Preview… Dutch Wax and Display: London and the art of Yinka Shonibare

The chapter that I am presently writing on this subject will be published later this year by Intellect Books in an edited volume about post colonial uses of textiles. Here are some of the musings that constituted my initial proposal.

I recall watching Yinka Shonibare collect his honorary PhD from Sir Terrence Conran at my Royal College of Art convocation ceremony. Sitting on the back row of the choir stalls and seeing him receive his umpteenth award as I was to receive one of my first, I felt an almost fatalistic sense of arrival; certainly a culmination of sorts. Exhibitions and installations of Shonibare’s work had punctuated my career up to that point, for reasons no more glamorous or fated than my having been working in London and concerned with post-colonial critique. Shonibare’s work had literally been weaving itself into that city’s intrinsic fabric as I had developed and discovered my academic specialism through working in museums and galleries. This chapter will be as much about five years of artistic and critical commentary on five hundred years of London as it will be about the work of the artist. It will focus on the increasing significance and subtly fluctuating meaning of the striking Dutch wax textile used by Shonibare, and displayed in his home city in the years between 2005 and 2010.

The piece will be divided into four sections. The introductory section will be in part a straightforward description of the origins of Dutch wax batik textile; its production processes, its place on the markets of London’s East End and its significance within Shonibare’s work. The section will also be a historiography, both of the growing discourse surrounding the work of the artist and of the writing that exists on Dutch Wax and Batik textiles more generally.

The second section, Shonibare and London 2005: Bringing the empire home sets the scene of an academic and cultural London that was experiencing one of its sporadic waves of high profile engagement with themes inspired by black criticism and postcolonial critique. This particular wave occurred in the wake of the V&A’s major exhibition Black British Style (curated by Carol Tulloch in 2004).  A number of retrospective exhibitions at other galleries followed this, all aiming to redress the collective memory of blackness and empire. The section will examine The Whitechapel Gallery’s Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary and The Michael McMillan exhibition, The West Indian Front Room which caused a stir at the Geffrye Museum that year. McMillan in particular will be compared with Shonibare as his installation also dealt directly with colonialism, imperialism and Britishness. Through this comparison the unavoidable simultaneous comparison will be made between McMillan’s starting point in anthropology through the work of Daniel Miller, and Shonibare’s starting point in pure post-colonial critique. This basis allowed the latter to re-insert cultural diversity into and deconstruct established stories of empire and ‘home’, rather than perpetuating them as many have criticised McMillan for doing. The strength and uniqueness of the Dutch wax will be a primary vehicle for exploration here, especially when examined in relation to the overtly plush but generically ‘western’ textiles used in the Front Room installation.

Michael McMillan: The West Indian Front Room, Geffrye Museum 2005.

Section three, Shonibare and Bhabha 2007: Cultural hybridity and the retelling of Britishness deals with what was an important year for London’s culture and heritage institutions. In this bicentenary year, Shonibare was thrown to the forefront of the galleries’ campaign to counteract the government’s established take on the abolition of the Slave Trade; one which, through films like Micheal Apted’s Amazing Grace attributed the bulk of the glory to William Wilberforce and told a white, male and upper class history. His work as a series of intrusions will be dealt with here, and the section will focus on the National Gallery’s trail of Shonibare pieces that was appropriately entitled Scratch the Surface. Shonibare’s work was not the only insertion of this type in 2007, but the Batik cloth made it the most striking, and perhaps the most visited of the trails. The National Portrait Gallery’s Road to Abolition and the V&A’s Uncomfortable Truths trails will be compared to Scratch the Surface, and the role of ‘the trail’ in establishing an inclusive version of an existing history as opposed to an exhibition, which may have been tokenistic given the circumstances, is examined. Homi Bhabha’s theories surrounding cultural hybridity will be brought to bear on the work within Scratch the Surface as a way of dissecting firstly what its intrinsic aims were, and secondly what it signified to London in 2007.

‘Sir Foster Cunliffe Playing’, Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Part of Uncomfortable Truths, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007.

Shonibare and Gilroy – Structure, Flow and the Black Atlantic is the title of the chapter’s final section. It jumps to 2010, a year when the Tate establishment revisited and celebrated the work of Paul Gilroy through the major exhibition Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool, which was mirrored in London by the Chris Ofili retrospective at Tate Britain. In the same year Yinka Shonibare achieved his most prominent statement yet; Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, which remained on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth in until January 2012. In a poetic return to the beginning of the chapter’s time period, the final section will explore the words of Carol Tulloch and others at the Afro Modern symposium in Liverpool. It will return to the work of Paul Gilroy, which will have been mentioned in the first section’s analysis of Back to Black and it will consider whether the Dutch Wax statements of previous chapters have proven Gilroy’s notion of double consciousness to be too simplistic for contemporary times. It will pose the possibility of a ‘multiple consciousness’ instead, and in so doing will conclude with a series of questions that Shonibare’s work, in conjunction with Bhabha, raises.



