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The Next Chapter Begins 4 (Shamiana arrives!)

 Shamiana Comes to Bow Common

st mary of eton hackney wick

Shamiana May 1998

Huge courage was shown and risk faced by the small group of the 'old guard' listening carefully to how these works had come to be - the work of ordinary people from our own community and from similar communities all over the world - this was 'people's art,' celebrating the astonishing and extraordinary creativity of 'ordinary' people. They went on visits to the V & A. Keith Murray joined us, as advisor on the 'integrity of the walls'. The very people who had felt it so necessary to defend their tradition and their iconic building were now choosing to face the enormous risk of the unknown. Such was the power of these extraordinary works and the stories behind them, and such was their courage and compassion, that this group 'got it,' and Dr. Swallow's invitation could be taken up!

One of the marks of Gresham Kirkby's time in the parish, and which was fully espoused by those who gathered around him in Bow Common in those early days, was a passionate concern for the 'little people' of God. Justice and the fair treatment of the powerless and the voiceless was always on their active agenda as were global issues such as nuclear disarmament and resistance against oppressive regimes. These were passionate and compassionate people who fully understood what this was all about and it is really a credit to them that the church has discovered itself in so many new ways. Had they said 'no' to this, it would not have happened.

shamiana panel

Shamiana panel

One of Duncan's central principles was that we would do this on our own and even though we were a poor parish in a very poor area, we would raise our own funding and not take any support from the V &shamiana panel A. In fact, through the heavy sale of postcards, we actually made money for the V & A! In those days £15,000 was an enormous sum, but by God's Grace, good luck and smooth talking, the Incumbent raised that sum. It paid, among other things, for two security guards to be on duty every day for the duration of the exhibition. With a BNP Councillor elected for the nearby Isle of Dogs on the opening night and with a certain confidence amongst the extreme right wing, we needed to offer a very solid sign of assurance both to the V & A and to those whose work this was. They were two lovely men and served us well. There were no incidents at all and as huge numbers of people began to visit the exhibition, any of ill intent would have been heavily outnumbered in any case!
A large part of the budget was raised to honour the 'Shamiana Principle' which had been demonstrated on the floor of the V & A when our local women, inspired by art, created their own art. Thus we bought in textile tutors of high calibre to run workshops throughout the duration of the exhibition.

school workshop
School workshop

High quality silk, threads, silk and fabric paints, canvas and other materials were also bought. Every visitor to the exhibition had the opportunity to learn a little about textile techniques and were able to create a small panel to take away - art inspired art. Workshops from schools, groups of elders, community groups and others would easily find ample space in the church to create their art (without any of the seating needing to be moved) and would all be tutored and create small panels to take away.

shamiana opening night

Opening night of Shamiana

Thus, at a spectacular opening 'Private View' on 7th May 1998 Shamiana came to Bow Common. The Director of the V & A teamed up with the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Stepney (now Archbishop of York) to open the exhibition and all expressed astonishment at what a natural space the church was for art and accompanying activities. Deep down somewhere, the Incumbent had guessed that this might be so but the reality was hugely surprising to him and the relief was inexpressible, after so many risks being taken and faced. The most gratifying part of all of this was to see those for whom this had been a cautiously guarded space, through their own courage, seeing whole new capabilities and a sheer genius in their cherished building. Fr. Kirkby was there for the opening night and approved - which was a great relief! Some weeks into the exhibition, one Saturday morning, unbeknown at first to the Incumbent, Robert Maguire called in and was moved to tears to discover what his remarkable building was capable of.

shamiana panel


Over the following weeks, up to the closure

shamiana panels

Shamiana panels

of the exhibition on 31st May 1998 numbers grew and grew as word got around, not only that this was an exhibition not to be missed, but that there was this wonderful display space in the Borough which seemed to have been built for such things. The section on 'Inclusive Space' under this tab gives an account of why, perhaps, this remarkable building works so well for so many different uses. A few of these uses are outlined in the sections which follow.

However, it was Shamiana which first opened our eyes to the many possibilities for this remarkable building, and it all happened, really, by accident!

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