Thamesmead Codex – capturing life in a South London town on display at Tate Modern

A series of paintings capturing life in a South London town by renowned artist Bob and Roberta Smith is on display at the Tate until autumn.

Thamesmead Codex, which consists of 24-metre-long placards displayed side by side, weave a picture of how the area has transformed over the decades.

Thamesmead was built in the late 1960s to alleviate the housing shortage in London.

It was built on futuristic ideas and was one of a large number of modernist housing projects built after the Second World War across Europe.

Bob and Roberta Smith said: “There are many people who may have an impression of the type of place Thamesmead is based on other people’s accounts or things they’ve read.

“But it’s amplifying diverse voices from different backgrounds and with varied histories that speaks to what it’s really like to live in the area.

“That’s what we want to achieve with this exhibition.”

Between 2019 and 2021 Bob and Roberta Smith – the pseudonym under which artist Patrick Brill works – recorded first-hand tales and experiences of Thamesmead locals.

Thamesmead Codex – A series of paintings capturing life in a South London town

These included some of the area’s first residents, shopkeepers, musicians, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, local entrepreneurs, students and artists.

The resulting paintings reveal the often hidden stories behind a community, including fascinating pasts, surprising presents and hopeful futures.

Alongside illustrative transcripts of these conversations, Bob and Roberta Smith has painted images of the historic estate as it might appear in a dream, perhaps the one imagined by the first architects for Thamesmead.

Bob and Roberta Smith added: “Thamesmead Codex is about how we listen.

“Artists generally look at the world and make things in response, but this work is about trying to hear people. It’s quite impressionistic.

“The accounts I have made are stories of sometimes difficult, complicated, modern life in a built ‘modern dream’.”

Tate Modern director Frances Morris said: “At Tate Modern we’re thrilled to display

Thamesmead Codex, a project that speaks to local communities, areas and audiences here in London, but which also sees transnational themes and personal stories mingling.

“This seems all the more timely and vital given the experiences of the past two years.

“Connected as we are by the river, it was wonderful to see audiences enjoying this work at Thamesmead last summer and I’m delighted that visitors to Tate Modern will now have the chance to enjoy it too.”

The Thamesmead Codex is on display to the public at Tate Modern until Sunday, October 2.




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