Hackney women share rarely seen family photos for new exhibition

Collage image from Cherelle Sappleton 'Semblance' exhibition

Photographs capturing the lives, loves and losses of generations of Hackney women are the subject of a new exhibition coming to Sutton House this summer. The personal portraits, many capturing moments in Hackney’s history such as the Second World War and the arrival of the Windrush generation, were donated for the exhibition after London artist Cherelle Sappleton appealed to local community groups.

‘Family snaps can seem quite throw away, especially today when so many pictures are taken on mobile phones,’ says Cherelle. ‘It’s great to have them digitised but technology has really has changed our relationship to the past. Through these women’s personal collections you get a real sense of each generation, each time in history. They might seem throw away but to me photos like this are like gold dust.'

The images have all been digitally scanned by the artist, with some blown up to create prints and other used to create new abstract art works for the display. They each tell a different story.

One set of images has been donated by a woman who was the governor of Hackney School and today is part of the Hackney Museum Black Women’s Writing Group.

Another woman from the Philippines, who just recently came to live in Hackney, donated images charting three or four generations on her mother’s side. ‘She’s still working out what it means to be British,’ explained Cherelle, whose childhood images are also featured in the exhibition. 

‘One theme which came up fairly strongly from many of the images is the idea of families being fragmented because of the movement between countries. For example, for the Windrush Generation; siblings, couples, children could be separated for long periods of time. In some cases people only came back together years later or never at all. At times, looking through the photos brought up some strong emotions for people.’

But Cherelle says even the serious themes in the exhibition are captured in a ‘playful way’.

‘What does family mean to you? What does it mean to be British? You can take the images at face value - as historic records, portraits and snapshots in time. Or you can think of them as exploring some big questions. Some have been digitally reproduced to be more abstract too – a glimpse of a face here, a scarf or a hand and a piece of art in itself.'

Cherelle says she hopes people will interpret the pictures for themselves and perhaps take away a bit of curiosity to see what’s in their own attic, to connect with generations before them: 'It can spark some really lovely conversations. These are the kind of moments in people’s lives that in 30 years we will wish we would have captured, so I hope this archive will be there now for future generations to come.’ 

'Semblance' is a free exhibition and runs from 11 July 2019- 15 November 2019, at Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard, 2 & 4 Homerton High St, London E9 6JQ.

" 'Semblance’ is part of our ongoing programme of exhibitions created with and for local people."
- Chris Cleeve, Sutton House Manager