Monument to the Vanquished
The enclosure acts describe the legal process through which common rights over land were terminated and the common land converted to the exclusive property and use of a landowner. This project starts from a belief that a deeper understanding of the enclosure acts is vital to having a critical understanding of the systems and politics that will inhabit now.
PART I | THE COMMONERS commissioned by GRAIN & Meadow Arts
PART II | RURAL REBELS commissioned by Meadow Arts
In collaboration with writer and researcher, Annabel Edwards. Annabel and Leah previously worked together, documenting the free festival scene in the 1990s, when Annabel was commissioned to write a book about New Age Travellers.
PART I | THE COMMONERS
We found people that still had common rights over land and photographed them in the common lands where they held rights and interviewed them to hear more about their personal stories, commoners’ status and to discover any historic stories they knew about the land. The stories behind the remaining commons and commoners that held the varied rights presented as an excellent mechanism for understanding the historic legacy of the Enclosure Acts.
The photographs were taken on an analogue medium format camera with black and white film and the subsequent prints are hand-tinted using traditional photographic dyes. We used this process to enliven the landscapes, through colour, with a form of magical realism and invoke both the uncanny nature of the land. This serves to highlight a lost deeper, more spiritual, and mystical, often matriarchal, and less mercantile connection to the land. It is the breaking of this relationship which Italian feminist historian, Silvia Federici, argues was central to the capitalist expansion of which the Enclosure Act was a dominant apparatus.
Hand-tinting by Marg Duston
PART II | RURAL REBELS looks at the history of protest against enclosure and other loss of rights. Such protests were usually small, local, and harshly punished by the courts, and they have largely been forgotten now. These images are stylised photomontages depicting artefacts of peasant life, shown alongside representations of rural traditions, and objects relating to contemporary land struggles. They question the nature of land ownership and people’s access to the land, with reference to contemporary activists fighting for the right to roam or to have allotments. The montages are exhibited with Gordon’s large-scale photographic portraits of UK folk traditions to show how these, often ancient, rituals have performed the boundaries, histories, and customs that mark our relationship to the land.
In PART III | URBAN VAGABONDS’ we will acknowledge the social outcome of the enclosures, which created a disenfranchised vagabond class divorced from the land and any means of subsistence. In an attempt to further an exploration of a ‘cosmology of the rural’ we wish to present a visual symbolism of marronage (a term taken from the actions of run-away enslaved peoples from Caribbean plantations) - as a stepping outside of capitalist societal expectations.
This project wants to extend an understanding of the notion of ‘vagabonds’ in order to consider a notion of two-way dispossession – from rural to urban in the 17th century and from urban to rural as in the case of the New Age Travellers of the early 1990s. It wants to draw parallels between the rural rebellions to the enclosure act, modes of collective resistance to Thatcher’s Britain in the techno-trance rave culture which led to the repressive 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, and the contemporary actions to protect public rights to roam. Images will be exhibited from Leah Gordon’s extensive archive of analogue photographic portraits taken in the early 1990s of new age travellers and later in the decade of anti-road protesters.
2023 - Monument to the Vanquished | Part I | The Commoners, Photo Frome Festival
2023 - Monument to the Vanquished | Part II | Rural Rebels, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery/ Meadow Arts
2022 - Monument to the Vanquished | Part I | The Commoners, Power House Gallery, Duke, N. Carolina
2022 - Monument to the Vanquished | Part I | The Commoners, Hive Gallery, Shrewsbury/ Meadow Arts
2021 - Fuera de Lugar, Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Madrid, Spain