In a tribute to the corner shop, Alisha Kruse builds an archive exploring her family and community history
The London-based illustrator shows us the visual language and culture of the corner shop, that will make all your future visits feel everything but mundane.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 16 August 2023
In Spanish-speaking neighbourhoods of New York it’s the bodega; in Japan it’s konbini; and in London – where designer Alisha Kruse is from – it’s the corner shop. Aisles are filled with an assortment of food, drinks, knick-knacks and even tools, making them beloved for their convenience. But entering one isn’t just a matter of picking up what you need to-go – they are often a staple for the community, where a familiar face behind the counter asks how you’re doing and, if you’re lucky, it’s a place that has survived long enough to have seen you grow from a child.
In her latest project Corner Shop: A Visual Archive, which she started while studying graphic communication at University of the Arts London, Alisha lends her Risograph illustrations to reinterpretations of signs and labels found at corner shops run by her family and in her local community. On her father’s side, they had a family shop in Norfolk from the 1980s to the 2000s, and on her mother’s side who are Indian, after immigrating from Zambia to London in the 1980s they opened one in Brixton due to a lack of job opportunities and racism. Like many born and raised in London, Alisha is stirred by the impact of gentrification; on the high streets there are countless cafés, hubs and shops that seem to have a minimalist and clinical feel – increasingly dull and greige – but it's a visual impact many wouldn’t expect to hit corner shops. “Where I’m from in north London, the signage is still vibrant and full of life and colour. As you travel further, a lot of them are more uniform with boring sans-serif typography,” she adds.
Quickly becoming interested in how this change in design represents evolution across the city, Alisha soon went out to discover how it all plays into “colonial design thinking and this idea of high vs low taste”, she tells us. She began photographing everything from food packaging to shop signs, receipts and produce, as well as interviewing people within her community and assembling old family photographs. Many of the interviews for the project that aren’t with Alisha’s family were lent by The Everyday Muslim founder Sadiya Ahmed and Roshan Gibson who worked on a corner shop project with the National Trust in 2019 assisted on wider imagery. Alisha seeks to represent the breadth of not just the stores but a culture. “I was creating with a vernacular culture in mind. I didn’t want to appear to mock it visually or take from it. My focus was my family and collaboration helped with everything else,” she adds.
After perusing through Alisha’s deeply thoughtful work including 300 risograph illustrations – that “are meant to be imperfect, not pristine and lifeless” – we can all step into our bodegas, konbinis, corner shops or convenience stores with a newfound appreciation. Still looking for work after graduating, Alisha's project isn't finite as she plans to still collect, collate and platform all that these spaces have to offer. “I urge those who see the archive to not only think about the history and visual language but also maintain the corner shop and its culture for the future – shop local.”
GalleryAlisha Kruse: Corner Shop: A Visual Archive (Copyright © Alisha Kruse, 2023)
Alisha Kruse: Corner Shop: A Visual Archive (Copyright © Alisha Kruse, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.