London Town

Not so long ago I was asked the question: ‘what are your favourite places for hanging out in London?’ My mind went blank because there are so many places that I love for different reasons. In the opening text for this section I wrote of London: ‘My love of that city remains unparalleled and any other will always be found wanting in comparison’. There is little more to say. It is a love affair unrivalled and everlasting ;-) . When I am tour guiding in Paris many American clients are en route to London. They frequently ask me for lists of restaurants and interesting places to visit, so here are a few of my favourites, old and new.



Chelsea Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, for the best Chelsea buns :-) . Nearest Tube: South Ken.

Kipferl, Islington - Thanks to TimmyKnights I’m a complete Kipferl Convert. It is charming but if you turn up after 10am on a weekend you will need to queue! Tip, their cakes are amazing so go for afternoon tea if you miss breakfast. Nearest Tube: Angel.



  • Gaby’s Deli, Leicester Square – Described by the Guardian as ‘London’s best Kosher Cafe’ it was a staple of mine for four years while working at the National Portrait Gallery. Serving arguably the best falafel in London, Gabys is reasonably priced, serves an impressive range of salads and yummy latkes, makes the best fresh orange juice and beats nearby Pret-a-Manger hands down. On a sunny day I suggest taking away and sitting on the steps of Trafalgar Square, or on a bench behind St Martin in the Fields church. Takeaway Price: £5 -7 Eat in Price: 10 – 15.
  • The Crypt Cafe, St Martin in the Fields – If it’s raining, you don’t like hummus or you have a little more time to spend on lunch, skip Gabys for the Crypt. It’s under the church and the entrance is via a tardis-like lift. I remember it being converted and have loved escaping there on (England’s very few) hot summer days.  Try their cream teas in summer and soups in winter. Tip: Look beneath your feet when you get down there- creepy! Nearest Tube: Charing Cross



  • Renoir Cinema, Brunswick Centre – Lovely cinema in the middle of the modernist Brunswick centre. It’s small, shows good film and the staff really know their stuff. In the summer look for a very tall blonde guy called Tim (Timmyknights, mentioned above). My very good friend, postgrad student at the national film school and very talented filmaker. Nearest Tube: Russel Sq



  • V&A Café - Described by Glenn Adamson at the recent Postmodernism symposium as being ultimately postmodern along with the cast courts, this cafe combines an ornate 19th century ceramic and stained glass shell with functional contemporary seating; cavernous echoing acoustics and the tinkling of a barely audible piano. My favourite spot is the William Morris room. You will recognize it, it’s green ;-) Favourite thing: Their cinnamon scones! Nearest Tube: South Ken
  • Starbucks St Martins Lane - I know that Starbucks are everywhere and that coffee aficionados will scoff at this, but I am unashamed. I know what it is like to need your usual triple shot tall soy caramel latte in a strange city and for those moments in London, St Martins Lane is the best place. It has the largest number of comfy chairs and is never as busy as the coffee houses on the main. The people who come in are always interesting because of the myriad of cultural venues nearby. Drum up conversation if you are feeling brave. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.
  • Yumchaa loose leaf tea house - the more authentic option. It sells a quite astounding range of tea in a tiny but cute setting that at a squint could almost be in Paris’ Marais. Not the best place for cakes but very close to places that are. Go mid afternoon when it’s not so busy. Equidistant to Tottenham Ct Rd and Oxford Circus.
  • Orsini South Ken - Orsini is lovely, and it’s even lovlier if you speak Italian. Salvatore and his wife run the restaurant, and once when I was ill, they plied me with hot honey and lemon in addition to my hot chocolate, free of charge. This was accompanied by a waterfall of advice, kindly translated by my friend Carlo. I have never forgotten their open-hearted kindness (a rare thing in South Kensington) and so Orsini earns its place here.



  • Searcys National Portrait Gallery - I like this place for the view. On the 3rd floor of the gallery (up the escalator to the 2nd floor then up again the the lift), one whole wall is made of glass, offering a spectacular panoramic view of London. If you can time it, go either at sunset or in the rain. I’m not a big fan of the menu, but their drinks are good. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.



