Art: The G37 Downlow Arts Trail in Lozells, Birmingham
Art with Meaning
Over the past few months Lozells has been used as a canvas to showcase the vibrancy of the community and different cultures who live within the area as part of the DOWNLOW project which is an arts trail through the area featuring ten pieces of art. As an artist it has been exciting for me to work along side Bunny Bread from Create Not Destroy along with fellow artists Simon Linton, Jason Caballero and Remi Rough. Spending time with the collective was a great insight to how they create their masterpieces on brickwork, concrete and textured walls. As Bunny worked away, I observed how he used the cans, different nozzles and perspective on scaling up. Being an artist and being part of the process of this project such as the planning, research and facilitating introductions between the artists and the community groups within the early stages, seeing it come to fruition really was special.
Myself and Bunny have talked about a range of topics while we were at different locations within the area as black artists, we explored the history of Lozells and the diverse communities which inhabit it. The cultural, religious, economical, social divides which is also very apparent in the area. Parallel to this there are a vast number of hard working people in the area who have come together to make Lozells a better and more positive place to live, a real 'community'.
There are ten murals on different walls from Heathfield Road to Alma Way, one of the murals which I present from start to finish, being able to see Bunny work his magic was the Sound System Culture which features Siffa Sound System performing at Handsworth Carnival 1983, using the photograph taken by the legendary photographer Vanley Burke.
The art is fully entwined with the community and this was demonstrated during the process and application of the mural. When a young lady called Simone spotted the image, stating she recognised those in the photograph, she then gave Bunny some insight into the people he was painting. The following day Conrad her father arrived at Russell's where the mural is painted and spoke to us about the history of the sound system and those within the image, how they made the speaker boxes themselves and played up and down the country, sadly two of the people in the mural had since passed away. He also facetimed one of the other men in the mural to show him they were being immortalised through art in their community, it was a magical moment talking to the both of them and hearing more about their experiences. On the day of the launch Conrad and one of the other men in the photo came and shared their history to the arts trail walkers. It complimented & gave true reference to Vanley’s photo.
The NHS wall is a dedication to our grandparents and great grandparents who came to the UK to fill the jobs which were not being filled by British people. It depicts the ticket on which they travelled to the UK and their countries of origin in the Caribbean. For many in the area first, second and even third generation of the Windrush, the ship depicts the dream they and their grandparents were sold, that the streets were paved with gold, but they experienced a very different story. Violence, racism, hatred, struggles to find adequate accommodation and worse. The piece is centralised around an image of Joanna, a nurse of 40 years who is now retired and lives in Lozells, she was a joy to talk to, she brought us refreshments and snack two days before the mural was finished, it was bitter cold and Bunny and two artist were working on it until late as the original wall they wanted to paint the image on the permission did not come through in time.
The past year and a half has been destructive because of the Covid pandemic, many people have lost their lives either directly from the virus or the effects of cancelled treatments, depression, local authorities being closed and increased poverty. Out of the loss and pain Bunny wanted to create something beautiful and full of life as a memorial to those who are no longer with us.
The iconic Muhammad Ali has a connection with Birmingham with both Hockley and Lozells two areas that are border one another. Mr Ali visited them in the 80's opening a community centre named after him and also residents and businesses in Lozells. With Mr Ali being one of Bunny's icons there was no doubt he was going to pay homage to the man himself by painting a mural. A local shopkeeper who was there at the time of his visit spoke to Bunny about how community welcomed him with open arms.
The image of the skater girl came about when Bunny by saw her skating in George’s Park and asked her parents if he could take a photo of her after explaining the project he was working on. The reception from the public was very positive especially from women, Muslim women were overjoyed, happy and proud that there was a positive imagery they could relate to symbolised through youthfulness and fun. There were one or two who questioned why that image of a Muslim girl is it real and did not believe the history behind the story of the image, until we had a conversation about how the image was captured and the process to get permission to use the image.
The interaction from local people has been heart warming & open, so many people from all different backgrounds English, African, African Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi have shared their stories with me, what brought them to Lozells, their life history, asked about the murals and said what the addition of art has meant to them and how it made them feel. I felt humbled for total strangers to be sharing such personal & sometimes confidential information with me, but giving someone your time can be such an important gift as you may be the only person they tell that information too. I sign posted some individuals to specific services where they could get support. This art project has given people the space to have open conversations about what art means to them, express and share some personal, emotive, interesting, wonderful & heartwarming stories. Giving the community ownership of something that is not only visually beautiful but also relatable and makes them feel good. It is clear it has lifted the mood of the area & gives it a warm colourful vibe, with a sense of pride and nostalgia.
The G37 Arts trail was funded by Punch Records, Active Communities, Sport England, Saathi House, GALLERY 37 and Arts Council England.
The arts trail is now live and you can access a map and more information via: https://www.wearepunch.co.uk/downlow