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Artists who asked what Hampstead migrants what they had in their pockets

Objects in Transition, a new exhibition at Burgh House, is inspired by the things migrants have brought with them to London

14 September, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

I Only Had My Clothes – the exhibition also showcases art that Rosy and Judit have created in response to the stories told them by those they talked to

IF you are a Brit you may carry an old conker in your pocket, a fossil picked up on a sandy beach, a souvenir old threepenny bit or a silver toothpick given to you by your late grandad.

But if you are coming from a foreign nation, passing through on holiday, escaping oppression or starting a new job, what is in your pocket, handbag or suitcase will reveal something about your cultural heritage and who you are.

Rosy Coleman and Judit Prieto, who met on an art diploma course at the Hampstead School of Art, have spent three years on a fascinating project focusing on the theme of migration, the results of which go on show at Burgh House Museum, Hampstead, on September 13.

They virtually stopped people in the street, on buses, in queues, coffee bars, pubs and on Hampstead Heath and bravely asked them what they were doing in NW3, and what from their homeland they carried in their pockets, handbags and suitcases.

The results of their exercise talking to some 30 people – their stories and their sometimes weird but valued possessions – are the basis of Objects in Transition, which runs in the museum’s Christopher Wade Room until December 17.

The idea for the show came from Rosy, now in his 60s, who has worked in mental health and lived in Iraq but now has her home in Cricklewood.

She points out that Burgh House’s exhibitions tend to look back to the past. “This exhibition relates to the here and now in terms of where people came from, not every country obviously but from America, Africa, Asia and Europe. And so the people we talked to were Czechs, from Roumania, Ukraine and Russia,” said Rosy.

“There were people who came on business, from Japan, from Europe and the United States. Quite a few of them were passing through or working in places like coffee bars or as cleaners, or the wives of directors who had come to work in companies here.”

There were those, she says, just with passports because they were seeking a new life from oppression while others brought homeland recipes, bowls they filled with crisps and one person who had packed an odd pair of socks.

“Yes, it is somewhat offbeat,” she admits. “I don’t think we really understand how objects work in our psyche and culture. We understand words more.

“For me that really is the nub of what I’ve been interested in for some time. Where do objects fit into our lives? How do we see them and how important are they at different times?”

This new objective is welcomed by Rebecca Lodge, the museum’s curator. “People have been travelling to Hampstead for centuries, and some elements of our collection reflect this – by juxtaposing some of our more historic artworks with contemporary pieces by Rosy and Judit, we are joining the experiences of people past and present,” she said.

“Promoting understanding of these experiences is as relevant today as ever, and Rosy and Judit are bringing these contemporary stories directly to our visitors, via thoughtful reflection and artistic interpretation.”

Objects in Transition runs until December 17 at Burgh House Museum, New End Square, NW3 1LT. Details at www.burghhouse.org.uk


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