Two films by Akingbade, which explore urban and social change in London, are on show at the Whitechapel Gallery
Dear Babylon (2019) by Ayo Akingbade
Words by Francesca Perry
‘London, the grimy but beautiful tale of two cities,’ muses a character in Ayo Akingbade’s short film focusing on social housing, Dear Babylon (2019). In the film, which blends fact and fiction, three film students make a documentary about residents of the Dorset Estate in east London, in the face of a housing bill which threatens to evict them. The story may be fictional, but it draws on the stark reality of a growing housing crisis and urban inequality as London sells off or demolishes its social housing.
Two years later and Akingbade has made a short documentary, Fire in My Belly (2021), which hears from young creative Londoners on the experiences of where they live, how they feel about community and belonging, and how to navigate crisis.
Commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery, Fire in My Belly is now on show at the gallery along with Dear Babylon in a London-focused installation titled A Glittering City. ‘It’s essentially an ode to London and its varied history, complex geographical makeup and the plethora of cultures and realities that exists within it,’ Akingbade tells ICON.
Ayo Akingbade photographed by Scott Gallagher
Fire in My Belly is created in collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery’s youth collective, Duchamp & Sons. Together through workshops, screenings and fieldwork, the group explored ideas of place, belonging, and the meaning of home over a period of six months to create the film. Oscillating between studio interviews and scenes from the streets of London (from Brixton market to Bethnal Green and Highgate cemetery), the film is meditative and weaves together multiple perspectives of the city. ‘Land is going to be bought out, people are going to be pushed out, and I don’t think that’s positive for anyone,’ says one participant.
In Dear Babylon, the story takes place on the Dorset Estate in Bethnal Green, designed by Berthold Lubetkin in 1957. As well as the resident characters, we hear from architects Elsie Owusu and John Allan as well as curator Meneesha Kellay, who reflect on the inequality of much of London’s current regeneration. ‘People on lower incomes are being pushed further and further out of the city,’ says Owusu. ‘I think the consequence of that is a loss to London, in terms of its culture, in terms of its diversity, and its creativity.’
Fire in My Belly (2021) by Ayo Akingbade. Courtesy the artist and Daragh Soden
What Akingbade’s work, and the words of featured young creatives, show is the vital importance of maintaining space for this creativity – not just in galleries, but by ensuring homes in the city can be affordable. As Allan reflects in Dear Babylon: ‘Social investment has to be a continuous process.’
A Glittering City: Ayo Akingbade with Duchamp & Sons is on show at Whitechapel Gallery from 19 May to 15 August 2021
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