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Where have all these people gone?: Reflections from Yasmine Dankwah

NAC member Yasmine Dankwah reflects on Where have all these people gone?, which took place at SDS on Tuesday 14 May 2024 as part of Artist Archive.

“Where have all these people gone?” is a question that the movement artist Shanelle ‘Tali’ Fergus’ mother poses in her short film Mum.Edit.More. Debuted in 2017 and housed as part of Siobhan Davies Studios’ Material Archive at the end of last year, this intricate choreography-led piece sees Tali embody her mother’s mourning of and shock towards a Brixton that once was, and the people who originally shaped its cultural identity and existence. ‘Where have all these people gone?’ is the question that Tali and Nabil Al-Kinani, author of Privatise the Mandem, return to in this talk. 

Tali reveals that after the years of precarity that came with being a property guardian and numerous property viewings, she had finally purchased a flat… in Margate. 

Tali shares that she has become one of “these people” that her mother expressed concern over: a community of predominantly Black, Brown, and working-class people who have become victims of gentrification. Rather than being a visceral vessel to reflect the drastic shifts and changes her mother recounts in a voice note throughout the short film, Tali has become the embodied response to her mother’s question. A South-East Londoner through and through, Tali reveals that after the years of precarity that came with being a property guardian and numerous property viewings, she had finally purchased a flat… in Margate. 

Despite achieving a level of social mobility, Tali has suffered the same fate as those victims of gentrification. She has had to move – “by force” she’s keen to add – priced out of the areas she once called home, places once looked upon “unfavourably” or as “no-go zones” that have now changed beyond recognition.  

Growing up on a council estate, the word regeneration was used time and time again. Whether it be through conversation or in one of those council-run magazines that get slipped through the letter box with an image remodelling what your estate could look like, just without you living in it! Those of us who have called and made these spaces home for long enough, know that the word regeneration is just part and parcel of the process of gentrification.  

Nabil sheds light on the etymology of the word. A word often weaponised by the market to sell to a modern-day gentry, some of whom unknowingly participate in the gentrification process. This, all while feeding the pockets of property developers and investors in their colonially coded conquest for land and property during a housing crisis. ‘Regeneration’, Nabil describes, has its root in the word ‘genesis’, which means ‘to breathe life into.’ But like Nabil, I get frustrated with its use in the housing context. The word implies that there is no life in social housing. This word used to displace working-class communities – black and brown faces, aunties and uncles, children of diaspora – does a disservice to their legacies. People Nabil would describe as the Mandem. To imply that these homes are dead, is to deny the fact that the Mandem have been doing CPR on them for time!  

To imply that these homes are dead, is to deny the fact that the Mandem have been doing CPR on them for time!

From the emergence and surge of pirate radio stations housed on tower block rooftops by unemployed, predominantly black people during the 80s, the birth of Grime to house parties and community banking, Pardner, created in response to colour bars and racism. It’s clear that the Mandem’s creativity and entrepreneurship have historically breathed life into these buildings, and the culture we know now.   

As a Black working-class storyteller, I’ve always been inspired by the people who have come before me and the traces I can see of their impact in the tenacity and drive of my peers, regardless of their class and upbringing.

As a Black working-class storyteller, I’ve always been inspired by the people who have come before me and the traces I can see of their impact in the tenacity and drive of my peers, regardless of their class and upbringing. However, that wasn’t always the case. Growing up, I saw the ends as a means to an end, rather than just ends. Home even. I was guilty of internalising a market price that wasn’t set by me nor was reflective of my experience. Often undersold by the media, with phrases such as ‘sink estates’ or ‘zones of criminality’ I was quick to dismiss my experience, my narrative. The parts of my story where the living room went from being nursery for my friends, family and me to a dance floor for family gatherings where everything from Ofori Amponsah to the Ministry of Sound R&B compilation was emitted through my dad’s speakers that towered over me; the casual check-ins with block neighbours on the landing or in the lift whilst they press your floor number without you having to say a thing, playing outside with your friends knowing that your mum’s got one eye on the mini playground floors below her. It’s in all of these moments, the ways in which my family and friends regenerated these blocks just by existing in them, that shaped my identity.   

Overall, the exchange shared between Nabil and Tali emphasised the importance of artists documenting their experiences. Whether it be through music or writing to reflect an individual’s reality, as was done in the Authors of the Estate (an idea first established by André Anderson), or through dance as done in Tali’s Mum.Edit.More to explore the effect on gentrification in Brixton. Creativity, through documentation, is used to reframe the narrative, empowering the Mandem to acknowledge their worth and value. In this way, the blocks the Mandem reside in become more than a means of survival. It encourages a collective sense of ownership and autonomy over our lived experiences in resistance to negative perceptions. 

If documentation allows for agency over our own stories – a perspective shift – then Privatise the Mandem provides the tools for a power shift. Sharing his experience of Urban Development, Nabil unpacks how the Mandem might obtain shared ownership of the blocks themselves. The Mandem would become self-governing, set apart from local authorities and the property developers they are currently subject to. Paired with the Thugz Mansion card deck, Nabil puts the literal cards in the hands of those who live in social housing. Consisting of a series of thematic questions – covering, security and protection to the character and heritage of the building – Thugz Mansion is an invitation to the key stake holders of the block to discuss and imagine together what the future of Ends could look like if it were under their complete control. 

If documentation allows for agency over our own stories – a perspective shift – then Privatise the Mandem provides the tools for a power shift.

So, “Where have all these people gone?” 

I’d give two responses. The first being, two of them are right here. Despite career success or moving elsewhere, Nabil and Tali have returned to reflect on what home means and to spark conversation about the detrimental origins and effects of gentrification. Holding space to celebrate the pathways their elders established, they reminded us that with a few tools we can shape a reality we might not get to see but can be implemented for future generations to come. The second is, that by having these conversations within the community there is hope that more of these people will return in the future to maintain and cultivate the land that we, the Mandem as their future elders, breathed life into.


Written by Yasmine Dankwah. Commissioned by Siobhan Davies Studios.
Find Yasmine on Instagram @yasminedankwah.