by Joy C Martindale
At Walmer Castle
29th February – 19th April 2020
A participatory art project working with young people supported by Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) in partnership with English Heritage.
About the project
Trailblazers (2020) is a new artwork which brings together the creative explorations of a group of 14 to 19-year-olds over the course of seven workshops at Walmer Castle. The teenagers are all refugees and asylum seekers who are supported by KRAN in Canterbury. This project has set out to give participants an opportunity to express their individuality and their creative potential, and feel a sense of community through engaging in a positive collective experience. The setting for the workshops was the beautiful new Adam Richards Architects designed learning space at Walmer Castle.
The Glen served as the focal point and launch pad of the project. Beginning the workshops in the Glen, sitting on blankets and defying the wintry weather, we experimented with painting and drawing until we got cold, drawing inspiration from the nature we observed around us, and the calm and tranquility we experienced there.
The Glen was once a chalk pit and it was first made into a garden in the early 19th century by William Pitt and Lady Hester Stanhope who created pathways through it and planted it with ferns, creepers, broom and trees. It later became known affectionately as ‘The Glen’ and the name stuck. For many years the Glen was used for recreation and exercise but at some point it fell into neglect.
The Glen has very recently been restored as part of the Rediscovering Walmer Pleasure Grounds project and remarkably all the pathways lay intact beneath the undergrowth and some of the original planted trees have survived.
The making of the Artwork
A map of the Glen dating back to 1859 is still the only map in use today. The serpentine pathways in the map create a dynamic graphic image. I began the project by separating out all the sections of the Glen map and reproducing them in fabric. I then invited the participants to work with the fabric shapes and draw, paint and stitch into them.
From the outset, I invited everyone to ‘draw anything you like’. We discovered that this freedom presents its own challenges, but good company, lots of laughter, and the beautiful nature that surrounded us helped us all to unwind and embrace the moment.
My intention was to sew the decorated shapes back together to recreate the map of the Glen but the ideas the participants brought to the project took it in a bold new direction. Their ideas went beyond the constraints of the map and I saw they were beginning to blaze their own trails as they turned the shapes into other things: snakes, birds and trees, and made fabulous pictures on paper and canvas. I realized that the map of the Glen would need to be reconfigured to make room for the participants’ fantastic creative input.
The young people who joined me on this project – 11 boys from Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania, Vietnam, Iran and Kurdistan – are to be commended for the commitment they gave to it and their willingness to give something completely new a go. I was particularly impressed by the young people who travelled independently to the workshops each week – two taking the hour long bus journey from Canterbury and one walking in in all weathers from Deal.
As young refugees and asylum seekers separated from their families and living in foster care, they are facing many challenges and already in their young lives they have had to endure and overcome so much.
Thank you to Ali, Aj, Mohamed, Zana, An, Sirwan, Muis, Minh, Hanh, Iftikhar and Musood for sharing your creativity and for all the beautiful contributions you made to the project. It was such a pleasure to meet you all and work with you. Be proud of yourselves, you are the trailblazers of the future.
Re-Discovering Walmer’s Lost Pleasure Grounds
This project is part of English Heritage’s Re-Discovering Walmer’s Lost Pleasure Grounds Project and is supported by a National Lottery Arts Council Project grant and National Lottery Heritage Funding.