Designed for Life weaves a common thread of home and migration

3 Mins read

London College of Fashion has made the East Bank its new home and through the exhibition, Designed for Life, it connected students with the migration history of its new community.

In the centre of the Designed for Life exhibition is an installation of a living room complete with a sofa, coffee table, television, record player and bookshelf.

Dr Leila Nassereldein, a cultural producer at LCF and part of the team organising the exhibition, explains that the living room “reflects and represents the histories of East London” with these multiple histories woven throughout the wallpaper, books, leaflets and prints that scatter the living room.

Designed for Life is the inaugural exhibition of LCF’s new Cultural Programme, coinciding with the university’s move to the East Bank in Stratford.

Across the different rooms of the exhibition, fashion, textile, film, and installation “express a social purpose, various people’s experiences of migration, being a refugee and therefore home” Leila says.

The living room installation is presented under the theme of East London as Home and faces outwards overlooking the river and the West Ham stadium, enticing people into the exhibition.

Misbah, a Fine Art graduate from Chelsea invigilating the gallery space, thinks that the installation is relevant to a lot of people, bringing the community in.

The living room installation in the Designed for Life exhibition [Image Sadie Pitcher]

On the gallery walls surrounding the living room installation is Lucy Orta’s collaborative work Traces: Stories of Migration.

The work includes a series of forty large-scale portraits mounted on canvases created using different fabrics, textiles and stichs, and a collection of story cloths which are smaller pieces of cloth using embroidered and printed motifs, words, and images to illustrate each participant’s journey.

Lucy is a visual artist, researcher and Professor and Chair of Arts and the Environment based at LCF. For the creation of Traces, Lucy workshopped with 27 participants from the boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets.

The workshops explored “migration and the reason people migrate and how and what they consider to be home” drawing upon the history of the rag trade and migration that has created the distinctive fabric of the East End.

In another room, the work ‘Dress for Our Time‘ by Helen Story is exhibited. The work is a dress created out of a decommissioned refugee tent which has a projection of lights travelling up from the hem of the dress. Each projected light represents one hundred people who have been displaced, creating a map of displacement.

Whilst LCF is “working with community members who have been displaced from different countries, being [in Stratford] is a symptom of the displacement of East Londoners,” Leila explains.

The rooms of the exhibition”express a social purpose, various people’s experiences of migration, being a refugee and therefore home.”

Dr Leila Nassereldein

The regeneration of Stratford began during and after the 2012 London Olympic Games, when Clays Lane housing estate, home to 450 tenants was compulsorily purchased in 2007 to make way for the Olympic site.

LCF is confronting this uncomfortable reality through the exhibition and its cultural program, using its move to ensure the community is not excluded but represented. 

LCF’s move east was part of a larger cultural shift in London which started in 2018 when Sadiq Khan unveiled £1.1 billion of investment for culture in East London. Along with LCF, BBC Sounds, Sadler’s Wells, V&A and UCL have all moved east.

If LCF continues to collaborate with the East End community through their cultural programme, their new home in Stratford can be a place of connection and inclusion.

Designed for Life is a powerful attempt to bring together different communities, revealing similarities between home and migration.

Returning to the living room installation, Leila explains “It’s not just about touch from a distance” speaking of the desire to bring students and the community together within the space.

Through the Designed for Life exhibition, LCF are confronting the displacing reality of their relocation, and bridging the gap between gallery and home, institution, and community.

Featured image by Sadie Pitcher.

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