Month: April 2015

Family photo exhibition launches Coventry University Romani Week


An exhibition opening tonight began a week-long event celebrating the culture of a community now established in Coventry.

Coventry University Romani Week continues until Friday, May 1 and through it, in the words of one of the organisers, senior lecturer Marcos Young: “Our University confronts the last bastion of acceptable racism, promoting positive images about Gypsies.”

The exhibition opening was celebrated with food made by the local Romani community, including a huge chunk of one of the tastiest, if stickiest, cakes I’ve ever eaten. It was lucky no politician tried to eat it in front of a camera.

The works on show are photographs by Antony Weir, taken at a specially-organised Romani Family Picture Day, curated by Rosamaria K Cisneros and taken in collaboration with the Coventry Roma Project Families. The exhibition is called Family Matters, or Chestiuni de familie.

All posed against the same dark background they show couples hugging, families posing starchly or casually, a mum or child falling about with laughter, little girls in pink pretty dresses and little boys unsure whether to smile or cry. They show a community happy to be photographed together, demonstrating their close ties, and many of those in the pictures were at the exhibition opening.

Deputy council leader Phil Townshend, cabinet member (policing and equalities), officially declared the exhibition open, and said he did not play lip service to the idea of community cohesion, but tried to make things happen.

He said he had recently made a presentation to the Romanian ambassador and 60 members of the government, and hoped soon to welcome the ambassador to Coventry for a third time, this time for a forum with members of the engineering industry and representatives of other eastern European EU states.

He said: “There are more things that unite us than divide us and we must not let people divide us because there’s no need for it, that’s not how life’s meant to be, and it is about recognising the contributions of the people who come to Coventry and make their home here.”

Being a proud Romanian and a proud Coventrian were not exclusive, he added. “We welcome the contributions the Romani community make in this city at all levels. Coventry takes pride in the richness and diversity of its community and the Romani community is a central part of that.”

The photographic display is on in the Coventry University Alan Berry Atrium Gallery, opposite Coventry Cathedral steps.

Other events this week include films, talks, a performance installation and conversation series, including Ramón Flores, from the Council of Europe’s Forum of European Roma Young People Program, making a special visit from Seville to talk about his work with the European Commission, and an evening of entertainment in Opre Roma in the Lanchester Gallery at 7.15pm on Thursday.

There are more details below and on the Facebook page Romani Week Coventry University.



Happy housing exhibition shows inspiring vision for post-war homes

Homes that would just create happiness – it sounds a great idea and one that people could relate to today, when for many a permanent home is just a dream.

But the happy homes plan was one that was on the drawing board back in 1945 in Bilston, and there’s still just time to see an exhibition telling the story of this wonderful and fascinating plan.

Bilston’s Happy Housing: Otto Neurath’s Vision for Post-War Modern Living is on at Bilston Craft Gallery until May 2 and tells the unlikely story of how someone from the Vienna Circle and a leading sociologist and urban planner ended up in the Black Country.

Neurath was invited by the council in 1945 to be a consultant on plans to come up with ideas to replace the slum housing endured by many of the local people, with the area having the reputation as the slum capital of England. What was envisaged were state-of-the-art modern homes based on ones built in Vienna in the 1920s.

Neurath was born in 1882, and had experienced a successful career in Europe, then fled during the Second World War after the death of his second wife, and fears for his life. He got married again, to Marie Reidemeister who he had formerly worked with, and after a period of internment on the Isle of Man they set up the Isotype Institute in Oxford together, creating the sort of informative diagrams now so loved by newspapers and news websites seeking pictorial ways to represent information.

However they were so taken with the Bilston project that they planned to move there from Oxford. Neurath visited the town and talked to people about their new planned homes, and wrote policies which influenced the designs. People should be mixed up to avoid the creation of ghettoes, and the needs of children and the elderly should not be ignored were two of them.

Then – Neurath died suddenly and unexpectedly on December 22, 1945; a poignant letter written on December 19 and illustrated with an elephant is exhibited, mentioning no signs of ill health.

Marie used the Isotype plan to illustrate her husband’s plans for the town, and in a letter to Bilston’s town clerk said he husband’s hope had been to “provide maximum happiness for the people of your town”.

There were of course many others also involved in the plans; Professor Sir Charles Reilly had also been engaged by the council, and favoured homes around large greens, with many community facilities. He died in early 1948 with the work still unfinished. Ella Briggs, another Viennese émigrée who had worked with Neurath, had already designed some homes before the two men became involved, and it may be the final results were based on her work. The uneven land was apparently filled in partly with bricks from bombed sites in Birmingham and Coventry.

The exhibition includes lots of information on the plans for what became the Stowlawn Estate, with drawings and the Isotypes. There are pictures of what had been there before, and plans for the homes, with inside bathrooms, some with upstairs balconies, and different sized properties to cater for single people and families. Drawings show the large open spaces around the estate.

There are also books of memories and photos, mostly positive, from people who were the first to move into Stowlawn. A related part of the exhibition shows the designs of the time for items which would fill these happy homes, with stylish cutlery, ceramics, furniture, fabrics, radios and other technology to represent the ‘new look’ of the mid century style.

Nearby, Stowlawn estate still exists and the exhibition tells you which is the only street where the green space remains as planned – the others have all been infilled with buildings. You can drive round and see how the buildings stand out as different, more European than most.

It’s a fascinating exhibition at an ideal which should still be grasped today.

Poignant performance for works of talented composers killed in Gallipoli


A First World War commemoration event with an interesting approach is taking place in Warwickshire this week. It will remember the artistic creation of two people who died in the war, and what might have been had they survived.

A press release from the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum explained that as part of the Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015, the gallery is hosting a free dance performance in the Royal Pump Rooms on Wednesday, 29 April from 6-7pm.

The London Central School of Ballet will perform The Comic Spirit, a short ballet by the Leamington-born pianist, organist, critic and composer William Denis Browne. This will be the first public performance of the ballet, which Browne wrote in 1912.

There will also be the first solo dance setting of Frederick ‘Cleg’ Kelly’s Elegy for Strings: in memoriam Rupert Brooke. An introduction to the performances will be given by Nick Peacey, William Denis Browne’s great-nephew.

Senior Curator Vicki Slade said: “William Denis Browne had a promising career as a composer before the First World War broke out. 100 years after his death at Gallipoli, it is fitting that the first ever performance of his only ballet should be given in his home town.”

This event is free, though places are limited. They must be booked by phoning Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum on 01926 742700, or calling in beforehand.

This event runs in conjunction with Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum’s exhibition A Leamington Musical Meteor: The Life of William Denis Browne (1888-1915) which runs until Sunday, 10 May. The exhibition, which was organised by Nick Peacey for the Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 project, brings together family archive material alongside compositions by Browne, to celebrate his career.

Browne was born in Leamington on 3 November 1888 and grew up at Lynnwood, a large house on Lillington Road. He attended Greyfriars Preparatory School in the town and Rugby School, before attaining classical scholarship to study at Clare College, Cambridge.

It was there that his talents developed as a performer and composer. After university he was building a successful musical career, with performances at 10 Downing Street and Westminster Cathedral, when the First World War intervened. Browne was killed fighting at Gallipoli on 4 June 1915, aged just 26.

*The Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 is a unique project looking at the vastness of the First World War through one battle. It will tell the stories of nine men who fought at Gallipoli and will set their wartime experiences against their peacetime lives. All nine men pursued artistic careers, and although they fought for different causes, they were united by their experiences of the battle. The Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 project is funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.