Originally displayed in a pop-up space in Thamesmead for 10 weeks last summer, Thamesmead Codex is once again open to the public – this time at the UK’s most visited art gallery, Tate Modern – until 2 October 2022. The exhibition forms part of Peabody’s energetic cultural strategy for Thamesmead and Tate Modern’s wider community partnership programme.
Interviewing a range of local residents between 2019-2021 from some of Thamesmead’s first residents to shop keepers, musicians, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, local entrepreneurs, students and artists, Bob and Roberta Smith has recorded first-hand tales and experiences, which together weave a picture of how the area has transformed over the decades. These 24-metre-long placard paintings reveal the often hidden stories behind a community: fascinating pasts, surprising presents and hopeful futures. Alongside illustrative transcripts of these conversations, Bob and Roberta Smith has painted images of the historic estate as it might appear in a dream, perhaps the one imagined by the first architects for Thamesmead.
“There are many people who may have an impression of the type of place Thamesmead is based on other people’s accounts or things they’ve read,” said Bob and Roberta Smith. “But it’s amplifying diverse voices from different backgrounds and with varied histories that speaks to what it’s really like to live in the area. That’s what we want to achieve with this exhibition.”
"Thamesmead Codex is about how we listen. Artists generally look at the world and make things in response, but this work is about trying to hear people. It's quite impressionistic. The accounts I have made are stories of sometimes difficult, complicated, modern life in a built 'modern dream'.”
Adriana Marques, Peabody’s Head of Thamesmead Cultural Strategy, said: “One of Thamesmead’s main strengths is its rich and diverse history, so how better to capture that than through the stories of the residents who call it home. We’ve been incredibly lucky to work with such a renowned artist – Bob and Roberta Smith – who committed to collaborating with local residents, even throughout the pandemic, and who has used his signature paintings to tell some remarkable untold stories.
“The exhibition had an incredible run in Thamesmead last summer, and thanks to our partnership with Tate Modern it now gets to sit within one of the nation’s most popular art institutions. At the core of this project, was giving people a voice that at times may have felt unheard. Delivering authentic cultural experiences of the highest quality is a key part of our work and is crucial in allowing us to foster an inspiring grass-roots culture.”
Tate Modern holds the national collection of modern and contemporary international art that reaches across all continents. Its Director, Frances Morris, said: “At Tate Modern we’re thrilled to display Thamesmead Codex, a project that speaks to local communities, areas and audiences here in London, but which also sees transnational themes and personal stories mingling. This seems all the more timely and vital given the experiences of the past two years.
“We are delighted to have collaborated with Bob and Roberta Smith, strengthening a long-lasting relationship with the artist, as well as Peabody in contributing to Thamesmead’s rich cultural heritage. Connected as we are by the river, it was wonderful to see audiences enjoying this work at Thamesmead last summer and I’m delighted that visitors to Tate Modern will now have the chance to enjoy it too.”