  • Anchor and Hope, Southwark - Introduced to me by the wonderful Sarah Teasley and in my opinion London’s best gastropub. Pretty famous too. Its menu is experimental and ever-changing, love it. Price £15 – 20 per head. Nearest Tube: You guessed it… Southwark.
  • Tito’s Peruvian - I haven’t actually eaten here yet! It was recommended to me by a tiny Peruvian lady with whom I shared a train journey at the beginning of the year. Her advice to me was, “marry a Peruvian man, allow your sister to teach you Spanish and try the food at Titos! It is not elegant but the food is top quality.” I have promised to take her up on one of the three suggestions before this year is out and the restaurant seems the most viable! Nearest Tube: London Bridge.
  • Vantra, Soho StreetOne of my favourite places for a happy tummy. Go when it’s dark, it has a lovely chilled atmosphere. It serves vegan cuisine, nothing is cooked above 45degrees, their fresh lassis are amazing. Nothing more to say – healthy, fab tasting goodness. Price: approx £15 per head. Nearest Tube: Tottenham Ct Rd.
  • Fire and Stone, Covent Garden - best place for SATC style girly-chats-with-food. They have pizzas inspired by every continent and their cocktails are great. It’s my girlfriends’ favourite hangout for emergency gossip in the early evening. Favourite Pizza: The Canberra. Price: approx £20 per head for two courses excluding cocktails. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.
  • Gourmet San, Bethnal Green - I love this place. This was introduced to me by my good friends Sheng Fang and Nicolas. The best Chinese food I’ve had in Britain. Price: approx £15 per head. Nearest Tube: Bethnal Green
  • Mango Tree, Belgravia - London’s best Thai in my opinion. It is pricey at approx £50 per head, but it it hasn’t been beaten and I love Thai food. It is also beautiful. Nearest Tube: Victoria.
  • Rose, Kingsbury - This is lovely, vegetarian Indian food at is best. It’s far out of the way in Kingsbury and it’s not a tourist’s restaurant at all, but the food is wonderful. My best friend Deepa introduced it to me years ago and it remains a firm favourite of ours. Like Tito’s, not elegant but lovely food! approx £7 -10 per head. Nearest Tube: Kingsbury.



  • Shad Thames and the Design Museum. An icon of 1990s urban regeneration, Shad Thames with it’s cobbled walkways and Butler’s Wharf, the design Museum & Hayes Galleria is lovely for winter walks if you have things to discuss. It’s sort of ghostly in the evenings when the business people have gone home, so probably not the best for walks alone. Nearest Tube: Tower Hill.
  • West India Quay, Docklands – Similar to above. Sort of bleak but in the best way and very quiet in the evenings. I like to walk and think here sometimes. Its history is grim, but perhaps because of its history I feel connected to it somehow. The museum, cinema and restaurants are along the river to lift you out of a reverie if need be.
  • St James’ Park – Smaller and cuter than Hyde Park, I love St James’ Park in autumn. In the summer one has to stumble over too many kissing couples for it to be worthwhile, but in autumn it is perfect. If you have patience, feed the squirrels. If you have things to discuss then bring a blanket, set yourself up on a bench and stay there till the sun goes down. Nearest tube: Charing Cross.


FOR THE EVENING (late dinner/drinks/dates)

  • Sketch, Conduit Street - Owned and designed by Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed, Sketch is unique. I love places that make me feel as if I’ve stepped into a fantasy world and Sketch certainly provides an otherworldly experience – it’s like hanging out in an installation. It is one of my favourite places for cocktails but the food is great too. Favourite dish: Gorgonzola and pear rizzotto. Favourite cocktail: Let’s Talk about Passion. Tip: do not leave before visiting the bathrooms, they are an experience in themselves! Price: approx £45 per head for two courses and a cocktail. Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus.
  • St Martins Lane Hotel (Light Bar & Asia de Cuba Restaurant) – Designed by Philippe Starck it is a crazy, Alice in Wonderland fantasy world and I’ve loved it for years. Asia de Cuba serves fusion Southeast Asian and Cuban cuisine, yum. The light bar can feel pretentious and overcrowded on weekend nights, but for early evening drinks it’s nice. Asia de cuba price: approx £45 – 55 per head. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.
  • The Players’ Bar, Embankment – I fell in love with this place when visiting with my friends from the Portrait Gallery years ago. I’ve not been there for a while, but I used to love the relaxed atmosphere and live piano music. Hmm, worth another visit soon methinks. Nearest Tube: Embankment.
  • Ronnie Scotts – I should possibly have created a separate section for music venues, but I promised myself half-way through this that I would stick to food. Nevertheless, I could not leave Ronnies out. I would go elsewhere for food but for music and atmosphere it is one of my favourite places in London. Tip: one word… upstairs. Nearest Tube: Covent Garden.



  • Museum of London Docklands (W.India Quay)
  • The V&A’s dress collection and dressing up box (South Kensington)
  • V&A museum of childhood (Bethnal Green)
  • The Cutty Sark (Greenwich)




The Shingles Story

Have you ever felt as though you are fraying at the edges; literally unravelling and losing your grip on the life that you have been building? In these situations, the harder you try to regain your grip on life the more its workings elude you and you lose control. It is one of the most terrifying experiences, especially for an unwitting control freak like me.

