Leena Chauhan

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LiveElse[W]here, resident artist Leena Chauhan answers questions by E17 Art Trail blogger Amy Wevill about the work she has developed during her residency and the LiveLunch event on Saturday 31st May.

Could you tell us about the work you will be showing during this year’s E17 Art Trail?

As an artist in residence and part of the drawing shed’s LiveElse[W]here I am showing a series of enlarged screen-prints of Clothing Labels that are placed around the The Drive and Attlee Terrace, covering some of the pre-existing council signage. These labels are from the inside tag in (nearly) every garment stating where it’s from and what it’s made from. My prints have been made from my photographs of the residents’ labels on what garment they happened to be wearing at the time. I enlarged the labels to increase their visibility, especially of where the garment was made, to bring to attention its origin and the trajectory of its arrival here. I screen-printed upon these photographs, layering the details tags found inside the differing garments.

A finale for our project and a place to show the works development was theLiveLunch – an event open to residents and Trail goers alike; I made food on site,Cooking with my Mama. We cooked Kenyan-Indian food and served it to the locals whilst sharing my mothers short stories of her time growing up in Kenya moving to England. Essentially, through using clothing as a focus of this project, I am engaging with sense of identity and belonging and where we (or things) are coming from.

How have you been preparing for this year’s trail? 

I have been commissioned by the drawing shed to make work for theLiveElse[W]here Project which was being actualised over the last few months. My work has acted as an instigator for developing interaction, thought and discussion. I have been working in and around the Estates getting familiar with the area and the locals; for me, the essence of the work was with the engagement of residents by having a real dialogue as an inspiration for the beginnings of the project itself. The work provoked conversations of “quality versus affordability; high-end clothing labels versus cheap labour; identity formation and clothing becoming a cultural identity; human value versus clothes carrying ‘identity’.”

Being a recent graduate from Central Saint Martins, a self-contained environment with latest gadgets and gismos, was very different to working in-situ on Attlee Estate and The Drive. I have been learning to improvise and adapt with what we have and how we can use what that is. During the Print Screening workshops I organised, along with sterling guidance from artist Joseph Kopiel, I had support from the locals: a person offered a gallon of water to aid the cleaning of the mesh screens; another resident offered homemade foods to help keep our stomachs full, whilst other parents encourage their children to partake in the process – it was moments like these that were charged with awareness and positive energy. Nevertheless, this residency has been a short period which has involved a process of gaining some trust and connections between residents and myself.

Could you tell us about an artist/ artwork that particularly inspires you? 

Can I say this I wonder…? I’ve been so very fortunate to work by Sally Labern and Bobby Lloyd who’ve both made vast amount of works both collaboratively and individually. On this journey, they’ve both helped me facilitate my project, ground my ideas and help me develop my thinking with intensive talks and contributions. I got talking to them about the some things they’ve both achieved and details of past projects that have been sensitive in approach. Watching them work, being around them, for me personally has been inspiring. Two women: genuine, real, compassionate who both mean what they say and say what they mean.

How does inhabiting a community like Walthamstow help your practice?  

When I started university, I lived near Walthamstow market, a place that reminded me of my home. It was the place I strolled when I had to adjust myself to the privileged others from university; what I understood here was how I wanted to be a positive part of this cohesion. Undeniably, the differences that occur due to class systems set an obvious bearing to our daily choices. This was the reason for which I could imagine myself working creatively amongst the crowds, not disrupting what already is, but in my small way helping to strengthen the identity of The Drive and Attlee Estates, and developing myself and my practice as an artist through this process.

What are you most looking forward to during the E17 Art Trail this year? 

I am interested to see the works of my fellow resident artists too, who have been working alongside my project. Most of all, I looked forward to the LiveLunch on Saturday 31st May. It was the first time for me to work with my mother, Minaxi, too. This is a project my mother and I have been talking about for some years! My Mum and I cooked on site, delivering the food, welcoming people whose families come from all over the world – those who both live on the estates and also visitors like us, all of which was very exciting! I guess, she was the centre of my show, as she raised me the best way she knew how, which of course has been a crucial part to the early formation of my own identity and something I wish to cherish, considering family cohesion an important part of social cohesion.