Rich Mix Matters: Supporting Diversity in East End Arts

Last week I attended a fascinating exhibition at Rich Mix called ‘Schizophrenics can be good mothers too’, which displayed the thought-provoking work of Sanchita Islam — an artist, writer and filmmaker of Bangladeshi descent.

The exhibition included an array of intricately hand-painted scrolls, postcards, and portraits, each distinct in tone, mood and style. Three scrolls were created by building upon initial marks made by her child, and a fourth in collaboration with other patients of mental illness.

Sanchita Islam, ‘Schizophrenics can be good mothers too’ at Rich Mix. Photo by @phillippahelen

Islam’s work aims to bring public attention to the issues of post-partum disorders and how art can have a very pallative effect when dealing with these illnesses. She has also written a book on the topic, the first real resource for mothers suffering from post-partum psychosis and as a result is creating more of a dialogue around these issues.

Sanchita Islam has worked extensively in the Tower Hamlets region since 1999, and has worked closely with the Arts Council, British Council and Commonwealth Institute. Her career is utterly remarkable in the challenging topics that she investigates, but also in her perseverance despite cultural norms and steadfast commitment to her art. She told us, “It is incredibly hard to carve a path as an artist, but especially as a Bangladeshi female.” All the more incredible that she has garnered so much attention already, but still deserves much much more.

Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, where Islam’s work is currently displayed, is renowned for offering support to artists as they develop their artistic practices. Chief Executive Jane Earl explains that their goal is to reach out to people living in diverse communities within East London. She explains, “Our currency is the space that we have, our language is the language of the community that is one of the most diverse in the country. Rich Mix is a place where people believe they belong, whoever they are.”

Earl, however, makes it clear that the venue welcomes not only the brightest and most talented individuals, but also people of disadvantaged backgrounds. This diversity of talent allows different communities to explore, learn and share cultural knowledge. This is illustrated through the diversity of artists and events that they showcase, such as the ‘Shubbak Festival’ and ‘Cholombianos’. Not only does this encapsulate the positive cultural exchange that takes place within East London, but it also encourages the elimination of racial discrimination in the arts.

As a result, Rich Mix has become a cultural hub for artists, musicians and filmmakers based in the East End.

Sanchita tells us, “I remember when there was no Rich Mix and when most of the activity happening at the Shoreditch High Street end of Bethnal Green Road was the number 8 bus stopping at the bus stop… I feel that Rich Mix is a wonderful space, an inclusive space, and it deserves more investment to maintain the building and develop the range of its programming.” She adds, “I would say Rich Mix rivals Tate Modern, ICA and Barbican as one of the leading art centres in London and I am proud to be part of the community.”

Like many cultural institutions, Rich Mix has had its financial struggles. During 2015, Tower Hamlets Council demanded the institution pay a £850,000 debt. A petition began circling in support of the centre at the beginning of the year, and over 11,000 people have now signed, while #RichMixMatters was trending on Twitter. The fight to save Rich Mix is not over, but artists like Sanchita Islam, who have benefited from their inclusive programming and support, have pledged anything they can do to help.

You can offer your support by visiting the change.org petition or adding to the conversation on Twitter.

Text by Phillippa Rounds