I temporarily lost my highly prized control at the beginning of this year. The final semester of 2011 had been busy; September had brought my return to the UK from Paris and my almost immediate move from Milton Keynes to Bath. In the three months following this double relocation I had begun a new job, resumed an old one, taken on a regular coach commute between Bath and London, written two courses, delivered three modules and furnished my apartment. When the Christmas break came, instead of allowing myself time to rest and eat healthily I entertained friends from abroad, orchestrated a house swap and a whirlwind whistlestop tour of Christmassy London, panic Christmas shopped, visited family for Christmas day, headed to Paris on Boxing day for nine days’ work and returned to England to be catapulted headlong into the spring term of lecturing. Nevertheless I was worried about not having found the time to publish anything, and thanks to the frequent lament of every aged relative I met, I was also beginning to feel guilty for not having had time to find a husband on top of everything else.

By January I was feeling like a spinning top and the lack of rest had started to take its toll on my mind. I began losing some things, forgetting others and becoming frustrated with myself more often than usual. I ignored it and carried on, attributing it to my escalating age, another thing that was out of my control ;-) . I was in the process of preparing some lectures for the V&A’s 20th century design history year course, and I had taken the year that I had been given to research them, to simply overinflate their importance in my mind. I had come to believe them the most important events in my career so far, which needed to be absolutely perfect. I was also excitedly planning two large scale 30th birthday celebrations: one in New York and one in Bath, but all the time I could feel myself unravelling.

Whatever the thread was that had been holding me together finally snapped one week before my 30th birthday.  My headlessness had caused me to double book my New York trip with one of my dreaded/beloved V&A lectures. It hit me one morning while simultaneously quadruple-checking my flight times and vainly browsing the 20th century year course programme to see my name listed with those of my academic idols. I stared in disbelief from the laptop screen to the desktop – HOW had I missed this?! I could not alter the date of my trip, friends were flying out from three countries to meet me. I could not change the lecture dates either, the programme was fixed and had been published for a year. After moments of internal panic and self flagellation I did the only thing possible. I reluctantly paid the airline’s alteration fee and prepared to return a day earlier from my weekend in NYC, making my stay just 2.5 days long.  I also began to fervently pray that nothing would go wrong during my return flight so that I could arrive at the V&A in time to give my lecture.

I continued to pray throughout the family celebrations that took place on my birthday, and during the three days that preceded the trip. Snow fell and fell, and weather warnings began to advise people against flying. I continued to pray while in NY, enjoying the trip but internally preoccupied with the risk that I was taking to be there. It showed. Among the friends who had come along were those who had met me, calm and happy, in Paris six months before. One of these friends, Kristine, couldn’t help but comment on the change that she saw. ‘This is a new side of you; I have never seen you like this!’ she revealed incredulously, and more internal self-flagellation ensued.


The physical manifestation of all of this was what seemed to be extreme muscular pain in my shoulders and a chronic headache. The jet lag, lack of time and tempting hotel bed did not help – Upon arriving in New York I felt an almost unrestrainable urge to sleep for a week. Instead I knocked back a triple espresso and two Neurofen, and soldiered on. I had two days, four lovely friends, an amazing sister and a new city to enjoy, so for the duration of the trip I lived on Coffee, Painkillers and fantastic American food. One of my friends, occupational therapist and yoga buff Ellen, noticed this and kidnapped me one morning for a rare retreat of yoga, massage and therapeutic chit-chat. I experienced it like an oasis and began to realise that it was time to slow down. However I resolved to do so in a week when all of this was over.

By the time I returned to England I was a wreck. I had slept 7 hours in 72 and the head and neck pain persisted. What was more, my luggage had failed to arrive with the plane and I was headed to the V&A’s lecture theatre in the clothes that had been too bulky to fit into my suitcase: black Ugg boots, a grey NYPD hoodie and my fuschia pink dress-coat. All I could do was laugh – I simply did not have time to panic. On arriving at the museum I borrowed some boots from a friend, removed the hoodie, buttoned my dress-coat over my underwear and prayed again. I entered the lecture theatre and, on autopilot, made them laugh. I spoke about Milton Keynes in the most engaging way possible; I was slightly concerned that the slides I had prepared appeared to be jumping before my eyes but I blinked and carried on. The crowd loved it and my boss was happy. Despite my state I was elated – that is what too much coffee will do to a person.

No sooner had I finished and finally sat down, than I really felt it.

A small rash that I had noticed on my arm while in New York had now scabbed over and was burning. In addition my head was splitting open in unbearable pain. The pain distracted me from the rash, but over the next few days both worsened until Neurofen was no longer enough. Then Neurofen and paracetamol together were not enough and I found myself in casualty crying from the pain, unable to move my shoulders or neck, clutching my head which felt as if it had exploded, leaving a raw and bleeding nerve in its place. After 4 hours of waiting I stumbled out of the hospital with a prescription for extra-strength Codeine and a referral to a physiotherapist. I later discovered that the pain and the rash were related; I had shingles, caused by stress. After a few weeks of heat packs and ice, sleep and daily physio, popping pills like they were going out of fashion and sleeping some more, I was scarred and deflated but physically recovering.


