terra incognita archive


September 12 2002 - October 9 2002
Hanbury Street
'Banglatown', Brick Lane, London, E1

curated by Alana Jelinek
for terra incognita

CURIO was a 4 week intervention into the tourist zone known as 'Banglatown', an area between Whitechapel and Spitalfields, in London's East End.
audio file

7 artists were invited to respond with a site-specific intervention into the nature of the tourist site.

Jananne Al-Ani    Eamon O'Kane
video             video
Mohini Chandra    Chila Kumari Burman
video             website
Michele Fuirer    Erika Tan
video    video
Martin Parker


Curator's notes
Hanbury Street cuts across Brick Lane, the epicentre of 'Banglatown', with the City at one end and the local community at the other. The street can be seen as a journey from global capitalism, its symbols and manifestations, through cultural tourism to the local (or vice versa, depending on your perspective). And despite being a single street, Hanbury Street features psychological barriers that seem to maintain those various zones.

CURIO is also about a phenomenon that takes place here on Hanbury Street, in which stories are told as histories and become almost ideologies. It happens in places all over the world - but I happen to live and work here.

Since Victorian times and acutely in the past 20 years, the East End has been used to connect up different stories of violence and crime, of revolutionary politics, of authenticity, of poverty and exoticism, of 'different, foreign cultures', both long gone and 'vibrant'. People come for Jack the Ripper, the 'genuine East End', or the 'cockney paradise', for Victorian slums and deprivation, for deconsecrated synagogues and Eastern European shop names, for the curryhouse and 'Asian cool'.

I came to the area 12 years ago. I also consumed the story. I sought out the mythology of the old Jewish East End, a history of 'my people', if not my direct antecedents. I had my own reasons for hearing this story.

Like other tourists, visitors, outsiders, I took in the two-dimensional stereotypes of the area. Most of us come and go with these stereotypes intact. We come with particular assumptions and leave with them confirmed.

But, because I stayed here I came to feel differently, uneasy about the re-presentation of my culture and the past. What I found problematic was both in the telling of the story and in the incessant need to repeat particular aspects of it. I noticed a living culture around which stereotypes and disinformation thrive and that this seems to happen wherever people go as 'tourists', be it Thailand or East London. People don't seem to seek information that challenges their beliefs. Perhaps we hold onto whatever prejudice confirms our authority. But I live here and I daily experience the disparity between myth and reality.

The history of the area, as with anywhere, is more complex and more diverse than is usually believed. The chronology and the most prevalent story excludes much of this diversity. We hear and tell the stories that suit us and diminish the evidence of others. This is what I wanted to bring out in CURIO.

On September 11th 2001, the stereotypes we use to explain our worlds became all the more problematic. Tourists still came to Banglatown to eat curry, but many, as they ate, equated Asian with Islam and Islam only with terrorism. They traded in lies and their chatter gave sustenance to others who came to beat up local people and to hurl abuse at women wearing hijab.

It became all the more evident that tourism does not, in fact, broaden the mind.

Alana Jelinek
curio was created with Arts Council England and London Borough of Tower Hamlets Arts and Events.


A catalogue and CDrom for curio includes information on the exhibition/intervention and previously unpublished text by Annie E Coombes of Birkbeck College, Univeristy of London called Curious Encounters - the view from the street, Richard Stemp, writer, broadcaster and educator, Where's the Art? and Juliette Brown of terra incognita called Tourism and the global cultural theatre.

The catalogue contains other images of the work and the CDrom has more of a feel of the multimedia work and a virtual tour of the street.