‘Are you local?’: a disarmingly simple question that conceals within it layers of complexity. It can be asked in a friendly or a hostile tone, to establish a shared identity, or conversely to impose a distance.
What does it mean to be from ‘round here’? It is an uncertain place to be in both space and time. Anywhere can be both central or peripheral depending on where you are standing. Your locality can be a good place to ‘come from’ or ‘leave behind’. Local produce is good (for the environment) but how about local art?
Canterbury, where this exhibition is held, is both a destination and a point of departure. Pilgrims, for example, travelled here to worship at the shrine of Thomas Becket, collecting badges to show they had completed their journey. They also set out from here to Rome, following the Via Francigena through the Kentish countryside. Centuries later the walking artist Hamish Fulton followed in their footsteps.
Every journey tells its own story, some remembered, some forgotten, others never heard. These tales are woven together in time like the threads in the Duthoit silk manufactured in Canterbury from 1570 by Huguenot refugees. One such story retold here is that of Hussein Sahabi, a Kurdish refugee, whose idealised picture of the UK was shattered by experience, just as the vase dedicated to him by Claudia Clare has been. But it has also been remade.
The works included in this exhibition tell of confused communications, moving borders, forgotten origins – as in the globe constructed by Steve McPherson from plastic fragments picked up on the beach in Margate – and anxieties about travel, trade, and cultural and personal identity. The latter are particularly pressing in our age of Brexit and Covid. Yet these works also identify an ability to adapt to change and reconcile conflicting forces – as when the angry ‘Speak English’ graffiti scrawled on a wall in Walthamstow, reproduced here, was re-written to ‘We Speak English, Romanian, Bengali, Turkish, Tamil, Urdu, Polish, French…’ Are you local? We all are.
The artists included in the exhibition are: Claudia Clare, Hamish Fulton, James Long, Steve McPherson, François Nasica, Humphrey Ocean, Yanko Tihov, and Chris Walker, with historical artefacts kindly loaned by the Faversham Society and The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge.