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The Art of Belonging - Nottingham. Batik technique.

We are in the learning space of the New Art Exchange gallery where Shamila welcomes individuals as they arrive. I note that each session follows a similar pattern – there is a sense of structure – but there is also a sense of fluidity and informality. The young people arrive in ones and twos, they make their own way to the gallery, and some call in at the mosque across the road en route. Shamila allows them to come in and settle before introducing the main activity. When I spoke to her about this last week, she explained that she recognises that coming into the arts space in the gallery can be a little imposing. ‘It is always a slow start, I go around chatting asking how their week has been. Often I leave the work from last session out and so it feels like it is a continuation of before. It always feels slow for maybe the first hour but then you notice that they are really involved.’

The group start to share their work from last week, some are depictions of a mosque, some are landscapes (mountains, lakes), some are traditional coffee pots. One boy has drawn a tree leading to a discussion of the medicinal properties of the leaves. They continue working on their drawings for a while, often using their phones to look at images of what they are drawing. Shamila and Ruth notice this and ask questions about the images- this leads to a rich conversation about the different ways in which coffee is made across the world!

Shamila introduces the concept of batik and moves to the table in the far corner of the room to begin demonstrating the use of hot wax, and mixing and grinding of natural pigments using pestle and mortar. The group seem fascinated to see coffee and spices being used for art materials.

Shamila explains to them that they shouldn’t expect perfection from working in this way. She advises them to ‘be in the moment because you cannot control everything...the accidents are happy because they are part of the process’

The group disperses after Shamila has finished her demonstration- some return to their drawings some begin mixing the colours they wish to use. There is a sense of order as they wait for the tools to become available.

A small group who are beginning to use the dye to paint are quietly singing together. The boy who drew the tree earlier has developed his sketch further. He is using google translate on his phone to add text. He explains to Ruth that the tree is a Neem tree and that it has an important function in Sudan as a place to gather in its shade during extremely hot weather. He describes villagers and their animals gathering under the tree together. But he tells us that this tree is a specific Neem tree from his garden at home. He adds more detail to the image saying that he remembers his grandmother would know when the hot weather was coming. He would hear her walking stick tapping through the house as she made her way to the garden to seek shelter under the leaves.

After this photograph was taken, Ruth observed to him, ‘well you have just brought the Neem tree and your grandmother to Nottingham!’

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