Come Dine in Blue: Lewisham exhibition celebrates more than 100 migrant stories

Tisna Westerhof and Cristiana Bottigela sit at the dining table, featuring works from residents involved in Come Dine in Blue. hARTtslane Gallery, New Cross, London. 2022 Pic: Miri de Villers

Over 100 Lewisham residents from migrant backgrounds have come together to create a participatory art project, celebrating stories of identity, heritage and food.

Come Dine in Blue received funding from the Arts Council, the Heritage Fund and Lewisham Council and was a part of the We Are Lewisham, London Borough of Culture programming, which has been going on for the past year.

While some of the work highlighted the plight and struggles of migrating to a new country, a lot celebrated the everyday experience and cultural nuances of people from migrant backgrounds. The work also featured messages of hope, inspiration, nostalgia and community. 

The theme of white and blue is inspired by artist Tisna Westerhof’s own practice and Dutch heritage appearing in the Delftware style. Originating in China, these two colours are seen all over the world, especially in a dining environment. The colours could represent many different emotions and memories to the participants and were purposefully used as a unifying factor to bring together all the different cultures found in Lewisham today.

“This is a project indeed of identity and belonging… and celebrating the different cultures in Lewisham, but also to try and redefine what heritage is or means in Lewisham today. Heritage is not just an old English thing. We thought it was time to kind of rediscover that and reclaim it,” said Westerhof.

Alongside her, sat Italian-born arts programmer Cristiana Bottigella. Together they have facilitated 30 creative workshops with local organisations over the past year that saw community members learning new artistic practices and creative skills.

East London Lines spoke to some of the artists and community members involved – reflecting on their own stories and the impact the exhibition has had.

Left: Iyamide Thomas’ art piece, Right: Iyamide Thomas in the dress represented in her art.

Iyamide Thomas – Lewisham Resident from Freetown, Sierra Leone  

“I came over to England at 15, I did my sixth form in England. That dress [on the towel pictured above] reflects a bit of my heritage, it’s called a print dress. It’s very typical of Sierra Leonean Krio [style]. The hat and head scarf reminds me of Victorian style. The scarf on the shoulder is of Nigerian Yoruba heritage. The little bag called ‘kotoku’ is from Ghanaian language. Krio’s were previously enslaved who came from all over. That dress embodies all the different people that came back to Sierra Leone. It’s really important to give the history and the background of [where I’m from]”.

Shoko Sakuma standing by her art which is on the top wall on the right. Pic: Shoko Sakura

Shoko Sakuma – Lewisham Resident from Sapporo, Japan 

“I did four or five paper plates mostly about my wishes and hopes. One shows a memory of swimming with my mother, I was on her back when she was swimming. I like it because I was adventurous and I felt like a dolphin, but at the same time I felt safe by being with my mother. As a visitor [to the exhibition], you will also think about your memories [when you see this]”.

Nadine standing by her art her towel. Pic: Miri de Villers

Nadina – Lewisham Resident from Marseille, France

“[My towel] says home is a feeling. Because I’ve moved places so many times there’s not a single place that really feels like home. I have to make home wherever I am really. I wanted to share that experience because I feel that as a migrant person other people would relate to that. The patchwork represents all of the places I’ve been, because I feel like I am a patchwork of all the places I’ve been. I’ve been to so many places that anytime I go somewhere there is a part of that place that becomes a part of me.

It’s been nice to be a part of this project because I feel like it’s about recording everyday people’s stories which I think we need more of“.

The exhibition, which ended last week, was based at community art gallery, hARTslane, near New Cross Gate. You can still see the art work here. 

Leave a Reply