Shezad Dawood

Shezad DawoodVisions of Paradise at The White House on Becontree Estate is a moving image work melding animation, local archive material, clips contributed by residents, and new 8mm film footage shot by the artist, hosted in a sculpture resembling ancient Neolithic standing stones.

The title alludes to a description of the estate from the Ford factory era as a ‘working-class paradise’. Historical and contemporary Becontree motifs drawn from Dawood’s conversations with residents, such as the Ford Capri, the Nigerian amunututu vegetable and pink flamingos, populate the work, which is set to a sound score by the contemporary composer and producer patten.

Dawood at once references and departs from a dream-like, visionary paradise through a moving image work, which includes film and digital animation that illuminate the work’s surroundings. This filmic work is hosted in a sculpture that borrows its appearance from ancient Neolithic standing stones, referencing Dagenham as a site of archaeological interest and connecting its pre-industrial past with its current residents’ sense of place.

This is created through the digital animation, which is populated by historical and contemporary Becontree motifs including the Ford Capri, the Dagenham Idol and pink flamingos that famously once inhabited one of the area’s parks. These sit alongside objects meaningful to the diverse communities that make up a more recent Becontree – such as the Lithuanian stork, or the Nigerian amunututu vegetable – and deeply personal symbols that range from drumsticks to a hot sauce bottle and a toy bear, highlighted to Dawood in his conversations with residents.

The different objects coalesce and float across multiple film textures edited together using local archives, clips contributed by residents and new 8mm footage shot by the artist. Audiences are able to immerse themselves in an especially commissioned musical score by the contemporary composer patten, which creates a sonic atmosphere that responds to the shifting imagery in the film.

Dawood bridges Becontree’s history and the contemporary through this dream-like journey that drifts between vibrant colour and black and white footage as well as animated and real objects, creating a symbolic space that encapsulates a sense of place beyond what is physically present in the here and now. In celebrating the lived experiences of Becontree’s residents past and present, the work gestures to new possibilities for community and a renewed sense of belonging.

Dawood has said about the work, ‘I was excited to work closely with residents and different stakeholders to develop a project that is felt to be truly representative of Becontree’s communities during the historic milestone of its centenary. It feels like a timely moment in a world after COVID-19 – and in light of renewed discussions around which legacies we choose to celebrate in public space – to think about how we inhabit the public realm collectively. It is an important space from which to resist isolation, and I see this as an inspiring opportunity to contribute to a sense of pride and place as Becontree’s future is imagined anew by its communities.’

Shezad Dawood would like to thank the members of the Becontree community who participated in the project – Visions of Paradise would not be possible without the time and contributions from many local residents and organisations, with whom Dawood worked closely while developing the work. These contributions include stories, home movies, phone clips and symbols that represent residents’ unique relationships with Becontree. They were woven together into the film and digital animation embedded in the sculpture outside the White House. 

Members of the White House who contributed to the film and animation: 

Griffi 

Contributed the hot pepper sauce bottle in the animation.
It was always in the cupboard growing up,
but at first tasting it, I thought I might throw up!
As the years went on, I enjoyed the taste gradually and slowly,
understanding its hot, rich, tangy spice.
It complemented other foods and really was quite nice.’

Rudy and Julie Pacsa

Contributed footage of the daffodils on Becontree Avenue.

‘My wife Julie and I [have] lived [in Becontree] for 26 years. The daffodils […] [that blossom on Becontree Avenue every year] remind us that spring is near, [as] the birds start to build their nests ready for laying their eggs before summer. [We’ve] made good friends [here] and get on well with our neighbours. Becontree has a lot to offer the community […] [and] we are privileged to have a place like The White House, where we can meet new people and enjoy creating art, poetry and gardening.’ 

Catherina Rowland

Contributed footage of her late grandfather Stan singing. Catherina’s grandfather was a socialist, and such a huge fan of music that he would seize upon every opportunity to perform. In the film, he is singing at the Hornchurch Conservative Club. 

Catherina also contributed the drumsticks in the animation, which at once represent her grandfather’s love of music, and the importance of music and show biz to Becontree’s social history. 

‘My late maternal grandparents lived in Dagenham all their lives. My grandmother Brenda had a wonderful sense of humour. My grandfather Stan was a jazz drummer [and] singer, and performed in pubs in central London. Although I grew up in a different country, Dagenham and Becontree are places I know like the back of my hand as we visited every year in the summer during my childhood […], and I now live here […] Becontree is home to me, as it means “family”’

Ula Sakr

Contributed footage of Dagenham Library and the teddy bear in the animation. 

‘The library was a connecting point [for] the community of mums when I first moved [to Dagenham]. I didn’t know anyone or much about the area, and there I met people [and] found out about community projects. The library is where I met my good friend Griffi, and through her, I found out about The White House, [which has been] an invaluable space for me and my children [–] a non-judgemental, safe space […] where we can relax and get creating […]. Paddington bear symbolises the story of my family coming to the UK as refugees and settling in West London. Paddington represents the British culture I have been raised in, and the fez hat [represents] my Arab culture [which are now] both intertwined. Becontree has become home through the community and the people I have come to know in my short time here.’

