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A necessary fiction

5 October 2017 - 20 January 2018

A new exhibition of artwork by ceramicist Basil Olton exploring the untold history of anti-imperialist black activism in interwar London. The work is inspired by Chris Braithwaite, also known as Chris Jones, a resident of Stepney, trade unionist and founder of the Colonial Seamen’s Association who worked and organised in the East End during the 1930s and 1940s.

View the pdf version of the illustrated exhibition booklet, featuring essays by Dorothy Rose du Boulay and Dr C Underhill.

Check out this 1 minute short film about the exhibition, produced by Mile End Community Project.

Exhibition and Events

Talk: Sea of Contradictions - Black Seafarers in the Royal Navy
Thursday 11 January 2018, 6:30 - 7:30pm

While Britain was becoming the largest trafficker in human lives across the Atlantic, the Royal Navy was simultaneously the world's largest employer of free African labour.
This talk by S.I. Martin will seek to establish the origins, status and significance of this workforce and how their experiences aboard ship and ashore contributed to Black revolutionary thought across the Atlantic World and to the beginnings of multi-ethnic communities across the British Isles.
S. I. Martin is a published author and has worked as a journalist for The Voice and Bulletin. He has also curated archive-based exhibitions and projects for numerous organisations including the National Gallery, English Heritage, the National Maritime Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and the Black Cultural Archives among many others. This event is free and no booking is required.

Artist’s talk with Q&A
Thursday 18 January, 6:00-7:30pm

In the exhibition’s final week, all are welcome to join a free tour of the exhibition with its artist Basil Olton. The tour will begin at 6.30pm. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and network with others interested in researching and representing Black hidden histories in arts and archives.

Exhibition finale: I am Chris Jones
Saturday 20 January, 2:30-4:30pm

In November 2017 a group of local young people attended an audio and video workshop inspired by the exhibition’s themes and content, facilitated by Mile End Community Project. Their experience was made into a 1 minute trailer for the exhibition, and several audio pieces which are now installed as part of it. We hope to welcome the participants at this finale event—check back for details soon.


Previous events

Exhibition Launch
Thursday 5 October, 6:00 - 7:30pm
Artist Basil Olton will launch the new exhibition A Necessary Fiction, as well as an illustrated catalogue featuring two essays on his new work in ceramics and mixed media. Free, no booking required. Refreshments provided. Speeches at 7pm.

African and Caribbean Family History Day
Saturday 7 October, 10:30 - 4:00pm

Get help researching your African and Caribbean ancestors and find out more about African and Caribbean heritage in London’s East End at this free family history event, run in partnership with the Tony Cheeseman Foundation ( Speakers include genealogy specialists Patrick Vernon, Sharon Tomlin and Paul Crooks, plus Sandra Shakespeare from the National Archives. Visitors will also have the chance to browse a number of stalls and displays. Click here for the full programme. Free, no booking required.

Talk: The Politics of Exhibiting
Thursday 19 October, 6:15 - 7:30pm

How do memory and history converge in the social production of heritage? What is the role of collections, exhibitions and institutions in the construction of knowledge?  A panel discussion with Dorothy Rose du Boulay(grand-daughter of Chris Braithwaite), Michael McMillan and Basil Olton. Free, no booking required.

This event was recorded: Length 45:09 mins

Half-Term Sculpture Workshop
Tuesday 24 October, 2:00 - 4:00pm

Inspired by the exhibition and themes of recorded and un-recorded family history and recollection, this creative workshop for families and children will utilise shape and form and the beauty of the fragment to create a 3D form using Modrock sculpting material.
Free, but booking is required. Please email or call 020 7364 1290 to reserve your place.

Half-Term Creative Workshop
Thursday 26 October, 10:00am - 12:00pm

Inspired by text, texture and the transient meaning of images, this creative workshop for families will use mixed media and cut-out shapes to create an A3 collage banner.
Free, but booking is required. Please email or call 020 7364 1290 to reserve your place.

Talk: Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism and the Left in interwar London
Thursday 26 October, 6:30 - 7:30pm

From the Scottsboro protests to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, this talk by Prof. Hakim Adi will consider the activities and campaigns of the International African Service Bureau, of which Chris Braithwaite was Secretary. The IASB was a Pan-Africanist organisation committed to trade unionism and anti-imperialism. Free, no booking required.

Talk: Love and loss in mid-century multicultural Stepney
Thursday 7 December, 6:30 - 7:30pm

Join Dr Rob Waters (University of Sussex) for this talk focusing on local educationalist Edith Ramsay, who lived and worked in Stepney during the 1940s and 1950s and became deeply involved with the transnational lives of Stepney’s African, Caribbean and South Asian populations. The letters in her archive (held here at Tower Hamlets) reveal lives disrupted by war, illness and poverty, but also give an intimate insight into convivial life and love in Stepney, and its identity as a historic multicultural centre. Free, no booking required.