Estuary Questions to Daniel Turner
Glamour (as in the old sense of a spell or influence over someone)
for the embattled
there is no place
that cannot be home
How did you first come to Thamesmead? (family history of arriving in the area, where you was born, situation of the time?)
I was born in Dartford Hospital but my family already lived in Belvedere. The area that is now Thamesmead , between Belvedere and Abbey Wood was part of marshland used by Romani as a stopping place since the late1890’s up to until 1956 when the last members of the community were evicted. Both sides of my family lived on the Marsh and later on in Belvedere, Abbey Wood and Slade-Green. I was a teenager at the time and watched (often closely) Thamesmead being built.
Could you describe the landscape, how it was growing up, how you experienced it, before what we now know as Thamesmead?
It was a mixture of green open space and industry. When I was growing up here before Thamesmead there was a farm or market garden which grew fruit and vegetables. It was close to where Wurth’s is now.
It was a much greener space, which you only get glimpses of now. It was always possible to be out and about in open space.
You identify as a Gypsy Roma Traveller artist (GRT) what is the difference between the three groups?
This is a very complex question which is not really possible to deal with here except by making a lot of generalisations.
A famous Romani scholar, Ian Hancock gives a list of 20/30 books which he suggests people read before even starting this discussion.
Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities are minority ethnic groups that have contributed to British society for centuries. Their distinctive way of life and traditions manifest themselves in nomadism, the centrality of their extended family, unique languages and entrepreneurial economy. It is reported that there are around 300,000 Travellers in the UK and they are one of the most disadvantaged groups. The real population may be different as some members of the community do not participate in the census.
Travellers, Romani and Roma each have very different customs, religion, language and heritage. For instance, Gypsies are said to have originated in India and the
Romani language (also spoken by Roma) is considered to consist of at least seven varieties, each a language in their own right.
You have talked to us about how there are either very few artists who are GRT or identify as GRT. How can this be addressed; how can we all ensure we get more engagement with the arts from the GRT community?
I think this situation is not just affecting the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. In Europe there are many artists with a Roma heritage and who make and show work in much the same way as I do. This way of making, based on heritage and culture is widely practised by many artists from all around the world. You could say this is what art is: the filtering of ideas and images through a unique personal perspective. Having said that we are probably 10/20 years behind other artists working in this way. But this is also linked to anti-gypsyism and stereotypes, which like all institutional racism limits the expression and inclusion of others. I would suggest people checkout a Roma artist called Norbert Olah whose work, The Anxieties of the “Roma Artist” can be seen on the ERIAC-ROMAMOMA website. This would give people a good insight into a Roma artist thinking.
Even having artists and others from the community celebrated or even shown in a positive way would go a long way to help to.
How did you get into art?
I came from a family of makers. I found that I had certain skills which I could use that led naturally into art. Also at that time an art based education was not so academically rigorous as it is today, which meant it was less formal and therefore more accessible to someone from my background. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging however.
Can you talk about your new work for the Estuary Festival 2021 and the experience of returning to Thamesmead to make it?
In this film I try to explore how GRT lives are lived in the tension between moments of erasure and hyper-visibility. This jumping from invisibility to being all over the media (and never in a positive way) creating a cycle and the seeming impossibility of escaping this cycle. The idea of erasure/hyper-visibility doesn’t only relate to the Romani/Roma community but to what has happened in Thamesmead and the communities that the those people came from prior to their move to Thamesmead. In fact the cycle of erasure/hyper-visibility puts Romani/Roma into what is happening in a much wider context to working, minority and migrant communities all over the world.
What will you take away from this piece, will we see it grow into something bigger?
From this piece I have found the links between communities are far stronger than differences. Coming from this piece I think there will be a series of works exploring other aspects of the area and its overlapping boundaries.
What are your hopes for Thamesmead in the future and particularly the traveller community in Thamesmead?
I hope Thamesmead continues to develop and include many different communities. Difference can often be romanticised, denied or simplified and identities silenced. I hope that there is still a part for the Traveller community to play in and around Thamesmead which celebrates our history and continuity in the area.