Twenty artists and community groups from Southend to Kew came together for 10 days in June 2017 to discover and celebrate their local identity and connections with India, through painting giant 6m long silk scrolls for the Silk River project.
Attendees from – Kew, Tower Hamlets, Greenwich and Woolwich, Barking & Dagenham, Purfleet, Dartford, Gravesend, Tilbury, East Tilbury and Southend, previously attended intense design sessions with Kinetika to discover their local history and created designs that will be used on the scrolls.
Fascinating connections have been made between these areas and the areas they have been partnered with in West Bengal.
All twenty scrolls will be walked along the Thames in September and along the Hooghly in December by participants of Silk River revealing their stories on the way.
Kew: There are rich connections between the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and the Botanic Gardens in Kolkata. The scroll for Kew has images which include some of the treasures from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection and not only highlights the wonderful plants there but also the trade links between continents.
“Thank you very much for arranging a fun day of research and drawing – the hours just flew by! I hadn’t been to Kew in a number of years and spending it on the Silk River project was special, having followed the project’s progress online for a number of months now.” Saif Osmani, Artist
“The project has been a great way to introduce the history of Tower Hamlets to our participants who are aged 12-25yrs. They have become aware of how research both online and out and about in the borough can inform their designs and they have become excited about the story of migration and refugees to the East End including their own family members. In one youth club of very challenging boys they weren’t interested in the design and silk painting, but got drawn into a discussion about the different immigrants to the area and how they have contributed to the local, national and international economy, arts and culture. One boy then completed a silk painted piece. It is so unusual to get them to focus on anything” Sarbjit Natt, Youth Arts Officer for ‘A’ Team Arts ( LBTH Youth and Community Services)
For the Greenwich & Woolwich scroll, there are references to the area’s maritime past which connects them to Barrackpore/Serampore, their Silk River partners.
With landmarks such as the Royal Naval College, Royal Arsenal, Artillery Barracks and the Cutty Sark, Greenwich & Woolwich are known for their maritime and military histories.
With such close proximity to big rivers, both Greenwich & Woolwich and Barrackpore/Serampore were prime locations for the training of soldiers, marines and sailors.
By sharing and celebrating the similar histories and stories between these two places in the UK and India, the Silk River Project hopes to encourage the celebration of rich local history, and engage the community along the journey of rediscovery.
The scroll for Barking & Dagenham shows Captain Cook and his ships – apparently he got married in Barking! There are also references to iconic buildings such as the Abbey and references to the riverside communities that are a significant part of local history in both Barking & Dagenham and Chandanagore, their Silk River partner.
In Purfleet, students from Belmont Castle Academy have been learning about the Indian poet Tagore.
“The Silk River project has been both interesting and stimulating for our children at Belmont Castle Academy. It has embraced many areas of the curriculum but has given us so much more including understanding of Indian cultural identity, Art and Literature. It has enabled our children to explore and use their creative skills in different formats and we have been inspired by the work of Rabindranath Tagore, especially the beauty of his poetry. Our children have produced some superb art work and poetry as a result of our learning and research on Tagore. Furthermore a groups of BCA children have created a large scroll of their own art telling the narrative of High House Production Park in Purfleet.” Amanda Bray Pupil Premium & EAL Lead, Belmont Castle Academy
Purfleet Primary have also taken part and visited the local RSPB nature reserve with an RSPB specialist and local historian.
The scroll for Dartford contains references and images of the area’s connection to the river. For residents here, the river is not an adornment or an ornament, but a working thoroughfare that has provided jobs and prosperity for hundreds of years.
Dartford Council are keen to engage as many people as possible through this project. Not just the usual suspects like the artists and community groups, but every resident right across the borough, to give them more reasons to be proud of Dartford and connect with the heritage of the area.
For Silk River, Dartford is twinned with Howrah in West Bengal, which is a big transport hub with an iconic bridge that looks exceptionally similar to the QEII bridge.
Gravesend has a long standing and strong connection with India, with a significant history of migration stemming from the 1950’s when the Indian community settled in this riverside borough.
The scroll for this area contains references to the beautiful Sikh Gurdwara Temple which is one of the largest in the UK. In the Silk River project, Gravesend is twinned with Murshidabad which is also known for its iconic buildings such as the Hazarduari Palace, the palace with 1000 doors.
During the design workshops, 60 children from Thurrock schools enjoyed the stories of ex-docker Les at the Tilbury Cruise Terminal.
“The children really enjoyed both the cruise terminal visit and the in-school workshop so I’m looking forward to seeing the final outcomes!!” Tilbury Pioneer School
Through the Silk River project the Bata Heritage Centre hope to raise the international connections and profile of East Tilbury as a surviving and thriving modernist village built by Bata – one of many across the world.
During the design workshops, children from Southend tested Krishnanagar’s 6 meter scroll on the Pier, and shared stories and drawings with members of the Hindu Society after walking 13,000 steps proudly to their drawing and design workshop. (Then walking back to school!). All good practice for the walks in September.
Artists and participants that created the UK scrolls:
Greenwich and Woolwich
Ms Thapa (daughter)
Barking and Dagenham
1 x child Scarlett
7 x Brownies
Purfleet RoH Bridge
8 x Tilbury Pioneer Pupils
11 pupils from Harris Academy Chafford Hundred