It took longer for the emotional cloud to lift.  I am not the best at being incapacitated and am very good at over-thinking things. These two factors combined did not make for the happiest ill person. Once back at work my colleagues began to comment on a change in me. Not decreased efficiency as I might have expected but a change in my lightness of spirit. My boss, who is most definitely a fellow Square Peg, eventually sat me down and pointed something out that I really needed to hear. She not only told me to slow down, warning me about the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle, but she let me know that she thinks I am very good at what I do and is glad that she employed me; and that because of this I have nothing to prove.

Those words were like a gift and that concerned me. With a sentence she took a world of weight from me but also shed light on my having fallen into the trap of working for approval rather than for development, of trying to live up to an imaginary standard of my own creation. Addiction to approval is always the result of a lack of self confidence, and in this case it was brought on by a new situation and a lack of time to reflect.  By powering through and soldiering on, I had not  given myself the opportunity to build appropriate mechanisms to deal with the challenges of my new life. Instead of taking time to rationalise and plan my path ahead I allowed the words of others to govern my actions, listening to what everybody else said that I should be doing and trying to do it all at once.

I immediately pared my life back to its core. I stripped all of the unnecessary anxieties and activites away and took time to think about what it was that I really wanted. I made plans and I revisited the idea that simply being myself was enough.  I cannot believe how crazy life gets when one starts believing anything else! At the beginning of this post I wrote that I had temporarily lost control. That is not quite true – I never regained that death-grip on life. Instead I accepted that it was OK to let go, to acknowledge my limitations and refuse to pressure myself. I learned to allow myself to make mistakes and to grow from them. I learned that other people’s expectations of me are never as high as my own. I learned to roll with the punches and to accept that that because I am me and being me is enough, I will survive them.


Words to live by

As an academic I am pre-programmed to hate cherry picking ;-) . I have fought against writing a page of quotes; it makes me grimace and clench my fists. But as someone who reads and writes for a living I find that there are so many isolated sentences that have enlightened me, continue to guide my life and summarise my ethos. They are as special to me as anything else on this blog, so I have decided to share them with you even though the thought grates on my mind like nails on a chalkboard.



Truth is something which can’t be told in a few words. Those who simplify the universe only reduce the expansion of its meaning.
- Anais Nin

A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.
- Francis Bacon



There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
- Anais Nin

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
- Anais Nin

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

- Steve Biko



We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin



“There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit.’… It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.”
— Ellen Goodman

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.
- Louis L’Amour

‘A boundary is not that at which something stops, but, as the Greeks recognised, a boundary is that from which something begins its presencing’

- Martin Heidegger

When in doubt, just take the next step and don’t look back’.

-Paulo Coelho



Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.
- Immanuel Kant

Absence is one of the most useful ingredients of family life, and to dose it rightly is an art like any other.
- Freya Stark



Intimacy means that we’re safe enough to reveal the truth about ourselves in all its creative chaos. If a space is created in which two people are totally free to reveal their walls, then those walls, in time, will come down.

- Marrianne Williamson.



I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy.
Anais Nin

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.
Immanuel Kant

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.
Anais Nin

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day, you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls — family, health, friends, integrity — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have beginnings of balance in your life.”


What do you want? You can’t want to be happy, because that’s too easy and too boring. You can’t want only to love, because that’s impossible. What do you want? You want to justify your life, to live it as intensely as possible. That is at once a trap and a source of ecstasy. Try to be alert to that danger and experience the joy and the adventure of being that woman who is beyond the image reflected in the mirror.

- Paulo Coelho



A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.
Francis Bacon

By indignities men come to dignities.
Francis Bacon



To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

- E.E. Cummings

Be creative. Remember that we only learnt how to fly when we stopped imitating birds.

- Unknown.

Don’t let yourself be weighed down by what other people think because in a few years, in a few decades, or in a few centuries, that way of thinking will have changed. Live now what others will only live in the future.

- Paulo Coelho

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

- Jill Scott



Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.”

- T.S. Eliot



‘If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose?
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves?
I do not know.’

- T.S. Eliot.



You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. From Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.









On Confidence: The First Lecture.

Disclaimer: My lecture theatre does not look like this, but it appeared this stern and unyielding on my first day!

It was September 27th 2010 at 3.45 in the afternoon. I had been thrown out of my body for a second and stood staring at my self from across a darkened seminar room. I watched her stammer and fumble for words, trying hopelessly  to explain I-don’t-know-what about 19th century British design reform to 35 expectant 18 year – olds, and I winced for her.

A month before, I was completing a sleepy curatorial internship at Tate Liverpool when I received an unsolicited email from Kingston University’s  Acting Head of School, summoning me to my new and entirely unexpected life as a lecturer. I was being called to take the place of a very kind friend, a former PhD student at the university who had been offered the module but now, post doctorate, was both too busy and too important to take it.

