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Isabel Lima – Gresham’s Wooden Horse
18th July 2017
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Isabel Lima is a Newcastle-upon-Tyne-based artist whose most recent work titled Gresham’s Wooden Horse aims to brings together disparate communities living in Gresham, central Middlesbrough. The project is inspired by the ancient Greek story of the Trojan Horse, built by Greek soldiers as a means of infiltrating and taking control of the city of Troy. Lima uses this symbolism to stimulate collective action among Gresham’s populations. The project is the second part of her series Broken Chords Can Sing a Little, commissioned by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, which calls upon classical mythology to examine migration and nationality.

Gresham’s population is diverse, including both British workers and asylum seekers. Social deprivation discourages local people from finding mutual commonalities. Reports suggest that the different communities rarely interact with one another. Through a series of summer workshops led by Lima and her collaborators (including the artists TILT), a group of local people – Gresham residents from distinct cultural backgrounds – crafted a wooden horse using facilities at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The participants learned new skills to create the work, and the pieces are presented around the museum once they are made. 

On 23 September, the participants paraded the work from the museum to Gresham. This public unveiling aimed to instigate conversations about lived experiences there. The sculpture’s location will then become the site of a month-long series of communal activities developed with local charities and informal support networks. Gresham’s Wooden Horse sets up an informal forum for a cultural exchange. The project is a vehicle for residents of Gresham, old and new, to establish a sense of ownership of their neighbourhood, and enable the collective process of reimagining the area’s identity.

Lima’s previous work has also involved Middlesbrough-based refugees. In 2016, she created a film entitled The Birds as a response to housing conditions endured by asylum seekers dispersed to Teesside. Gresham’s Wooden Horse was commissioned by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, and is supported by Arts Council England, Platforma Festival/Counterpoint Arts, and the Seedbed Fund. (Main image: Harper Perry architects.)