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[Community Project] Pat Wingshan Wong, Barter Archive (2021)


An archive of the people, by the people, for the people


Have you ever heard of Sammy the Seal at Canary Wharf in London? Have you ever completed the Oyster Challenge in Billingsgate Fish Market?


The loud banter and cheerful laughter among the fishmongers are some of my unforgettable memories of visiting the Billingsgate Fish Market with the artist Pat Wingshan Wong during an early morning in 2020. Having to arrive at 5 a.m. four days a week doesn’t deter Pat as, despite not being a big seafood fan, she loves Billingsgate for its strong sense of community and close-knit interactions. 


Starting as an early exploration of individual and communal identity, Pat has documented the fishmongers’ stories with her sketches since October 2019, and she has since invited me to visit the market together. Through interacting with those working in the market, we can clearly feel that they are a big family and the market is full of rich history and memorable moments. However, the City of London Corporation recently announced a relocation plan, which will relocate the market to Dagenham in the next five years due to the rapid urban development at Canary Wharf.


With a deep interest in socially engaged practices and community-led projects, I have since worked with Pat to provide curatorial support to her idea of constructing an online archive that involves the fishmongers’ participation to document the market’s collective memory over nearly 40 years. The archive engages with the idea of bartering both physically and symbolically. It includes 3D-scanned memorable objects such as working boots, porter badges, paring knives, etc. ‘bartered’ by Pat using her observational drawings of the happenings in the space, as well as video interviews transcribed by myself that document the many stories and vivid memories of the Billingsgate inhabitants.


As a curator from outside the Western world, my practice aims to bring a voice to the unheard narratives of the marginalised communities. Through ongoing conversations on the development of the project, we hope to provide a new perspective to conventional institutionalised archives that prioritise tangible objects over ephemeral stories and affects. Therefore, for Barter Archive, Pat engages with the fishmongers and incorporates their voices into the works based on transparency and mutual trust in order to give visibility, respect and compassion to the invisible or marginalised communities in our society.


Barter Archive connects with a community who may not otherwise engage in archiving, denoting a bottom-up and grassroots method of documenting history. I have worked closely with Pat in interviewing the Billingsgate traders, and have their stories well structured and clearly presented both in digital and written form. It is also my role as a curator to produce press releases for publications and promote the project to all members of the public through an online interactive platform where they can explore the meaningful objects of the participating fishmongers and their interesting stories behind them. 


Our aim of this project is to bring the archive to our community and to do so, we have sought support from media, the local council, community groups, art and culture institutions and even property companies at Canary Wharf. We also wish to use the exhibition as a medium to explore its possibilities as a shared space offering a common ground for solidarity. With the ambition of producing a physical exhibition down the line, the project is now in the process of securing spaces to showcase Pat’s highly personal sketches and 3D-scanned sculptures stemming from the fishmongers’ lived experiences and invite the public to view.


Article published on .ART, a domain zone created specifically for the global creative community.

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