A few weeks ago I went to the Photographers Gallery to see Dalston Anatomy, an exhibit by Italian-born, London-based photographer Lorenzo Vitturi. I walked into the space and was greeted by a vibrant explosion of colour from his mainly food based sculptures, all showcasing the bold wonderful, lively drama of Ridley Road market in Dalston, Hackney. The market is one of the few remaining working class markets in London, one of the few places where you can still buy fresh, diverse and affordable produce and goods from yams and sugar cane to cheap bras from stall holders whose cultural identity and products reflect the true demographic diversity of London. The background noises, the music, the shouting, the hustle and bustle always adds to the eclectic enjoyable experience.
On closer inspection I recognised many of the fruit and vegetables that Lorenzo managed to find in the market detritus. Scotch bonnet peppers, soursop, roast fish, eddos, black eyed peas, plantains, guineps, papaya, breadfruit, Jamaican oranges. Produce to suit the palate of the mainly working class diverse African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Asian and English communities who’ve lived harmoniously in Hackney for years. I’ve been a loyal customer of the market and in its heyday if you didn’t start your market shopping early you would often find these items sold out much less discarded for artists to use as art material. I was saddened to see that Lorenzo managed to find not one but about five or six plantains which he used create one of his art pieces.
And therein lies the message of his important exhibition. Behind this bold celebration colour lies the sad reality of places like Dalston. Lorenzo wanted to capture the vibrancy of an east London market before it falls victim to relentless force of London’s gentrification. The traditional, multicultural communities who lived in Hackney can no longer afford to rent or buy in the area, their community cultural and support networks are disappearing as ordinary entrepreneurs cannot afford the high business rents and rates. The fashionable people with larger disposable incomes have moved in, along with the trendy bars, cafes, restaurants and Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Why would you want to buy exotic fruits and vegetables from Ridley market and season them with the wonderful spices on sale and get advice and recipes from friendly, appreciative stall holders when you can buy a ready meal from the supermarkets and use the quick, anonymous checkout lane where you don’t need to speak to anyone or spend £25 upwards in one of the local restaurants?