Being Human in Chrisp Street Market

Photo by Emmi Hyyppä

Photo by Emmi Hyyppä

What does it mean to ‘be human’?

We find ourselves once again considering this question as part of the Being Human festival. Run by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London and the AHRC, Being Human is a 10 day series of events taking place across the UK that range from our own event exploring fashion and biodiversity to singing sea shanty’s in Liverpool and talking witichcraft in Northumbria.

Building on our event at the festival last year ‘Wear your Culture’, we hosted a pop up exhibition in Chrisp Street Market titled ‘I Stood Up for (bio)diversity’ and were delighted to be involved again and by the response we had.

The transformation of an empty shoe shop in an East London market was initially a daunting task, filling the space once full of purchasable objects with questions and ideas about fashion, biodiversity and wellbeing might at first seem bizarre, but the openness of the local community to engage and share their thoughts and opinions proves the interconnectedness of the world and a willingness to think openly, humbly and honestly about some of society’s most pressing questions. Indeed over 140 people came into the space to talk, look, probe and question what was going on in their local market.

We were interested in discovering how fashion can enable the local community to voice their concerns about nature and biodiversity in their neighbourhood. With images of biodiversity in the local area, and a pile of specially designed t-shirts (based on species under threat locally: bees and the black poplar tree), we set about listening and talking to the locals about nature in this small corner of London – had they noticed it increasing? Was it important to them to access green spaces? Were they concerned about a loss of nature? And in relation to fashion – was fashion connected to their wellbeing? And what of the connection of fashion to nature? There was much to discover and discuss and conversations were interesting and insightful, (more in-depth details on the results of these questions will be publishes here shortly).

We worked with students from the MA Fashion Futures course, to pose questions to the local community as well as to celebrate the knowledge and skills present in the area. The students worked together to explore the acquisition, the conception, the making, the discarding and the care of fashion within this community, the first stage of which was noticing how these social processes are represented in this geographical location.

Our exhibition space at Chrisp Street was an opportunity for us not only to gain insight into nature and biodiversity in this area of London, but also to use fashion as a means to facilitate dialogue. Fashion is both an opportunity to examine the surface but also break that surface, gaining insight into people’s habits, routines, thoughts and opinions – allowing us to explore many facets of what it means to ‘Be Human’.