Peckham24 is back this weekend with a physical programme featuring work exploring acts of protest and activism

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine, Ones to Watch, delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription.

Headline shows include the work of Asa Johannesson, the Archive of Public Protests and Sofia Karim

Launched in 2016, Peckham 24 forms an integral part of the photography bonanza that arrives in the capital every year alongside Photo London. Organised as a nonprofit festival, and featuring work by contemporary and emerging artists, it is an event with its finger on the pulse – even when it cannot take place. Last year, the Peckham 24 founders, Vivienne Gamble and Jo Dennis, were busy preparing a new edition – themed ‘Freedom of Expression and Protest’ – when Covid-19 struck and they were forced to put their plans on ice.

“As we were in lockdown, protests were erupting around the world – Black Lives Matter, then later new angles of the MeToo movement,” recalls Gamble. “I felt very much that if we could have put on our festival, it would have been completely on point.”

Installation view of On Rhythms by Mel Bles at Peckham 24 in 2019.

“It’s a statement from Peckham 24 that we’re in solidarity with BLM, MeToo and other protest movements.”

Vivienne Gamble

The protests continue to rally today and, this year, Peckham 24 is back continuing to engage with social issues and the act of protesting under a new theme: Solidarity. “It’s a statement from Peckham 24 that we’re in solidarity with BLM, MeToo and other protest movements,” says Gamble. “The idea of solidarity feels like a positive way to state our support and, while these are obviously serious subjects, we want the festival to feel positive. It has always felt charged with a positive energy, and there is a positive energy for making an impact in these movements.”

Looking out Looking In © Asa Johannesson.

Spread across the Bussey Building and Copeland Park, a south London cultural hub, Peckham 24 takes place both inside and out. This includes the expansive Copeland Gallery, Gamble’s own Seen Fifteen, and the quirky Safe Houses – two Victorian terraced houses typical of London, but purposefully dilapidated. This year, Copeland Gallery will host two headline shows, including a film by Tracey Emin titled Why I Never Became a Dancer, which features shots of Emin’s hometown, Margate, plus a voiceover describing her teenage years and terrible treatment by a jeering gang of men at a dance competition. The film was shot in 1995 and yet, Gamble points out, it speaks eloquently to the current moment.

“I think there’s a whole new audience of younger women with a completely different sense of right and wrong about male behaviour and what a female will accept,” says Gamble. What is inspiring is that Emin was already there 26 years ago, she points out, “sticking two fingers up to the men who were degrading her”, leaving Margate for London, becoming an artist, and ending her film joyfully dancing. “I’m really excited about showing this film,” says Gamble. “It’s loaded with important messages.”

Protest against the Constitutional Court's decision to restrict the abortion law, Warsaw © Agata Kubis, Courtesy of Archive of Public Protests.

Copeland Gallery will also host a large group show that Peckham 24 is putting out as an open call to curators, inviting proposals “within that banner of solidarity, of BLM or MeToo or anything else that gets in there”. Seen Fifteen will be taken over by another independent curator, Monica Allende, who is putting together an exhibition with young artists from Hong Kong – Caleb Fung, Liao Jiaming, O’Young Moli, Julian, Tang Kwong San, Yuen Nga Chi, and Wong Wei-him. Hong Kong erupted in protest in 2019 and 2020 over a proposed extradition bill and the ongoing struggle for democracy. The artists here reflect both on recent events and the region’s wider social climate. We will also see headline shows from Asa Johannesson and her series, The Queering of Photography; The Archive of Public Protests, spearheaded by Polish photographer Rafał Milach; Black Men Are Good by Aida Silverstri; and Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh collective project.

Opening night at Copeland Gallery during Peckham 24 in 2018 © Imogen Freeland.

Entry to the gallery shows will be free but ticketed to allow for social distancing. Peckham 24 will also include a hefty outdoor component – including performances and projections in the large onsite courtyard – to help with safety. It is something the event has done before and it will figure larger this year, partly out of necessity owing to Covid-19, but also because it’s a great way to show work. “I really buzz off photographic experiences that are almost immersive and transient,” says Gamble. “They’ve been and gone, and they remain imprinted in your mind – there’s something magical about that.

“Our purpose has always been to give space to pieces or artists who are making work that would be difficult to encounter at an art fair – to show stories coming out of the photographic world that might not be ones you can buy and put on your walls,” she continues. “The idea has always been that, because Photo London is happening simultaneously, hopefully there’s a bigger audience in the city that’s focusing on photography. So we can use that opportunity and make sure there’s something excellent on the fringe.”

While Covid-19 restrictions will mean a limited number of foreign visitors this year, Gamble hopes that showing work outdoors will allow more engagement from the local community. The outside space is a thoroughfare, so Gamble is optimistic that Peckham 24 will also be encountered by passers-by. “Maybe they’re going to dinner, or to church, because there are lots of different things happening in the Bussey Building,” says Gamble. “But they won’t have to step through a gallery door, and I hope that helps bring people in.” 

Peckham 24 opens tonight, Friday 10 September and runs until Sunday 12 September. Find out more information here


Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy