Artists highlight carers in Barking and Dagenham in major new exhibition

Radio Ballads artists. From left to right: Rory Pilgrim, Helen Cammock, Ilona Sagar and Sonia Boyce

Radio Ballads artists. From left to right: Rory Pilgrim, Helen Cammock, Ilona Sagar and Sonia Boyce - Credit: Damian-Griffiths

An exhibition about care workers in east London will open its doors this spring.

The show, titled Radio Ballads, brings together work from four prestigious artists who have collaborated with social workers, carers, residents and organisations in Barking and Dagenham over the past five years.

Exploring the lived-experience of those receiving and giving care throughout the community, the exhibition aims to highlight people who are seldom discussed, said curator Amal Khalaf, 39.

“All of the artworks are filled with the voices of people in Barking and Dagenham,” she added.

Since 2018, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar have collaborated with carers and grassroots organisations supporting the isolated, chronically ill and abused, she said.

A production still from the Radio Ballads exhibition

A production still from the exhibition - Credit: Serpentine Galleries

Amal said: “When we began the project, we started to meet all these amazing, generous, inspiring people that are holding our city together because they are committed to caring even if there aren’t enough resources for them to do so.”

The exhibition is centred around four films, or ballads, which focus on the lives of those working in care, often without support, and who have witnessed the effects of austerity cuts to the UK care sector over the past decade. 

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Artists involved include Turner Prize-winning Helen Cammock and Sonia Boyce, who will represent Great Britain at the Venice Biennale later this year.

Radio Ballads was named after a revolutionary radio documentary series broadcast by the BBC between 1957 and 1964. 

In the eight-part series, voices of railway workers, coal miners and marginalized communities were put on the airwaves for the first time alongside a folk singing choir.

Amal said: “The docuseries was radical at the time because it put the sounds of lived experiences on the radio for people to hear, which had never been done before.”

One of the folk singers, Peggy Seeger, has donated several of original records to the exhibition, which opened at Serpentine Gallery on March 31 before it moved to Barking Town Hall and Leaning Centre on April 2.

At the exhibition preview, Amal said busloads of people from the Barking and Dagenham community attended and saw themselves in the artworks for the first time.

“A lot of people started to realise just how powerful their voices really are,” she said.