A collection of food sculptures celebrates immigrant contribution to Park Royal’s food industry
For the London Design Festival, Erica Eyres has created pieces in partnership with food distribution charities in this industrial area of London in a nod to their tireless efforts throughout the pandemic and through history, along with other artists.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 14 September 2021
When I was a kid, my Iraqi mother would put me in the car on weekends and drive me an hour up the M25 through junctions, over bridges, past roundabouts and terraced houses and road signs, till we reached Park Royal. As a child, I hated it. In a collection of industrial lots, there wasn’t much for me to do. But for my mother, this was her saving grace. Park Royal was, and remains, one of the best places to find the most delicious immigrant cuisine in all of London. Iraqi ingredients and dishes she would struggle to find in our local Surrey Sainsbury’s.
Now, an exhibition at London Design Festival is celebrating the legacy of immigrant workers in Park Royal, with a limited-edition collection of products connected to and inspired by Park Royal, its character, its links and its changing industrial heritage. In particular, Lunch by Erica Eyres is a collection of ceramic sculptures inspired by the work of food redistribution charities, located in and near Park Royal.
The artist originally planned to collaborate with one of the food distribution companies based in Park Royal. However, in light of the changing situation around Covid-19, she instead approached food redistribution charities operating in the area. “Through a series of phone interviews, I was able to speak to the directors to learn about their work and their roles in their communities,” Eyres continues. She then decided to make a series of limited editions based on each charity: “For Bubble and Squeak, I developed a series of wonky fruit and vegetables; for Harlesden Mutual Aid, a series of bread loaves; and for Ealing Community Aid I made a series of cakes based on a story about people in the community baking cakes for NHS workers.”
The phone conversations Eyres had were “truly inspiring,” she says, “not just in terms of learning about the charities themselves, but the organiser’s philosophies around food and the role it plays in communities and individual lives.” A common thread through each story, she tells It’s Nice That, was the significance of trying to meet each person’s dietary preferences and requirements. “In keeping with the thought of individuality, I decided to make each piece unique and hand-made. Although there are multiples of some objects, such as apples and pears, each one is different. They also emphasised the importance of providing variety, which led me to think about making a bunch of different objects rather than just single items.”
Glasgow-based Eyres has previously made work based on food but this time, it was exciting for her to make work in response to these specific charities and food within the landscape of the coronavirus pandemic. The ceramic pieces, made from Glazed Stoneware, offer a new context and weight to the sculptures. “For example,” she explains, “the loaves of bread reference not only those distributed by the charity but a period of time within the pandemic when many people learned to bake bread.”
Park Royal manufactures one-third of all food consumed by Londoners and supports over 40,000 workers. “London’s Kitchen,” says Catriona Duffy, co-director of curatorial company Panel, “aims to shine a light on this vibrant and mixed industrial economy.” Since the early 20th century, Park Royal has provided employment to many first-generation immigrant populations living in neighbouring communities. “The London’s Kitchen collection considers Park Royal’s crucial role at this pivotal moment in its history looking at the importance of its workers, its heritage and its legacy,” says fellow Panel co-director Lucy McEachan.
Panel’s directors tell us that each product draws out a story of Park Royal, “communicating ideas about making, adaption, locality, resource sharing and the flow of connection between Park Royal’s industrial estates and the rest of London. It was important for us to highlight Park Royal’s highly skilled workforce through the project, and the breadth of creative practice and manufacturing that is taking place in factories, both small-scale and large, in this under-appreciated area of London.”
Panel, an independent curatorial practice led by Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan, and based in Glasgow, co-designed the project. It commissioned other artists such as Joy Bonfield-Colombara, free.yard, Raisa Kabir, Michael Marriott and Kajsa Ståhl. Each artist worked with a partner to represent the connections between Park Royal’s industrial estates and the rest of London. These partners were businesses within the new design district like DYN-Metal and Dot Laser, and family businesses too such as Dina Foods, local food distribution charities and creatives from across London.
Panel is interested in how local production can “shift perceptions of value and meaning within material culture,” so it specialises in commissioning artists and designers to work with manufacturing industry in the UK, framing design and making, “not as the resource base for segregated services or goods but as an integral part of our broader social landscape.”
The project wasn’t without its challenges. The development of London’s Kitchen has taken place over two years, Panel tells It’s Nice That, and thus “has been set against the backdrop of Brexit, the impending arrival of HS2 to the area, and a global health pandemic that has staunchly challenged structures of food production and distribution.” To have artists working directly with Park Royal businesses during the pandemic drove home the “precarious position that import and export service industries are in,” the curatorial practice tells us. But succeeding through tests and trials with its partnering businesses meant that the importance of Park Royal’s workers was emphasised as well as its legacy and its crucial role within London’s ecology “at this pivotal moment in its history.”
The London’s Kitchen collection will be available from 18-26 September and sold through londonskitchen.com as part of the London Design Festival. All proceeds from the product sales will be donated to Mutual Aid groups operating in the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) area.
GalleryErica Eyres: Lunch. Photo: Angus Mill. (Copyright © Panel, 2021)
GalleryErica Eyres: Lunch. In progress photos by Caro Weiss. (Copyright © Panel, 2021)
Caro Weiss: Lunch by Erica Eyres, in progress (Copyright © Panel, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.