This report marks the end of the second year of the Making Suburban Faith Project. It has been another very successful year for the project and this summary reports on some of the highlights of the year for the project. Although originally scheduled to run for three years until December 2017 the project will now run until December 2018 – this is welcome news giving us the chance to further develop some of ongoing initiatives.
Architectures of Shared Spaces
Much of our work in early 2016 supported the completion of our first Creative arts project with Mangera Yvars architects and Brentside School pupils Architectures of Shared Spaces. On 11th March 2016 the exhibition from the project was launched in the North Cloisters at UCL showcasing the student designs for new shared spaces for faith communities in Ealing and the responses to these designs by the professional architects. The exhibition launch coincided with our first academic symposium Architecture, Creativity and the Spaces of Everyday Faith held at Royal Holloway in Bedford Square. The symposium included presentations from the project ‘Constructing religious spaces in the suburbs: urban planning and post-multicultural governmentality in West London’ alongside presentations from Stephen Foley at Mangera Yvars as well as invited presenters focusing on religious architecture and planning in diverse contexts in the UK. Our paper from the symposium will be submitted to Environment and Planning A.
The Architectures of Shared Spaces exhibition remained in UCL until April and was then shown at Ealing Library from 9th March until 24th June 2016. The Ealing Library exhibition was launched with reception and public talk on Tuesday 17th May which was attended by members of the local history society, local councillors and staff and students from Brentside School. The exhibition was featured in the local news magazine Ealing News Extra and attracted interest from local councillors who also recommended it to developers currently working in Ealing. We were subsequently invited to present the project at the Ealing SACRE (Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education) in November 2016 which has led to some productive discussions about how the project might be expanded and developed for a wider range of schools in the borough.
The exhibition was also showcased at the AHRC Utopia Fair on June 24-26th at Somerset House where Claire led a discussion with Ali Mangera and Anastazja Jankowska one of the pupils who participated in the project.
The exhibition returned to Brentside School as part of their summer showcase exhibition in July 2016 and was shown in September at the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway.
We are currently working on a paper for the journal Geohumanities which explores the architecture project as a form of participtory research. David presented this paper at the Writing Buildings Conference at the University of Kent, in July and at the Geohumanities Conference in Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona in October.
PhD Project: Spiritual Flavours
Our project PhD student Laura Cuch has been developing her practice-led research in relation to food, faith and home through a photography and film project. We secured additional funding from the AHRC via a Connected Communities Festival grant which allowed Laura to acquire film equipment to explore the use of film as well as photography for her ongoing research project Spiritual Flavours. Laura has been working with the case study faith communities to explore both individual faith biographies through culinary practice and the role of food in communal faith identities. Laura’s project has involved the documentation of cooking interviews and a shared half-day culinary workshop in which a new shared dish was created. The resulting work forms the basis of a film as well as a recipe book which will be created as part of her Phd. An introduction to the film Spiritual Flavours was shown for the first time at the Utopia Fair in June 2016. Laura’s film was subsequently submitted to the AHRC Media Awards where it was shortlisted in the Utopia Award category and shown at the awards ceremony at BAFTA on 10th November 2016. Laura is now completing the final edits to the full length film which will be shown in Helsinki in February 2017 as part of this year’s Festival of Political Photography which is themed around food. Laura was invited to host a solo show at STOA cultural centre, as part of this prestigious Festival, which will also feature the photographs from the recipe book. Laura has presented her work at the conference ‘Household Gods: Religious Domesticity in Britain, 1700 to the present day’ at the Geffrye Museum, 15th July 2016; the conference ‘Photography in Academic Research’ at UCL, London, 8th-9th September and at the International Colloquium in Geohumanities “Closing Circles, Open Horizons” in Barcelona, in October 19th-22nd 2016. The project has also garnered media interest from the Times Educational Supplement and The University Paper. Laura has also secured a competitive interdisciplinary scholarship from UCL which enables her to spend the academic year 2016-7 in the Department of Anthropology at UCL, particularly to develop her documentary and anthropological film skills.
