Mixing it at Area 10
By Corinna Lotz
Peckham – the home of London’s Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, the UK's most popular sit-com ever. Until recently it has been notorious as a dangerous run-down area, especially because of the murder of school-boy Damilola Taylor in November 2000.
Alongside its tough “sarf London” reputation, is a parallel and much older history of artistic and social visionaries. In 1767, the poet and artist William Blake saw an angel in a tree at Peckham Rye. A couple of centuries later, in the 1930s, a health club was started for working class people, which recruited 950 local families who paid a shilling a week to join.
Today, the jutting shape of Peckham Library provides a landmark – the result of European Union investment to regenerate north Peckham, the grimmest part of the area. Heralded at its launch in 1999 as a bold modernist vision, the library is now a victim of its deprived neighbourhood. Its shiny glass walls are encased in forbidding wire mesh to prevent damage from vandals. There is an air of tension in the big square which struggles to overcome its past.
Tucked at one end of Peckham Square is Eagle Wharf, a former industrial space called Area 10. A former timber warehouse, it is now used as an arts and media centre. On the weekend of 21-23 June it was a buzzing hive of activity for artists, musicians, film makers and photographers. The event was inspired, say the organisers, by “the character of Peckham as an area in a state of constant flux through the movement of people from all over the world”. The aim was also to raise funds for Resonance FM and Artery Arts Projects.
Reflecting the harsh realities of today’s world, some of the creative people inside Area 10 did not shirk from highlighting major social and political issues.
Monday Love’s cosy screening space provided a platform for films and discussion about burning questions of the day. Footage of police action against G8 summit protests, documentaries about racism in former East Germany, genetic modification of food and a touching film essay about the imprisonment of asylum seekers at UK detention centres stimulated debate.
Monday Love originally began as a series of film events at the Good Ship in Kilburn and now operates in a variety of venues.
Challenging the status quo in her own way is Maryam Ashrafi, a documentary photographer who left her homeland Iran at the age of 17. Ashrafi has taken up the unsung cause of the three million drug users in her home country. Until recently such people did not officially exist, but the problem has mushroomed so much that Iran is now one of the world’s highest users of Class A drugs like opium and heroin. Over half of Iran’s HIV/Aids patients are drug users. According to the UN World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world – 2.8 percent of the population over the age of 15. The problem has reached epidemic proportions, with some 20 per cent of the population thought to be involved in drug abuse in some way. See Payvand's Iran News report.
Ashrafi conveys the shock she had when she discovered the scale of drug addiction in Iran’s cities. “Over the last decade the black cloud of suffering and pain of drug addiction has grown beyond belief in cities throughout Iran….”, she says. As she explored southern areas of Tehran, home to the city’s poorest people, she realised that it was the hopelessness of dire poverty that drove many into drug taking. Anyone walking through the city could not fail to notice large numbers of used syringes lying around the streets or in parks - a serious hazard for those trying to relax and enjoy the scenery and children looking for a somewhere to play.
Drug addiction remains a taboo subject in Iran, Ashrafi says. “Officials are aware of this problem but choose to turn a blind eye to it all and simply ignore this major crisis like most other problems that threaten society.”
Ashrafi displayed her photographs inside a specially constructed small hut erected inside the vast warehouse. Viewers are provided with a torch as they open a flap to go inside.
29 June 2007