NEWS & EVENTS

The latest from our clubhouse; branches; and art, music, and education projects

Nisha Duggal In Residence (2021) video still
Riverley production still courtesy of Alastair Fyfe
Riverley production still courtesy of Alastair Fyfe
Nisha Duggal Landed (2021)

Nisha Duggal

Nisha Duggal’s residency at ROSL, evident in a newly commissioned set of six flags outside the London Clubhouse (Landed, 2021) and her artist film In Residence concluded this September. Our Visual Arts Coordinator, Robin Footitt, sat down to discuss the past six months – her ROSL experience, workshops with Year 5 pupils at Riverley Primary School and ideas about heritage and community born out of this project, kindly supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Robin Footitt: When you arrived at ROSL, what were your first impressions? Did your residency change or develop these preconceptions?

Nisha Duggal: I started my residency on 21 May as lockdown was winding down. The club was still empty when compared with today, so my first impressions were somewhat shaped by that strange situation. I remember being impressed by the opulence and ease of the space, particularly the history of the building and the resonance seeping from the objects and decor. It felt very ‘old England’, privileged but surprisingly welcoming.

In all honesty, I hadn’t expected such a relaxed vibe from the staff and from the members and guests. Everyone was consistently friendly, accommodating of me and my camera, and seemed genuinely interested in my project when we had the opportunity to chat. I found myself focusing on the staff. Like most places in London, the people working behind the scenes – behind the curtain, as it were – seem to have their own stories of travel and migration that sharpened those themes within my project. I wanted to explore the idea of the club as an aspirational destination for a certain class of traveller, set against the recent migratory experiences of the club’s staff, my own family, and those of the kids I met at Riverley.

RF: When working at Riverley, did you have any thoughts about your own experiences at school? Were you taught anything in relation to heritage or community?

ND: It’s strange that I’ve never made a conscious comparison between the work I do with schools and my own experiences of the English education system. I went to primary school in the 1980s in North-East England. It wasn’t a diverse school and I never particularly fitted in… but to be honest, it’s part of the territory. You’d probably struggle to find an artist that grew up feeling that they really belonged!

As far as I can remember, heritage and community were not on the school menu back then. That was something extra-curricular that came from my family and from the community they found in Newcastle. Certainly, key parts of history, particularly narratives around slavery and colonialism, were absent, even though they are so central to what it means to be British. I’m not sure these complex subjects are even touched upon today in many schools; there is still much work to be done.

My film just touched the tip of their archive; they wrote a lot of letters!

RF: Landed has made quite an impact for those entering the clubhouse. Looking back at the flags now – what was your intention and how has the result matched or altered this?

ND: I wanted the flags to have a strong visual impact that was celebratory, but also clearly different to the national and institutional flags hoisted around Mayfair. The final designs were very much shaped by the mark-making we explored in the Riverley workshops, and I think some of that playfulness and vibrancy shines through. It was important to me that the children could see how their ideas developed into the final pieces.

I wanted them to understand how that creative process works, and recognise the real value of the doodles and sketches they make every day.

RF: Using the multicoloured Union Jack from the Flag for London project has also made a statement…

ND: I came across the Flag for London project quite early on through my research, and I was lucky enough to connect with its original designer and discuss my residency with them. They are thrilled to have the flag up in such a central location, as this was always the intention of the project – the flag is an open-source design to be hacked and germinated in this way.

RF: Finally, with your film In Residence we hear your parents’ voices reading back letters sent long ago. How have they responded to the project? Tell us some more about your mother’s involvement with the flag-making process.

ND: It was very generous of my parents to give me access to their private correspondence! My film just touched the tip of their archive; they wrote a lot of letters! They still live in the North-East and I hadn’t seen them much recently because of the pandemic, so it was a lovely way for me to connect with their past selves. We recorded the audio over a day in the summer. I had previously read and catalogued their correspondence, but when they performed their words, they were reading letters they had written (and hadn’t looked at) for over 40 years! It was emotional in a good way; at points we were all in tears. They like the film and look forward to visiting ROSL someday.

I called in my mum’s help to sew the flags – she’s amazing at making things and has excellent machine skills, which I sadly lack. We had a production system that involved us both working in tandem: I cut and tacked the cloth while she machine stitched the pieces, mirroring the work so that the flags can be viewed from either side. That bit was tricky on the more complex arrangements. The job took us a couple of days of intensive effort, I’m lucky my mum has an immigrant work ethic!

Excerpt letter from

In Residence:

26/6/76

Dear Veena,

It has been a terrible weekend. You really get bored doing nothing for the weekend draws on from a Friday afternoon right up to Monday morning. The weather has been lovely the past week; in fact summer has just set in. I am told this will continue till early September.

Got a phone from Shankar from London: there was no question of my going to see him there though I could have had I the money; for I was off for the weekend. He informed me about the parcel but I doubt whether he will be able to…

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