Answering the Call To Holy Ground

Contemporary artists FourthLand on their Leytonstone exhibition Call To Holy Ground: discovering the story, songs and sounds of the ‘Ground Mother‘…

Inside the Call To Holy Ground exhibition (Credit: FourthLand)

Our exhibition, Call To Holy Ground, brings together a rich symbolism and an invitation to journey into the story of the ‘ground mother’, a story embedded with gestures and connections across nature, culture and faith, to call to a holy ground that connects us more deeply with the Earth. 

The work was made throughout lockdown from careful listening and collaboration with a group of about 40 elders. Many of the people we worked with have been living in Waltham Forest for over 40 years, coming from a range of countries including Ireland, Mali, Kenya, Vietnam, South Africa, India, Mozambique and other parts of the UK. Others have been in the area for over three generations.

Together, the group represented a wonderful melting pot of local histories, faiths and the notion that everyday life is pilgrimage. Something of the essence of what London, at its best, offers: a refuge for cross-cultural connection. 

As artists, we were inspired by the notion of pilgrimage as the sacred step we make each day.

Several of the elders who had lived in London for generations had stories to share about pilgrimages along the River Lea to its source just outside London. Others remembered saving the Walthamstow Marshes to become the space that we enjoy today.

(Credit: FourthLand)

Fond tales of the green paths and waterways around East London brought a sense of playful mystery to growing up here, in what one of the elders described as their ‘Holy Ground’. These emerging stories lead us on a journey of discovery, including the historical links to the River Lea and its Celtic symbolism, being once worshipped as the river of light. 

The elders’ affiliation to St Andrew’s Church in Upper Leytonstone, the Shri Nathji Sanatan Hindu Temple and other faith groups in the area moved us throughout with their deep connection to place and a communication through stories and symbols.

We work a lot with symbolism and the sacred in our practice, and it was special to connect this to the symbols shared with us by the elders, such as the water of the River Ganges and the many offerings and rituals practised by the Hindu community. 

The story of the ‘Ground Mother’ was written using fragments of collected tales that the groups shared and she became a symbolic character, covered in cloths of all kinds and colours, who invites people to walk in her footsteps in order to offer a deeper connection to nature.

We enacted the story in film, shooting scenes among the trees at Hollow Ponds and the piece of ancient woodland that connects the church to the temple. Each member of the community offered a series of part-improvised, part-choreographed gestures to bring the story to life. 

Depicting the story of the ‘Ground Mother’ in Hollow Ponds (Credit: FourthLand)

The ‘Ground Mother’ installation in St Andrew’s Church is made from an assemblage of the collected fabrics from the elders, positioned opposite the projected film work. Meanwhile, the piece on display in the temple is hand-stitched, with symbols that represent the stories shared – as well as a sound walk of the ‘Ground Mother’ story, connecting the pieces together.

Our show launched on 17th May, and was attended by the Mayor of Waltham Forest, Elizabeth Baptiste, as well as councillor Shabana Dhedhi and members of the community involved.

It was a special day, and in the words of one of the participants: “The work allows mythical and symbolic connections, not only to bring faiths and people together, but also to the local nature in a way that we remember a shared source and a shared humanity.” 

Call To Holy Ground can be seen at St Andrew’s Church, Leytonstone until Saturday 17th July 2021. Find out more here

Every fortnight, a Sunday 9pm candlelit film screening will take place, as well as a cultural celebration in early July

Find out more about FourthLand, Isik Sayarer and Eva Knutsdotter, here