – Entwined Histories, 2012