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Research Network: If Sea Is History - What Is Nation?

Artist Kitchen Salon: Collective Digestive Holly Graham

27 Oct 2022

For our second Artist Kitchen Salon as part of iniva’s Research Network programme, If Sea Is History – What is Nation?, London-based artist Holly Graham shared her recent research into histories of anti-racist community-led organising in Thamesmead and its surrounding areas in the early 1990s, undertaken in partnership with arts organisation TACO! and Thamesmead Community Archive.

This period saw a rise in racial tensions within the area but there is currently minimal documentation reflecting these rifts and the important community led responses to counteract them. Over a shared meal, devised by creative cook Safiya Robinson; Holly invited guests to consider these events in the context of a longer history of nation-building, and to explore possibilities for the shifting forms remembering can take in and out of the archive.

Using food as a starting point for tracing migratory routes, histories and storytelling, Holly contextualised this current research within the frame of previous bodies of work around links between land enclosure and expansionism, and legacies sugar and slavery*. The menu for the salon created by creative chef Safiya Robinson incorporated sugar as a key ingredient within several vegan sharing plates.

As we explored, wider history around Holly’s research investigating the formations of British history and identity, Holly seeked to question:

  • How do we address traumatic histories with sensitivity and nuance in a way that makes space for grief while also not centering or sensationalising trauma?
  • What are meaningful ways of revisiting the past? Is there an importance in telling these stories?
  • What forms can ‘memorial’ take?

Guests were invited to actively take part in a collective conversation with others on the table while sharing plates of foods that “ground us” such as root vegetables with a choice of hot sweet condiment, Genny Graham Pepper Jelly, produced by Holly’s mum.

After a grounding mediation to digest the information shared, guests were encouraged over a sweet dessert to anonymously share their reflections on the research on postcards. These written postcards were collected to further inform Holly’s work making visible the collective histories of local communities.

*TW: This salon contained emotive imagery and storytelling which could trigger discomfort or traumatic memories and we asked guests to be mindful of yourselves and others when attending.  


Holly Graham is a London-based artist, working predominantly with print and audio. Much of her work looks at ways in which memory and narrative shape collective histories. Holly holds a BFA from Oxford University and an MA in Printmaking from the Royal College of Art.

Recent solo projects include commissions with Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow (2022); Skelf, Online (2022); TACO!, London (2021-22); Robert Young Antiques, London (2021); Gaada, Shetland (2020); Goldsmiths CCA, Online (2020); and Southwark Park Galleries, London (2020). Holly is a Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art, London; and is Co-Founder of Cypher BILLBOARD, London.


Safiya Robinson is a creative cook, writer, wellness advocate and the founder of sisterwoman vegan, a plant based social enterprise exploring wellness through food. A creative and vibrational cook , she creates plant based dishes inspired by her Black American, Jamaican and British heritage and believes that food is a healing modality, centring community, education and mindfulness in her work. With a focus on holistic wellness and mental health she creates spaces for critical food conversation and seeks to empower us all to think more critically about the food that we eat. Through supper clubs, cooking lessons, writing, events and food education, her focus is intentional nourishment. She is currently enrolled in a masters programme in the Anthropology of Food at SOAS University.

Reading List

  • Akala, Natives, 2018
  • Tina M. Campt, Image Matters, 2012
  • Tina M. Campt, Listening to Images, 2017
  • Peter Chadwich & Ben Weaver, The Town of Tomorrow: 50 Years of Thamesmead, 2019
  • Matthew Collins, Hate: My Life in the Far Right, 2011
  • Nigel Copsey, Contemporary British Fascism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy, 2008
  • Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, 2017
  • Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, 1984
  • Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black In The Union Jack, 1987
  • Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, 1978
  • Roger Hewitt, White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism, 2005
  • Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, 2018
  • Michael Keith, After the Cosmopolitan? Multicultural Cities and the Future of Racism, 2005
  • Michael Keith, Race, Riots and Policing: Lore and Disorder in a Multi-Racist Society, 1993
  • Caroline Knowles, Race and Social Analysis, 2003
  • Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me, 2015
  • James Rhodes and Laurence Brown, ‘The rise and fall of the ‘inner city’: Race, space and urban policy in Postwar England’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2018
  • Richard Smith, ‘The Effects of Local Fair Housing Ordinances on Housing Segregation: Their Impact Is Small, But It’s an Important Positive Change Toward Integration’, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1989
  • Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant, 2016
  • John Solomos, Black Youth, Racism and the State: The Politics of Ideology and Policy, 1988
  • Christina Sharpe, In the Wake, 2016
  • Peter Taffe, The Rise of Militant, 2013
  • Testa, Militant Anti-Fascism : A Hundred Years of Resistance, 2015
  • Valerie G. Wigfall, Thamesmead, 1997
  • Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism, 2020
Image credit: ACTION badge, imagery shot by Perou