On my first day I had had no idea what to expect or indeed even how to be; just three months earlier I had been a student myself.  As I arrived wide eyed and sheepish to the seminar room with only a pile of module guides and a pair of stilettos to distinguish me as ‘teacher’, one of my flock passed me in the doorway and flippantly said, “the lecturer hasn’t turned up; come on, let’s go”. In fact I had turned up an hour early. Nobody had told me that there had been a room change. Upon finally discovering the correct room I was flustered to say the least, but the comment of this impertinent adolescent riled me and threw me into survival mode. In my most confident tone I corrected him, ‘Erm I am the lecturer…’ then flashed a smile and said ‘come back to class, I’ll make staying worth your while’. I kicked myself internally – that was the last time survival mode made me flirt on impulse. Although it may not have been the most appropriate response, it worked.  By 3.45pm I had discovered and forgotten the names and interests of my class members, discussed the programme ahead and begun to present.  Then it hit me – I had never delivered a lecture before. Self doubt descended and an infinite stream of questions clouded my mind. What am I doing here? What must they think of me? What is that person doing… I knew it – Doodling! I am a failure!

The cloud of questions and comments grew until it drowned all other thought, and that was when the out of body experience happened. Time stopped momentarily as I gazed beyond the sea of expectant students to the door and wondered what the fallout would be if I stopped speaking mid-sentence, gathered my things and left the room, never to return.

I have experienced this baulking at the most inconvenient points in life: when walking up to sing as a child in church, when opening exam results, at an inopportune moment in the middle of an interview or during a driving test, before an apology or a first kiss, or when called upon to tell somebody that I love them. However the most frequently recurring situation in which it has happened is when lecturing. Each time there has been a second when time has stopped, the fight or flight options have flashed vividly across my mind’s eye and I have made a conscious decision to push myself through the seemingly insurmountable wall that is communicated to my nerves by that awful, sickening lurch. The wall seems at first to be a shyness or fear of commitment to a situation, but when deconstructed it reveals itself as little more than a fear of inadequacy; not merely of failure but of not being enough in some way. It is a fear of being vulnerable and ultimately rejected without any possible defence. Moreover it is a fear of venturing beyond the point at which it is possible to cut and run.

By repeatedly forcing myself to stay in the room and take the risk of continuing to be vulnerable, I have learned that the reward is an indescribable soaring feeling when it all goes right. Furthermore with each exertion the lurch has become more bearable. I have found that vulnerability and confidence seem to be cyclical and interdependent. At first this was problematic; I found myself addicted to the soaring confidence brought on by achievement. But then I discovered that the confidence to allow oneself to be vulnerable in the first place is stronger and more constant than the confidence gained by overcoming vulnerability. Once I learned to trust my fragile, unguarded self and her ability to win over the masses, the cycle was broken and I could face the sea of enthused, bewildered and indifferent faces, with a smile. I have learned that it is the smile, my passion for the subject and my unashamed vulnerability that draws people in and by hook or crook, forces them to learn.

Acclimatization: How Paris Felt

The first couple of weeks after moving were devoted to finding my feet – getting used to my tiny new apartment, walking the streets and trying to memorise them, enjoying the sun, acclimatising myself to sights, sounds and smells. I was nervous about so much, not least passing my interview in the Louvre and getting the job that would enable me to stay.

Thank goodness for new friends. Bobby was a friend of my dear (pre-existing) friend Delphine, and he was visiting from the US just in time. He became my guinea pig; kindly and unashamedly pretending to be five years old for a whole day while I practiced my family tour of ancient Mesopotamia :-) . As well as being a welcome English speaking oasis in what was becoming a rather overwhelming and increasingly unintelligible city, Bobby saved my tour-guiding life! It is amazing how often this has happened to me – the right people showing up from the most unexpected of places at exactly the right times and making significant, positive changes to my life. Hooray for fellow square pegs.

Through it all, I remember this song spinning around in my head incessantly. Nerves were the order of the day, but not as much as excitement and utter wide-eyed childlike glee. I was accutely aware of being absolutely free and at the very beginning of anything at all that I wished. The red text below is a link; click to listen.

Have you ever felt so strong that it made you feel weak? Long days long nights and you just can’t sleep? Have you ever felt so sure that it gave you cold feet? Got you floating on air you can feel your heart beat?




The Songs that Changed my Life

Well perhaps that is a little dramatic, but I am always singing. I believe that there is a song for everything and these are simply the songs that float my boat, accompanied by the reasons why.



This song was a favourite of my parents’ and I have heard it in different versions at various points in life. On the majority of those occasions I truly understood only bits & bobs of what it was describing, but upon realising that I have now experienced all of this and emerged, arguably not un, but perhaps positively scathed on the other side, it has made me reflective and proud. Plus, the strings are beautiful.




