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Tassaduq Ahmed MBE Tassaduq Ahmed
1923-2001

New Londoners' case histories

17 June 2008
Nick Curtis

The article as it appeared in the newspaper.

This remarkable and moving exhibition has, arguably, been nearly 300 years in the making. Sited in a Huguenot weaver's house built in Spitalfields in 1719, which later became home to the second oldest synagogue in London, Suitcases and Sanctuary uses stories and artworks created by local schoolchildren to explore the experiences of the city's various immigrant populations.

As well as furnishing a salutary lesson about the ability of today's youngsters to imagine the stories of those from utterly different times and ethnic backgrounds, it's a chance to see inside an unrestored architectural time capsule, a building which is only rarely opened because it is so fragile.

As the name suggests, the exhibition exploits the visual shorthand of the suitcase: those flimsy, cardboard receptacles that contained the remnants of a life left behind are here filled with poems, diary entries, videos and artworks.

Some are as blunt and straightforward as only a child's imagination can be - a case full of mouldering potatoes, inscribed with anguished phrases, to signify the Irish diaspora after the famine. Others are startlingly eloquent: paper boats fashioned from Huguenot letters in one case; boxes showing multicoloured Afro-Caribbean dreams of London on the outside, and the grim black and white reality within; scenes from present-day Bangladeshi Brick Lane printed on silks. These are a match for the more sardonic contributions of three professional artists on show upstairs.

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibition and the volunteer staff to further enrich the debate about identity, and to soak up the atmosphere of the house. But you'll have to hurry. The doors of 19 Princelet Street must close again on Sunday, at the end of Refugee Week - although it would, apparently, cost only around £3 million to turn it into Europe's first Museum of Immigration. A priority for our new human melting pot of a Mayor, perhaps?

© 2008 Associated Newspapers Limited