Today I got to spend the morning creating a clay house on a beautiful Barge. Anyone can create a house in the Black Country Voyages barge as part of Artist Mahtab Hussain’s work for The Ikon Gallery The Auspicious Journey.
The work is based on the stories of the people who were displaced from Kashmir in Pakistan, to Birmingham and the Black Country in the 60’s so that their villages could be flooded to create the Mangla Dam.
Artist Mahtab Hussain leads Black Country Voyages in 2016, converting the boat into The Auspicious Journey, a story of mass displacement in Pakistan in the 1960s that led to the establishment of new communities in The Black Country. The construction of the Mangla Dam, across the Jhelum River, between 1961 and 1967, resulted in over 280 villages and towns of Mirpur and Dadyal being submerged and over 110,000 people being displaced. Some of those affected were given work permits for Britain by the Government of Pakistan, with many making their way to find work in the Midlands or the North West. The canal system was the bloodline of industry for The Black Country and it was here many migrants came to find work.
Working with clay and traditional photography, Hussain will make work about people affected by the dam construction. For the artist, the significance is water – the community was displaced by water, transported by water from Pakistan, and employed to work with water. During the summer Hussain will host workshops along the canal network for visitors to interact with Black Country Voyages.
To create the clay house I had to roll out the clay to around a centimetre thick. Then cut around the templates to create the walls and roof.
I could then begin assembling my clay house by scoring the edges and putting the walls together. We worked upside down, with the roof on the worktop to create a sturdy base.
I could then add any windows and decoration that I wanted. I went for a small window at the front, a long window to the side and some dot detail.
Here’s my clay house sat among some of the houses that have been made on the barge. The houses are left to air dry- as the original houses would not have been put in a kiln!
It’s incredibly sad to think about the stories of the quarter of a million people who lived in Kashmir; who were moved out of their homes leaving them to be filled with water, whilst they were moved to a new country. It’s great that projects like this are able to raise awareness of this historic event through art- enabling communities who are directly affected to be a part of making and passing on the stories.
The Barge is a fantastic space for creating and making. It’s fully equipped for workshops with long benched and stools (which are a little tricky to get on to with a slant on the barge!). There is something so calming about bobbing up and down on the water of the canal. If you can get down to any of the projects going on in the Black County Voyages barge I would Highly recommend it!
Mahtab is also creating tintype photos of people who are creating houses, particularly those who have a connection to the Mangla Dam. Watching the process of tintype photo being taken was magical, like some kind of alchemy. Potions are poured, the subject has to sit still for 10 seconds, then a photo slowly appears out of the water. The end product is so beautiful and almost haunting. I was so so lucky to have my own taken, it was really hard to keep still for that long!
Here is my Tintype Picture…
Thank You so much to Claire and Mahtab for helping me to create my house and for taking my photo, I can wait to see all of the houses as part of the exhibition later this year.
Find out more about The Black Country Voyages Here
and The Ikon Gallery Here