Ace of Clubs crucially is a valuable social centre for people who often feel totally isolated.
Recently we invited an internationally renowned artist Jan Haen and accomplished co-artist Anne-Marie Van Delft , of the Collaboration Art Projects International Foundation based in the Netherlands, to lead a mural project at the centre. The inspiration behind the mural was a wish “not to focus on the clients’ problems but their skills… We want the centre to be a place of hospitality and to create a warm and inviting environment where members can escape the clinical feel of many institutions”.
Jan Haen’s mural work dates back over 17 years and he has worked on community projects in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Tanzania, Ireland, Zimbabwe as well as South Africa where he spent 25 years of his life. Jan’s was one of the key personnel working for the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference who were expelled by the apartheid regime in 1978 due to their opposition to the oppressive apartheid system. He was allowed to return to South Africa in 1994 where his artistic talents were galvanised when faced with the decoration of community areas in deprived townships.
Jan’s philosophy is “adding colour to life”. This is both literal and symbolic – the vibrant mural colours transform a mundane space but also mean a project can build up, in the individuals involved, “a sense of belonging and possession”. His art collaborations are crucially “not made for any given community but instead are made with a community as active participants”. Regardless of the geographical or functional location of his projects they all share a common “desire to create a colourful environment with dignity”. Jan explains that when faced with a blank space sometimes stretching up to 21m in length “I do not see a blank wall but possibilities – I am not afraid”.
Jan has adopted artistic techniques such as flat colours and acrylics (which are easily correctable) to maximise community participation. The Clapham project is finished now and with such positive effects – initially many of the centre users were reluctant to get involved as the felt that they “were not artistic enough” but now there are moments in the centre of “total silence…where despite the fact there are up to 20 people in the room and countless tins of paint there is perfect concentration”.
In the initial stages members were asked to submit artwork/designs that they would like to see included in the project. This started the painstaking process of incorporation and adaptation involving over 40 drafts. This process culminated in the final design which pans 4 walls in the centre’s canteen and includes a corridor. Members drew inspiration from various sources including activities at the centre (gardening group/Ace Bike Group), the realities of their urban environment as well as their imagined, ideal world.
“The story of the centre and those that use it is represented on the walls – there is a stretch of corridor which will depict the personal journeys that the clients, workers and volunteers are all on”.
Both Father Winfred and Jan hope the mural will mark a new beginning at the centre and leave a dual legacy of both new self confidence, to enable members to continue painting, and the artistic techniques to make this happen. The next challenge being discussed is for members to start a mural project outside. In addition to these benefits the project has brought new colour and vibrancy to the shared areas of the centre and will continue to lighten daily life.