Strong Rooms are a powerful experience of history in the making

Strong Rooms have come to make their mark in Coventry this week, and call in for an illuminating experience

And enjoy them from what you find out, rather than focusing on the slightly confusing story of what’s behind them.

After a week in Rugby, two shipping containers are in University Square, opposite the cathedral steps, until Monday, July 18, for a project called Strong Arms. They seem to be part of a number of different things though  – a leaflet describes Strong Arms as a new project by artist Mohammed Ali and Soul City Arts, developed by Archives West Midlands and Arts Connect, the Bridge organisation for the West Midlands and Arts Council England Lottery Funding.

It’s also described in a press release from Crisis Skylight Coventry and Warwickshire as a project delivered with The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery as part of Art in Crisis 2016, with work by Coventry-based artists who have experienced homelessness.

However it is defined it’s an interesting dip into history and art in one go, with research carried out at West Midlands archives.

On the outside of one container, Ali has painted, in his graffiti, street art style, Dorothie Feilding, who was born at Newnham Paddox near Rugby, a child of the Earl of Denbigh, but who went on to drive ambulances in the First World War.

Inside one of the containers, he has painted six portraits of people from the West Midlands, some well known and others not. They include Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the composer who had an African father, and Coventry-born Colonel Wyley who is well known for leaving the Charterhouse to the city, but I didn’t know he was the founder of the Coventry and Warwickshire Society of Artists in 1912. There’s also Emma Sproson, born in West Bromwich, who became a suffragette, and Scottish-born Mary Macarthur who led women chainmakers in Cradley Heath in a fight for a fair wage in 1910.

The floors and walls are covered with old, detailed maps of parts of the Midlands, and there’s also atmospheric sound effects, and a film of a poem being read in a field.

The other container shows works by Midlands artists who have experienced homelessness. There’s some ‘Lost’ posters, featuring various places on earth, including the Temple of the Sun, Baalbek, Syria, marked as “Destroyed”, and the Sphinx of Giza.

A desk has been beautifully customised with cut outs of tiny feet, flowers, with letters sticking out of the drawers and what look like fezs hanging from the ceiling. A huge collage of people and artefacts also brightens one wall.

There is a work, The Book of Known Thieves, 1895-1910, inspired by an archival document which contained information on 1,400 people from Aston in Birmingham who came before the courts in Warwickshire, and were recorded in it.

As a project to promote use of the archives it make a good point of what of interest can be found there; it’s a shame that (in Coventry at least) the opening hours and days of archives are being continually cut back to make it harder to visit and explore.

The Art in Crisis Coventry project continues with an exhibition at the Glass Box in the city centre from July 18-28, by Crisis clients who have worked with photographer Jamie Gray to explore the city, and Pride & Perusal at The Urban Coffee Company at Fargo from July 18-29, a mixed media exhibition celebrating the work of Crisis clients in Coventry in 2015-16.

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