I was born in the wrong era. This floats my boat more than any other song… puts a smile on my face no matter what is happening. Plus, Dakota Staton has the voice that I have in my dreams. Imagine me on a break from writing, dancing around my kitchen to this ;-)







Unfortunately this is needed all too often!




A staple for someone this busy – this song, some chocolate and bubbles stop a person from thinking about work more effectively than (almost) anything else I know.




OK so it’s cliche, but I love this version on my ipod when jogging happily next to the Canal St Martin. And in the video the last part is funny!




Close your eyes when listening to this. The version in which Sarah Chang is accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra is far better than this one, but it is not available on Youtube. Find it on spotify if you can. It is on her album Sweet Sorrow.





February is when my birthday comes. it is always a time to sit back, breathe and take stock. If I am going to be ill it will be in February, because that is when my body gets the chance to think about acting up! This year I got shingles, and this song was whirring in my head while I was ill.I’m thinking the faster that I go, the faster that I will reach my goal,









Paper for Conference: The Construction of the Middle Class City. Milan, Italy..

Paper Entitled: Structure and Flow in Milton Keynes: Grid City’s patchwork community.


This paper explores Britain’s most infamous non-city, considering the many ways in which it has been designed to maintain a distinctly middle class atmosphere despite a commitment to maintaining a population that is 50% working class. To do this it considers the map, planners and inhabitants, beginning with an overview of the city and moving to a focus on the centre; illustrating that community exists, but in a non-traditional, disjointed form. As such, the image of a patchwork quilt is powerful here.

In its early years, the tunnels of trees lining Milton Keynes’s grid roads had the propensity to behave as walls, creating senses of locality, yes, but also segregating areas from one another. Moreover, with a system of ‘blocks’ that pushed wealthier grid squares together, people of differing classes were less likely to see each other.

The achievement of 1990s Milton Keynes was a mutated and exaggerated descendant of this early inclusivity through exclusivity, through the development of regional centres serving each block, and what was essentially the privatization of public space within the centre. The paper discovers that especially since the late 1990s the city centre has been not one place but a number of places suspended in central space, joined by roads and flows of people generated by its entertainment infrastructure. This design encourages pleasant experiences of activities and personal attachment to each separate place, but not unity between those places, echoing the ethos of the centre’s residential periphery. Interviews have demonstrated that pride of place in MK generally amounts to attachment to whichever of the separate environments one spends the most time in. Movement is key, and there is not much time for reflection upon either the existence of flows or of people who may move in a different flow from oneself.

However, just as the city’s green walls are permeable, so are the boundaries between streams of flow. The choice to cross from one stream of flow into one another is never opposed by management through design or any other means; it is even encouraged and facilitated by the formation of what the paper dubs Subtle Communities; communities that orbit non profit organisations, which serve as threads between patches, sometimes even across physical space.


More to Follow! I will be writing the paper in early July.

The Reading List: What’s on my Bedside Table?

Reading is the only area of life in which I am able to multitask. There are always several books on my bedside table; my choice is dependent on my mood. These are the books that I am presently reading.

Help me to choose which book to review next in Square Peg’s Book Reviews by leaving a comment in the box.




Fantasy Fiction

Andrew Motion, Silver: Return to Treasure Island. Jonathan London: Cape Publishing, 2012

‘I was never a wicked child, but a disappointment to my father all the same. Thieving, deception, cruelty – I left these to others. Mine were faults of a less grievous kind, amounting to no more than a streak of wildness.

On reflection, independence may be a better word than wildness for what I have just described. In either case the question remains: what caused it? In our early days we are blinded by the heat of moments as they pass, and seldom pause to consider. Now my youth is a distant memory, and I have a wider view of my existence, I am drawn more strongly to explanations.’

Historical Fiction

Judith Kerr, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. London: Harper Collins, 1971

‘It was a small piece of red enamel with a black hooked cross on it. “It’s called a swastika” said Gunther, “all the Nazis have them”

Anna is too busy with schoolwork and tobogganing to listen to the talk of Hitler. But one day she and her brother are rushed out of Germany in alarming secrecy, away from everything they know. Their father is wanted by the Nazis – dead or alive. This is the start of a huge adventure, sometimes frightening, very often funny, and always, always exciting.’

