‘NOTHING LIKE BETHNAL GREEN’
The system of economic apartheid in London is often most apparent on public transport. If you take a bus from somewhere in the deep south east like Peckham up towards the city, you’ll usually find that the demographic is largely black –mainly African but some Carribean – when you board the bus. As you near the city that starts to change , however, until crossing the Thames you’ll notice that everyone on the bus is white. What has happened, and does that mean that nobody in the City is black? No, but the point is that a huge percentage of the black people arrived in town much earlier and will leave earlier, because they are doing the jobs,- cleaners, janitors, concierges, bouncers, doormen, guards – which service the lucrative largely white financial economy there.
Nobody ever talks about this, and at best we could assume that the tacit hope is that gradually as the new populations settle and establish themselves they will become more successful and climb the social and employment ladder after having first being given the opportunity to start at some lowly level …
In his artist’s film ‘Expulsion’, on show at The Gallow Gate , Larry Achiampong turns our attention to this more or less unacknowledged reality of life in London for the poor and often newly immigrant communities. His mother was a cleaner in the city and as a boy he often accompanied her to help at her work. Although colour film is used it is shot expressly in grim and grey/blue office tones, and the action is largely of characters slowly and laboriously cleaning in toilets, kitchens, offices. In the meanwhile Achiampong’s considered and highly poetic narrative – a type of poem full of oppression and menace while inviting meditation on that economic system at play in the metropolis – is enounced in a neutral documentarian style. The effect is moving and effective: we see the silent early morning deliberations of the workers, careful and thorough, and over those images sounds the epigrammatic quality – elegiac, mournful, but rigorous in its political vision – of Achiampong’s text.
It is indeed ‘nothing like Bethnal Green’ for those who travel in early to the City to do these jobs, and as we hear on the soundtrack, ‘your morning knows nothing of what our light sees’ as they ‘dust away the sins lingering on your keyboards’ and ‘empty the secrets from your trash’
This is well worth a viewing, it is both provocative and inspiring. The African and Carribean communities in Scotland are much smaller and so probably have a much more varied experience of economic life here –but this is no time to be complacent for we need more new peoples in Scotland, and it would be great to hear from such a powerful poetic voice as Achiampong on their behalf and about their experiences too.