Meet the artists taking over the Olympic Park with gal-dem this September
Curator Leyla Reynolds talks us through the four artists who have created work as part of the East Bank project.
13 Sep 2022
This year I was thrilled to be asked by gal-dem and East Bank, a new collaboration between London-based universities and arts and culture institutions celebrating 10 years since the London Olympic Games, to return to my old stomping ground of east London to curate a series of artworks that all at once spoke to the area, its people and the varied creativity that exists there. The exhibition is available to visit from now until 25 September.
The area, and those who call it home, has experienced so much change in recent years, spanning before and during the pandemic. In operating from a left, curatorial lens, I could not ignore these changes in the works that I commissioned for installation in and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park site in Stratford.
‘Legacy’ was a word once so highly associated with the 2012 Olympic site and the promise of better things to come for the communities that lived there. We used it as a starting point and from which our vision; ‘Getting back to Normal: Dystopia/Utopia’ emerged.
We began working with four artists across different mediums: Erin Aniker, Cherelle Sappleton, Kirsty Kerr and Hannah Ceren to produce a programme of works to capture the breadth of that experience. Here’s more on each artist, their practice and why we worked with them for this project.
Erin Aniker’s illustrative work encapsulates community and belonging in its entirety with unmistakable colourful flair. Her work prior to this project had also centred around such pursuits, exploring her British-Turkish heritage and its intersection with community, with a particular focus on east London. From vibrant tiles celebrating rollerbladers, swimmers, dancers, and beekeepers, to spotlights on the aunties that are such cornerstones of solidarity in the area, her artworks in this exhibit celebrate the many varied walks of life that surround the former Olympic site. The breadth that Aniker’s work portrays is made most apparent in her large-scale wraparound image on the West Ham stadium screen, which depicts over thirty individual characters drawn from observations of east London.
Find Erin’s ‘Stratford Support Structures’ at West Ham stadium screen, easels dotted around the parks, with projections on 22 September.
Cherelle Sappleton is an extraordinarily talented multidisciplinary artist who works with sound and digital collage. The artworks created for the park celebrate solidarity within local communities. Two of her works sit proudly on the large scale easels in the park (see if you can find them!) and the rest flick up on the stadium screen at regular arresting intervals. Symbolism is a particularly commonplace theme in their work. She includes motifs, such as a heavy emphasis on black and white stripes to represent the binary thinking that became prominent during the pandemic. The regular inclusion of hands also acts as an emblem of the physical rumination on how it felt to be so close to connection in a way that was so regularly out of grasp.
See Cherelle’s ‘A massive distraction’ easels dotted around the parks and West Ham stadium screen.
Kirsty Kerr’s works first entered my consciousness with the first iteration of her project during 2020. She started placing her tiny ‘re-construction signs’ around her neighbourhood in East London, signposting life and growth in unlikely places. Reminiscent of protest placards, they exist in a way to suggest that, in the artist’s words, “the earth itself is calling out for change”. In this development of her project, she explores the East Bank site for resilient plant life and invites others to join her in placing new messages of hope and healing in the public realm. The artworks are subversive in their subtlety, questioning which legacies are visible and which voices are heard, as well as who decides what the future looks like.
View Kirsty’s ‘Re-Construction Signs’ dotted around the park.
I happened upon Hannah Ceren’s work five years ago when searching for a looking glass to my own mangled identity. I hadn’t seen evidence online that mirrored the diverse spectrum of Turks that I knew existed, and yet here she was — a Londoner like myself, who could impressively switch between languages and contexts all by simply existing. The vlogging medium in which she uploads her videographic output has a distinctively naturalistic style. Her work represents everything that we want the project to embody for those who engage with it: authenticity, lived experience and a bridge to a very particular moment through the pandemic that was both universal as well as highly personalised. Her work ‘Life under Lockdown’ is displayed on the stadium screen at West Ham, which is the largest screen in Europe, you can explore the rest of her work, which sits on her YouTube channel.
Hannah’s ‘Life under Lockdown’ can be seen at the West Ham stadium screen.
The programme of interventions, ‘Getting back to Normal: Utopia/Dystopia’, will be up throughout the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park until Sunday 25 September. Find out more and plan your visit here.
Our groundbreaking journalism relies on the crucial support of a community of gal-dem members. We would not be able to continue to hold truth to power in this industry without them, and you can support us from £5 per month – less than a weekly coffee.
Our members get exclusive access to events, discounts from independent brands, newsletters from our editors, quarterly gifts, print magazines, and so much more!