Shezad Dawood’s Visions of Paradise

Friday, 13 August 2021

Visions of Paradise is a site-responsive sculpture and light installation on permanent display outside The White House on Becontree Estate.

The work’s title alludes to a description of the estate during the Ford Factory era as a ‘working-class paradise’ (Reuters, 2019). During this period, many residents were employed at the Ford factory in Dagenham, and the estate was brought to life with summer parades and gardening competitions. It typified a quintessential form of British suburban life for the working classes.  

Artist Shezad 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 happens through the digital animation, which is populated by historical and contemporary Becontree icons including the Ford Capri, the Dagenham Idol and pink flamingos that famously once inhabited one of the area’s parks. These sit alongside icons 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 local 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 patten, which creates a sonic atmosphere that responds to the shifting imagery in the film. 

Dawood bridges the ancient and the contemporary through an oneiric journey, 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.’