Despite growing up in North London almost a stone’s throw away from Hampstead Heath – I never knew the Heath existed until my adult life. I distinctly remember the first time, now over a decade ago, approaching the outer edges of this wild park also known as the ‘lungs of London’ choosing whether to snake around the outer edges beyond the foliage or go up Parliament hill – everyone seemed to congregate on the latter, gazing endlessly at the near perfect London skyline that hovers between the trees and the ponds.
It’s only now I realise the significance of this winding meadowed woodland with its diaphanous history. As the foliage softens the border between the artificial interventions and the manmade excavations become entwined with the natural boundaries: it’s the remarkable story of Dido Elizabeth Belle that I want to reflect on. Born to Maria Belle an enslaved woman of African descent and a British Naval Officer in the West Indies in 1761, Dido was brought to London by her father at the age of 5 and her upbringing was entrusted to his uncle Lord Mansfield, who later became Lord Chief Justice, and who lived at Kenwood House. She lived at Kenwood for over 30 years as an equal part of this aristocratic family; given that Mansfield issued rulings that paved the way for the abolition of slavery in England, some have argued that her presence influenced his judicial decisions.
In a series of conjunctive collages that weave together countless walks, personal memories and embody a profound connection to nature, play and fauna; the grid roots conversations of of difference as a reparative act – an exercise of locating and dislocating drawings emphasising the communal space capturing the presences of influential figures like Dido that once walked these velvet green spaces.
Sectional reproduction of Dido Elizabeth Belle’s portrait, drawing, coloured shapes, fragments of found postcards and images, on analogue photographs.Commissioned by FT for My London 2023
FT Weekend Magazine, 6 May 2023
Trying to touch the trees
Tracing pathways beyond herstories
Jotted on the margins
Lungs of London
FT Weekend Magazine (Online Edition)