Wednesday, 17 June 2009

'Community picnic' Yesterday I was at a 'Midsummer Picnic' in Cumberland Market, north London, promoted by the wonderful Wellcome Collection and produced by General Public Agency. It was described as 'an event for local people to discover personal collections on stalls designed by artist duo Juneau Projects and inspired by Henry Wellcome and his collection. There will be activities for adults and children throughout the afternoon, and visitors are invited to bring food to eat and share at this traditional summer picnic.' There were various stalls including seed planting, temporary tattooing, veggie-pickling, face-painting, watercolour portraits, and Wellcome's own impressive stand which you can see in the pic. Principles of gift and exchange applied, nothing was bought or sold. In practice the theme of local people's collections was a minor feature and most people I spoke to felt the event was more like a fete than a picnic. But it was emphatically successful as an intercultural occasion, a relaxed gathering of people from diverse backgrounds in a local space. I've been asked to write a review and was working with film-maker Dani Jacobs to create a record. I spoke to a Filipino; an Italian; a black South African who has been in England since 1954; three remarkable white Londoners in their nineties, Winnie, Jessie and Ethel (the latter two pictured); an east end Jewish lady, passionate about diversity; two more Italians; two Polish children and one Bengali; a white Englishman; an English mother married to a Muslim; another Bengali and her daughter; a Greek woman; and various others. It took a reluctant effort to remember that the casual ordinariness of all the intercultural and intergenerational interactions is not universal. (Recent reflections on racism). Among the other themes I'll be looking at are: how this relates to other organised outdoor events like street parties and family picnics, the traditions of festivals and fetes; and the irresistible anthropological theme of eating in public. I'll post when it's done.

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