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Sensitivity is the most radical of tools

Imran Perretta, the destructors (2019). Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, 2020. the destructors is produced by Chisenhale Gallery and Spike Island, Bristol, and commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery; Spike Island; the Whitworth, The University of Manchester; and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

My name is Chloe Cunliffe and I am a final year Drama student at the University of Sussex, originally from Rossendale, in Lancashire. In February and March, I had the pleasure of having a work placement at Artsadmin. 

In my first blog about my placement experience, I wrote about an upcoming project commissioned by Artsadmin’s engagement team for Season for Change

I was also lucky enough to attend many events with the Artsadmin team during my placement, both in Toynbee Studios and elsewhere in London, including Jamal Gerald’s Idol, Edythe Wooley’s Sensitive Plumbing and Imran Perretta’s the destructors, an exhibition of artists film at Chisenhale Gallery. In this blog post, I will be reflecting on my experience of Perretta’s work and how it has informed my thoughts since I saw it.

“Sensitivity [is] the most radical of tools.”

Imran Perretta in conversation with Ali Roche, Head of Commissions at Spike Island, and Emma Moore, Curator: Engagement at Chisenhale Gallery during the commission of the destructors.

Imran Perretta’s work the destructors uses the narration from young Muslim men from Tower Hamlets, London (which is also the borough where Artsadmin is based), to reflect on his own experience of being a young man of Bangladeshi heritage in a post-9/11 Britain. We never see their faces, but their emotion and words penetrate deep within us and translate to us a profound amount of pain in their experiences. 

The first young man speaks of an experience in which a white man confronts him on public transport shouting “I forgive you” and finally, “I forgive you for the bombs.” The way this is framed by Perretta makes it double punch us right in the gut. The film is shown on two screens, usually split, with one side a shot of one of the men speaking and the other scenes inside a classroom, or changing room, or gym, or a group of the men playing a game with high stakes. One of the most compelling of these games was one of the men being blindfolded and guided to the other side of the room by his friends’ instructions as they stood on the other side ready to greet him. In his way were balls and other such objects that could easily have been mines and bombs, waiting for him to stand on them or nudge them even slightly. As if the work wasn’t charged enough, this added another layer of danger and worry for us, the spectator, hoping that both his story and his game finish with his safety and not his destruction. 

At this time of uncertainty and xenophobia in the face of Brexit and Coronavirus, I can’t think of a more beautiful piece of work to try and bring us that little bit closer together. Rather than showing anger, it showed us the hurt and the emotion behind the ‘War on Terror’ and the cost to human life that we don’t see. There is a beauty and a horror in this film which are both highlighted by the area in which it was filmed and shown. In 2011 the Census showed the Tower Hamlets population to be 32% Bangladeshi, with 43% of the total population born outside of the UK. In a community of such diversity, we must address the danger of isolation and xenophobic actions. 

In my short time at Artsadmin, I have been able to see the change which they are trying to make in terms of diversity and inclusivity, something which I believe will only increase in importance. If there’s ever been a time to try harder to be kind, accepting, safe, and encouraging it’s now. In a time of anxiety such as now, it’s essential that we come together to remain strong (even if that’s at a 2 metre distance or from across the internet).