Teaching staff and students at Barking & Dagenham College Photography Department:

David Bennett (programme leader)

Contributed an excerpt of his film “Brilliant Trees”.

Brilliant Trees is a body of still photography, video, and text, documenting every council-owned tree across the Becontree Estate. Trees have [silently] witnessed socio-political, economic, and globalised issues that have shaped the Becontree Estate in its first 100 years.’

Baylea Burgess-Michaels-Hayter 

Contributed footage of her baptism in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Collier Row.

‘The location in my video is the Church of the Good Shepherd in Collier Row. […] I’ve lived on the Becontree Estate my whole life, and it was through members of my family who moved from Dagenham to Collier Row that I began to go to church […] back in 2015. This began my journey through my faith [that led to my decision] to get baptised in 2017.’

Ellie Clark

Contributed footage of Eastbrookend Country Park and of the view from her window at home.

‘One video was shot at Eastbrookend Country Park. This place is meaningful to me as I go there all the time and it’s a nice break from all the commotion – I was trying to show how beautiful and peaceful it is. The second video was shot from the view from my window in Dagenham. This place is obviously meaningful to me as I have lived here my whole life and I always like looking out of my window- I was trying to show how even during lockdown I was very lucky to have a nice view from my window – not everyone is so lucky.’

Kyla Douglas

Contributed footage of the view seen from the windows of her home during lockdown. 

‘My video is about lockdown […]. I wanted to communicate the feeling of being trapped inside the house and the struggle of not being able to see your family […]. [I took this footage inside my house] in Dagenham, [where] I filmed the view from each window […] My family bought their very first house in Becontree […], and I’ve lived in the estate for 15 years. I’ve also met all my close friends in this area and attended school and other activities within the Becontree Estate.’

Ethan Mafumo

Contributed footage of the view from the windows of his home during lockdown.

‘The idea for my video was to show what I [saw] through my bedroom window [during lockdown]; the world […] from my point of view […]. [I think of this video as] a collection of memories – looking back at what has occurred in the little part of Becontree I [got] to see [during that time]. 

Tanis Newall

Contributed time-lapse footage of the view onto a Becontree “banjo” (a round-ended pedestrian cul-de-sac native to the Becontree Estate) from the window of her home. 

‘My time-lapse videos were made during the national lockdown from my window on a Becontree banjo and witness the movements of people, nature, and weather over a 24-hour period.’

Catherine Rothschild

Contributed footage of Becontree homeowners’ lights through the winter months of 2020. 

‘[For this project, titled Becontree’s Coloured Dots,] I photographed homeowners’ use of electricity throughout the winter months of lockdown in 2020. Captured from the unique perspective of the camera, [I] mainly [focused] on the light rather than the atmosphere that accompanies the light.’

Rezija Samoska

Contributed footage of the first non-British restaurants in Becontree. 

My videos are of the walk to [Yong’s], one of the first Chinese takeaways in the estate. [It’s part of] a project […] about people’s first experiences at different cultural restaurants.’

Jacob Schwar

Contributed footage of unappreciated details that make Becontree unique. 

‘I wished to capture the common sights as well as the unappreciated architecture of the area. […] Some common sights I decided to capture include the decrepit Ship & Anchor pub, the huge cross on Becontree Baptist Church, [one of the] No Ball Games signs which are […] dotted throughout the estate and a lone British flag waving in the wind on Becontree Avenue […]. It’s little things [like] these that add a uniqueness to Becontree, I […] [wanted] to showcase these interesting facets of the area which people might otherwise not regard or even care to notice.’

Local organisations and individuals who contributed to the film: 

Anthony McKernan 

Contributed an excerpt of his film “My Friend Lisa” set in Valence Park. 

My Friend Lisa is a short film following a local mum who overcomes hurdles to replace the children’s play area in Valence Park. It was interesting to make a film that followed an individual who was […] not a typical campaigner[;] there was no guarantee that her vision would succeed, but her method was to build relationships and leverage goodwill.’

Box Up Crime

Contributed social media footage of Box Up Barking and Dagenham training sessions. 

‘We are a social youth organisation passionate about working with young people from all backgrounds, providing free boxing, mentoring, career opportunities and access to positive role models. We provide free weekly boxing sessions to young people aged 7–19, focusing on boxing technique, fitness and discipline, in a fun and relaxed space.’

With thanks also to those who contributed stories and local history:
Bill Jennings
Liam Scully
Miro Tomarkin 

 Shezad Dawood works across the disciplines of painting, film, neon, sculpture, performance, virtual reality and other digital media to ask key questions of narrative, history and embodiment. Using the editing process as a method to explore both meanings and forms, his practice often involves collaboration and knowledge exchange, mapping across multiple audiences and communities. Through a fascination with the esoteric, otherness, the environment and architectures both material and virtual, Dawood interweaves stories, realities and symbolism to create richly layered artworks.

Commissioned by Create London, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund