A Thousand Hands: Legacies and Futures of Care in Brent

9 November 2018 26 May 2019

Commissioned by Kiln Theatre (formerly The Tricycle)
Exhibited at Brent Museum and Archives, Willesden Green Library, London.

Curated by Rachel Dedman

Featuring more than 100 objects from council archives and other national collections, alongside local oral histories, A Thousand Hands examined the history of care in Brent—the borough in which I was born, raised and live—and its relationship to historic and contemporary diversity in the borough.

At a time of increasingly conservative attitudes to immigration, and the systemic devaluing of careboth within the NHS and informallythe exhibition argues and advocates for care as a powerful political act.

Care constitutes the bedrock of what it means to live together. It embodies connection to, and engagement with others, as individuals and as a society. Care is physical, emotional, gendered labour: formal and informal, visible and invisible. A Thousand Hands explored the interrelated histories of care and migration in Brent, from wartime hospitals for Belgian troops, to local branches of the Foresters Friendly Society, to the fundamental role played by migrant communities in building the NHS.

Diversity is a defining feature of Brent; we speak over 149 languages here. For decades, the council has worked to adapt to the needs of a varied population, but care contexts have long been sites in which institutional racism in Britain is made visible. Inspiringly, communities frequently self-organise in response, initiating grassroots services and standing up for change. The exhibition celebrates the alternative support structures that people in Brent have built for themselves, and argues for arts, music, culture and activismfrom the Grunwick Strike to Stonebridge Bus Depot projectas forms of radical care for others.

Solidarity, empathy, humanity: these are the fundaments of good quality care, and are the catalysts of activism. Yet such values are also increasingly difficult to reconcile with the efficiency, productivity, and profit required by a neoliberal system. At a time of divisive rhetoric and fearful politics around migration, it is more important than ever to recognise the rich contribution migrant communities make to our collective lives, and to ask how we might build a more generous, inclusive, caring future together in Brent.

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