Fabric of Faith
The Fabric of Faith project is our second collaborative arts project undertaken with artist Katy Beinart. This project emerges from our research on creativity within faith communities in Ealing and Hanwell and particularly the significance of textiles for different faith groups. Drawing in particular on the inspiration for a textiles based art project from the hand-stitched kneelers in St Thomas’ Church we developed a series of creative workshops which brought together women from different faith communities over a period of six weeks in July to September 2016. The group began by sharing their own experiences of embroidery and textiles and then began work together on a shared creative project to which all the participants contributed a piece of work around the theme of prayer, with participants drawing on inspiration from their own faith traditions. The creative workshops were productive sites of co-production and research with the experience of sewing together also opened up a space for sharing family stories and histories. Alongside the workshops Nazneen conducted interviews with all the participants and Laura also produced photographic portraits of the participants. The individual pieces are being curated into an art installation by Katy Beinart which will be launched in the Spring of 2017 and shown at venues in Ealing, London and Brighton. The first exhibit will also coincide with our second academic symposium focusing on textiles, faith and creativity. We have already presented a preliminary paper about the project at a session we co-organised at the RGS-IBG Conference in London ‘Sacred Stuff: Material Culture and the Geography of Religion’, the Geohumanities Conference in Barcelona in October, at an invited seminar at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Durham in December 2016 and at a workshop on ‘Colloquial Tools for research’ at UCL in November 2016.
Alongside the creative workshops Claire completed research on the kneelers at St Thomas’ Church and with the assistance of a workplace student, Jessica Mensah from UCL’s Institute of Education, completed a photography archive of all the church kneelers. Claire is now working both on a publication from this research (probably for Gender, Place and Culture) and a catalogue to be available at the church.
PhD Project: Sacred~Sonix: Music and popular creativity in suburban faith communities
Natalie Hyacinth has been consolidating her research on music and suburban faith concentrating on three ethnographic case studies: choral singing, focusing particularly on the choir of St Thomas’ Anglican Church; music in the Tamil Hindu tradition focusing on the Sri Kanaga Amman Hindu Temple and music making at the Ealing Christian Centre (Elim Pentecostal Church) which draws particularly on rap and hip hop traditions. Natalie has developed an immersive ethnographic study which has involved music making with all three communities including learning the Veena at Tamil School and performing with the choir. In May Natalie organised an ambitious event at St Thomas’ Church which brought together choirs and singers from across Ealing and Hanwell to share in a music workshop ‘Come and Sing’. This workshop, organised in collaboration with the church to celebrate the restoration of its original organ, provided an important opportunity to showcase the Making Suburban Faith research project in the community and for Natalie to build a network of interviewees for her research. Natalie has also presented a paper ‘Rapping the Sacred’ at the first International Hip Hop Studies Conference at the University of Cambridge in June 2016 and the Postgraduate Forum at RHUL.
Laura and Natalie also organised a special session at the Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers in April 2016 in San Francisco Creative Approaches to Researching Religion in the City with three sets of papers exploring creative and collaborative methods. Making Suburban Faith contributed papers about the architecture project and from Laura and Natalie about their own research while David was a discussant. We are now working on volume which will share and disseminate this work.
In 2016 we have also been able to develop our relationship with the Gunnersbury Park Museum in Ealing, and we are currently involved in the co-curation of an exhibit in their new home gallery (re-opening after lottery-funded refurbishment in Spring 2018) focusing on faith and home which will include domestic religious objects from our research. Once the museum reopens we hope to have the first temporary exhibition at the museum.
In addition to the dissemination activities mentioned above Claire has presented invited papers at the Universities of Roehampton, Leeds and Oxford; David and Nazneen have presented invited papers at the Open University; Nazneen presented at the SOCREL conference in Lancaster in June 2016 and David presented at the University of Leicester. In December 2016 David and Claire presented the project at a symposium in the House of Commons ‘The Politics of the Suburbs’ organised by Ealing MP Rupa Huq. We have had papers published in Built Environment, Interiors and Social and Cultural Geography and currently have a paper under review in Culture and Religion. There are also a number of book chapters drawing on the research just published or forthcoming in 2017 (see the publications link on our website for further details).
We are grateful for the support of our advisory board and look forward to sharing the research as we go forward in 2017.