East End Creates, ‘Mumma Told Me’ Edition: Jenny Lewis

March 24, 2021
East End Creates, ‘Mumma Told Me’ Edition: Jenny Lewis

It’s day two of the studio lease and Jenny Lewis quickly informs us of this as our eyes trace across a sparse room. The window stretched at the far end of the room invites us to look across to the canal which lines the edge of East London’s Victoria Park. For a brief moment, we watch an altogether familiar scene as cyclists and runners weave between anxious, and sometimes aggravated, pedestrians. Tracing our gaze to Jenny’s floor, we find ourselves quickly tip-toeing around identically-sized brown pieces of paper meticulously lined up and across- another project, she hints. The white walls are distinctly interrupted by a tapestry of portraits Jenny has uniformly taped on. One-hundred faces stare back at us, each telling a story we can’t quite hear. 

 

JENNY LEWIS IN HER HACKNEY STUDIO

SHERLOCK HART, 79, FROM LEWIS’ 100 YEARS

 

‘That’s Wilfred. He currently creates plasticine sculptures and used to work with Spitting Image back in the 80’s’! Jenny recounts, ‘and that’s Sherlock the tailor- he thinks his kid should be arrested for walking around in tracksuits!’, Sim, The Old Bank Vault’s director, nods her head in recognition, ‘...he’s always in a three-piece suit’. Laughing in agreement, we then spot Sim’s father, Anoop, standing proud in the line-up of portraits. Seamlessly, Jenny's expression alters as we point towards a beautiful, melancholic man. ‘That’s Puya. His four year-old nephew is dying’ she exhales, ‘he’s only now discovering what love really is as this little child slips away.’ Silence. Our attention jumps to the eighteen year-old high on the canal lock, basking in the golden sunlight. It’s vibrancy matched only by the ruby lips of Rosy, who carries the weight of both her six-week year-old baby and the profoundly sad knowledge of her terminal cancer. Then there’s Josh, ‘he spoke very candidly to me about child abuse and how that has affected him from a young age. He didn’t want to let it shape his life,’ Jenny relates. Story after story, of devastation, love, heartbreak, joy, come into view. All of a sudden, her studio no longer feels quite so empty. 

 100 YEARS, JENNY LEWIS.

 

All these accounts feature as part of 100 Years, Jenny’s new book which will be published at the end of April. Each page will feature a member of our East London community between the age of one to a hundred, stitching together a patchwork of life embedded in the local area. 100 Years follows on from her two previous publications; One Day Young and Hackney Studios. The former, a photo series of new mothers and their day-old children, culminating into a poignant celebration of motherhood. The latter, a blind exploration of East End’s creatives, with each artist recommending the next. ‘Doing Hackney Studios, I was trying to address why I was here in Hackney and get to know the people in the area. Finding my roots as a creative and finding a network of support,’ Jenny reveals. Her new book harps back to the first two, presenting previous individuals in new light. Sonia and Kim reappear from One Day Young whilst Wilfred and Rosie follow on from Hackney Studios. ‘The third book is wrapping it all up,’ she exclaims, ‘going from youngest to oldest, the book glides through life. Everyone has the same size print, no matter the story.’ What's brought to the fore is an overwhelmingly tangible sense of community that Jenny curates through her work. 

 

“A person’s a person, no matter how small… That’s what my father has always told me. I’ve always had that in my head. Everyone is important, That’s what’s been passed on; to listen to people, to find people interesting. When you’ve grown up with that, you’re not afraid to talk to anyone. I’ve certainly carried that forward. In my house, you can’t get away with being shy. You get so much more out of life when you

 

It’s clear her father’s message informs much of Jenny’s working life too:

“That is a thread to my work- to not be afraid of people. I’ve always found it surprising how that plays out. Like, with one day young I was photographing people the day they had a baby in their arms. It was a real learning curve, complete strangers let me into their world at the most vulnerable point in their life. That's when I learnt that there really aren't any strangers in life. You can share that really intimate moment, and it's a real connection, and it means something to you. They’re no longer a stranger, they’ve shared something and they’ve wanted you to be there. It's an honour and a privilege. That was a huge shift for me, thinking it's not just me against the world, but instead, a huge collaborative project.”

 

Jenny’s book 'One Hundred Years' is available to pre-order online via Hoxton Mini Press.

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