As East London battles with austerity cuts and community organisations struggle to stay afloat, two sisters are planning a project that will celebrate local unsung heroes who are making a positive impact on the area.
Originally from Liverpool, Sarah and Charlotte Whitehead moved to London to study and are now embarking on a project that aims to create ‘portraits’ of different areas of the United Kingdom, beginning with Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
Sarah, a journalist at the International Herald Tribune and former student at Goldsmiths, describes the project as a “giant jigsaw puzzle.”
“It is the people who tell the story and reveal the character of a place, so we want to find individuals who represent a unique piece of their community and put them together to make a greater portrait of east London.”
Sarah will conduct the interviews while Charlotte, a third year fine art student at Camberwell College of Arts, will produce a portrait of them.
The pair also plans to embed a 30 second video into each piece, featuring a recording of the original interview and shots of the portrait at various stages of completion.
Expressing her excitement about the project, Charlotte told Eastlondonlines: “Traditionally, aristocrats commissioned portraits as a symbol of wealth, but I want to do portraits of people who deserve to have time spent on them; people who have really contributed to their local community.”
Explaining how the initiative aims to embody the “intersection between art and journalism”, she added: “We want to present each person’s life story in a way that captures a sense of passion, history and personality.”
The pair have already contacted a number of local organisations in search of subjects, but still need more people if they are to meet their target of five portraits by mid-January.
Charlotte said: “Eastlondonlines is a great platform for us. We want to get people thinking and talking about who should be featured in the project.”
Sarah agreed: “We want to uncover some of the main issues affecting East London and find out who is working to help. We have spoken to rape crisis centres, children’s mental healthcare, community libraries and anti-trafficking organisations. These are the kinds of initiatives we are looking for.”
The idea for the project first arose when Charlotte met Mick, a homeless man, whilst wandering along Brick Lane. Speaking to him, she found he had lived in Whitechapel for over 30 years.
She said: “He had so much to say about how the area has changed and had the most perfect face to draw. I took a couple of sketches and photos and drew him in more detail at home.
But when I went back the next day to see if I could get a video of him, he had gone and I’ve not seen him since.”
East London is the perfect site for what the sisters hope to achieve. Sarah said: “From working on Eastlondonlines last year, I found east London to be an area rich in character and culture.
“When reporting on some stories, I found myself in awe at the time and energy some people had devoted to continue providing a service on such small resources.”
Charlotte agreed: “We want people to tell us who should be recognised; we are not looking for people in the public eye, but those who are quietly working to do something great.”
Use our comments (below) to suggest people Charlotte should draw – and we will email you for details.