The Experiment

Edmund De Waal, The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A hidden Inheritance. London: Vintage books, 2010

“I have spent the last few years writing a very personal book and it is just about to come out. It is the biography of a collection and the biography of my family. It is the story of the ascent and decline of a Jewish dynasty, about loss and diaspora and about the survival of objects.
The collection is of 264 Japanese netsuke. It is the common thread for the story of its three Jewish owners and the three rooms in which it was kept over a period of a hundred and forty years.
The first of the three rooms is the study in Paris in the 1870s of the art-critic Charles Ephrussi, the model of Swann in Proust, hung with Impressionist paintings by Renoir and Degas. The second room is the dressing-room of my great-grandmother Emmy von Ephrussi in the vast Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna. The third room is that of her son Ignace, my great-uncle Iggie, in Tokyo in the 1970s, an apartment looking out across central Tokyo.
I am the fifth generation of the family to inherit this collection, and it is my story too. I am a maker: I make pots. How things are made, how they are handled and what happens to them has been central to my life for over thirty years. So too has Japan, a place I went to when I was 17 to study pottery. How objects embody memory – or more particularly, whether objects can hold memories – is a real question for me. This book is my journey to the places in which this collection lived. It is my secret history of touch. “


Houston A Baker et. Al. ed,Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. London: University of Chicago Press, 1996

“The initiation of black interrogation can perhaps be seen as the founding of the tradition we now call black British cultural studies. In the interest of its own self-clarification, black British cultural studies had to reflect on its relationship to British cultural studies as a whole. And this meant, among other things, exploring black British cultural studies’ relationship to Marxism. Black cultural workers in Britain had to ask: How does ethnicity’s equivalence with nationalism, imperialism, racism and the state produce the specific ethnicities of ‘Britishness’ and more abstractly ‘Englishness’? How have the metaphors of Britishness (e.g., “The British Nation,” “This Island Race,” “The Bulldog Breed”) served to coalesce white English class differences into “nation”, a united Kingdom, in fact that stands almost always united against… metaphors of blackness?”


Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. California: Stanford University Press, 2003.

“What is the connection between ‘The Secular’ as an epistemic category and ‘Secularism’ as a political doctrine? Can they be objects of anthropological inquiry?… The question of secularism has emerged as an object of academic argument and of practical dispute. If anything is agreed upon, it is that a straightforward narrative of progress from the religious to the secular is no longer acceptable. But does it follow that secularism is no longer valid?”

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Work is a theatre & Every business a stage. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

“This book offers and escape from the all to easy practice of competing on the basis of price… That approach worked for years, indeed decades… but in industry after industry that system of competition no longer sustains growth and profitability. You know it; we all know it. But what do we do about it?”

Daniel Miller, Stuff. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2010.

“We live today in a world of ever more stuff – what sometimes seems a deluge of goods and shopping. We tend to assume that this has two results: that we are more superficial, and that we are more materialistic, our relationships to things coming at the expense of our relationships to people. We make such assumptions, we speak in cliches, but we have rarely tried to put these assumptions to the test. By the time you finish this book you will discover that, in many ways, the opposite is true; that possessions often remain profound and usually the closer our relationships are with objects, the closer our relationships with people.”


Throwback: Two Poems

Like the first throwback that I posted, this post was first written as a facebook note, this time from Paris in June 2011. I had been thinking about the remarkable support of a number of my close friends when I read these poems, both of which I knew that each one of these friends would like. The first poem continues to inspire me.


Throwback: Two Poems by Pablo Neruda.

Recently I have been considering characteristics that bind many of the people with whom I share an uncommon connection. The two things that most of these people, (many of whom are on opposite corners of the world from one another and have never met) share are these:

1. (frivolously) They are die-hard hopeless ‘romantics’ at heart


2. (more seriously) They are fully dedicated to self development; intellectual and personal growth beyond the accepted norm. They are somehow fearless, or, I should say, they are committed to helping themselves and others to overcome fear in order to achieve.

Today I came accross two poems, both written by the same man; and each tagged person sprung to mind in immediate succession. If I am right, the first poem will resonate with you because it reflects, at least partially, your ethos, and the second because it is just beautiful :-) .

Die Slowly


He who becomes the slave of habit,

who follows the same routes every day,

who never changes pace,

who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,

who does not speak and does not experience, dies slowly.


He or she who shuns passion,

who prefers black on white,

dotting one’s “i’s” rather than a bundle of emotions,

the kind that make your eyes glimmer,

that turn a yawn into a smile,

that make the heart pound

in the face of mistakes and feelings, dies slowly.


He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,

who is unhappy at work,

who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,

to thus follow a dream,

those who do not forego sound advice

at least once in their lives, die slowly.


He who does not travel,

who does not read,

who does not listen to music,

who does not find grace in himself, dies slowly.


He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,

who does not allow himself to be helped,

who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck,

about the rain that never stops, dies slowly.


They who abandon a project before starting it,

who fail to ask questions on subjects they do not know,

who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know, die slowly.


Try and avoid death in small doses,

always reminding oneself that being alive

requires an effort by far

greater than the simple fact of breathing.


Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment

of a splendid happiness.



“I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,

or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul.


I love you as the plant that never blooms

but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;

thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,

risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

so I love you because I know no other way than this:


where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep. ”


Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973) was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto.