Sites of Laughter and Love (2022)
Commissioned by Grain Projects

There is a book by Musa Okwonga called In the end, it was all about love and there is a chapter aptly placed in the centre of the book titled Black Gravity. In this chapter, there is a doctor by the name of Dr. Oppong and Dr. Oppong “...concluded that history was atmospheric, that the air above a city carried the memory of brutalities past. He believed, based on extensive studies, could measure or sense [it], like temperature.”  Dr. Oppong’s theory of Black Gravity alongside the writings of Resmaa Menakem and Bessel van der Kolk, have seduced me. I am interested in the notion that physical spaces as well as the physical body has the capacity to hold so much information and experience. And with this theory in one hand and a camera in the other, my relationship with 3 parks in Birmingham was about to change considerably.

When entering each park, I entered believing that every bench, swing, gazebo, gate, wall, and bit of tarmac was storing a substantial amount of trauma. I am thinking specifically about the dire consequences of the ‘postcode turf wars’ that ran rampant within inner city Birmingham throughout the late 90’s- 2000’s where parks became a hub for hostility and hosted tragedy. But something happened between 2008 and 2010 that I still struggle to articulate in English words. It’s almost as if the tears from the mourning mothers washed away all the dust and we were left to examine what remained.
12 years later, thanks to a bursary award from GRAIN Projects, I was able to take a closer look at what may have remained. And as I looked, I noticed how the memories and stories of a community dangled from the clouds and lined each blade of grass and engraved itself upon every inch of outdoor furniture. I wanted to capture the joy that I knew still existed in those spaces. I was confident that these parks were more than sites of pain but were also sites of laughter and love

Prior to this project, I had spent my own fair share of time in each park. For this project I wanted to try and really understand each park, in a different way to the way I had known them as a teenager. I spent time in the space, on the bench, watching as people passed me by. Noticing that some would sit next to me, some would speak to me, and some would just nod (I liked the latter the most). It was important for me to understand that within each site there was memory stored. That the fallen tree log that some kids were using as a footstool was where someone had their first of something: first kiss, first goal, first grazed knee. Documenting the parks first and seeking the memories afterwards was not an approach I had done before, this made me question whether my methodology would sour the quality of the memories or interfere with the way in which people recalled their moments.
So, I decided to show half of the participants a range of images, using the images as prompts, whilst the other half of the participants were simply asked to recall a special moment they have associated with either of the parks in focus.

And so, this body of work was never just going to be about the physical structure of these parks, as gorgeous as they are. And I was never truly interested in the historical aspects of the park in the most academic or literal sense but much like the rest of my practice, I am always fascinated by the storing and storytelling that happens within the physical matter. This project was always going to be a presentation of tangible spaces archiving intangible things.

Photographing in these parks and collecting these memories has been a beautiful journey and to each participant who gave me their time and precious memory, I thank you. The parks that inspired this essay and project are Burbury Park in Newtown, Handsworth Park in Handsworth, and Aston Park in Aston Birmingham.

A-n Artists Council member 2022-2025
Arts Council England DYCP recipient 2022

Currently mentored by: Vivid Projects (UK), ICF (international), Marcia & Philip Henry (JM)