Seniors from Leyton and Forest Gate did the journey across London to a place near Penge and New Cross and Rotherhithe, all places far away. I always saw buses going to Penge and thought they were going to the seaside: Closet woman. The journey from outwith London to the other outwith London took ninety minutes as predicted. We were still in London I was assured but in East Dulwich, not a McDonalds to be found.
We found easily the Jennie Avent Gallery where Walthamstow artist Sba Shaikh was waiting for us with a spread of goodies and a cuppa.
The gallery caught the sun and plenty of passers-by looked through the windows with a curious stance. Anna had said she was there to learn. Patricia said she was interested in the artist’s philosophy. The exhibition on for two weeks is called “The Printed Veil” and so we expected mystery as the poster indicated and by the very connotations of the title itself.
Sba Shaikh is a textile printer and runs workshops by the dozen in Waltham Forest under the tick sheets of the Borough Council. Today she was independent of that, of a council far away in a feted Borough of Culture.
She guided us around her wall-hung works and installations. She explained the specialist inking techniques. She used an huge torch to illuminate the opaque material; the material of the eastern veil. We were greedy for more information. We were immersed in circles and swirls, myths and traditions. There were breasts and nose-rings, burquas and niqabs, netting and caps, and sumptuous metres of almost gossamer fabric. The art was crowded together in a small place. The place was relaxed with cushions on the window seats. We were in old shabby arty East Dulwich by the Village without a McDonalds or a KFC. Different world.
Sba grew from the melted pot of all cultures in Hackney. She dips into all cultures and sifts away what doesn’t sit comfortably in her kurta. We heard a lot about culture today: You can’t talk about the hijab without reference to Moslem “culture”. You can’t be that person without reference to your upbringing. Your art will dig deep into your psyche and culture rises powerful, all-pervading like the proverbial cream on milk, shaping your words and giving you identity, richness. But we weren’t there to be educated again about Moslems in the UK, the myriad of different strands of believers and culture-carriers. We were there for the art, for the pleasure of looking at work done, for the aesthetic qualities, for colour, for shape, for perfected techniques. Sba allowed us to touch the material as her work IS tactile.
It was a good day.