Congratulations to Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives for bringing archives 'out of the box' through a pioneering project that invited artists and local disabled people from East London to explore their heritage collections. Through a series of workshops, participants followed a personal research journey into the collections, engaging with sound and oral history, handwritten archives on parchment, newspapers, paintings and photographs. Among the subjects they explored were the Elephant Man, the media attention to Jack the Ripper, the once booming textile industry in Brick Lane, the original Chinatown thriving a long time ago in Limehouse, and how Poplar and Watney have transformed over the past hundred years.
Their thoughts and feelings about what they found are captured in their own artwork, which includes sculptures, drawings of buildings from their own areas, collages, hand-made cushions and poems such as Limehouse Lures, a fictional tale inspired by all the newspaper cuttings about Chinatown that one of the participants read.
In the words of lead artist Caglar Kimyoncu:
The world of archives presented me with a challenge that lured me into its hidden stories. The team opened my horizons to old books, newspapers and photos. I spent long hours studying these old materials and trying to ‘speak to’ their unknown creators. Working with Out of the Box participants during the workshops was an extraordinary process. I was amazed by their determination to reveal what lives in the archive boxes and drawers. Having followed their journey, I now sense their artworks are not just a response to the heritage collections; they are a series of questions towards the world of archives.
The Out of the Box exhibition ran at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives from 4 December 2014 to 29 January 2015, and will tour six different venues in Tower Hamlets between February and July of this year.