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Successful AER resident, Mariam Aslam, shares her letter of motivation for the Guest Artist Space (G.A.S.) Foundation residency

a woman sat behind a box of flowers and stacks of hay
  • Written byPost-Grad Community
  • Published date 09 August 2022
a woman sat behind a box of flowers and stacks of hay
A Just Urban Food Transition by Mariam Aslam

Mariam Aslam, M:ARCH Architecture alumnus from Central Saint Martins is 1 of 2 artists to be selected for the AER residency at Guest Artist Space (G.A.S.) Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to facilitating international cultural exchange, located in Nigeria.

Set up by Professor Lucy Orta UAL Chair of Art for the Environment - Centre for Sustainable Fashion in 2015, The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) provides UAL graduates with the exceptional opportunity to apply for short residencies at one of our internationally renowned host institutions, to explore concerns that define the 21st century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, and human rights.

Read Mariam's successful proposal

I am an activist and spatial designer creating design tools for a just-transition to a post carbon society. For the past 4 years my work has grown out of and embedded within the place I live; Lewisham Borough. Community organising and participatory design workshops are a central ethos of my practice. I am interested in cultivating socio-environmental just futures through regenerative design, low-tech local and traditional knowledge, circular design and processes.

For the past two years I have been practicing bottom-up strategies of urban transformation with the community group I helped to start; Grow Lewisham. In the Summer of 2019, Grow Lewisham was set up as a kick-start regenerative urban agriculture in the city and increase growing and social spaces created by low-income communities.

My thesis project in the M:ARCH CSM course (for which I won the Jyothi Pillay prize for Community Engagement) brought my live engagement with Grow Lewisham into the educational institution setting and thus, I advocate for expanding architecture as a discipline into the communities we exist in, by taking collective efforts with others in making the city a more equitable and ecological place, and by using design to seed positive ecological and social change. I embed myself and am part of the community where the proposals for common futures and the question of ‘how we must live together’ is developed in dialogue and in response to the hyper-local conditions that surround us.

My project involved recording our process of formation, mapping our expanding network, documenting events and growing process on site. This body of work reads as a blueprint for other groups in their efforts of collective growing and community projects. The project culminated in a series of ecological design tools, Earthseeds, learning from traditional knowledge to create low/no embodied carbon, low-tech, nature-based devices that enables regenerative growing practices in the city. I would like to continue this ethic with the residency and to learn from the local and traditional knowledge and ways of growing in the Lagos context.

a woman wearing a yellow tshirt and a face mask leaning over a model of work
A Just Urban Food Transition by Mariam Aslam

One of these proposals, The GrowMobile received funding from the Creative Change Fund 2022 as part of the Lewisham Borough of Culture. The GrowMobile, is a mobile kitchen and workshop space transported via an electric-assist cargo bike which carries tools and equipment for pop-up workshops related to food growing, permaculture and cooking. With a built in hob, composting bin, sink, set of tools and furniture, the GrowMobile will be deployed to sites and organisations across Lewisham and I will be co-ordinating our programme of events. Working with a local metalworker and another CSM alumni on the design of the GrowMobile will be constructed by May 2022 with the programme of roaming workshops commencing until September.

During my time at CSM, my research project Gesturing Towards Just Urban Futures, explored the Anthropocene and city-making from the context of colonial extraction. From understanding the history that configures the Anthropocene as one of racial injustice and material extraction, resulting in unequal socio-environmental urban conditions, I argue that environmental urban transformation must also seek environmental justice. For this I looked at environmental justice movements from the Global Majority such as Buen Vivir in Latin America, Ecological Swaraj from India and La Zapatistas in Chiapas. During this research, I created a series of crystalline and geologic formations made using anthropocentric materials. These fossil-like fragments formed in deep-future geological time, offer reflection from a post-anthropocene era, where we might look upon these materials only as a piece of history.

I am a skilled facilitator whose strength also lines in working with people across multiple backgrounds, running participatory workshops, strategic visioning and community organising. I work for change from the bottom-up and work in horizontally organising groups and local networks. Since graduating CSM, I have been working on the M:ARCH course as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Helping the students to collectively curate their public-facing symposium event, I designed and facilitated a series of workshops to get the students to start designing and creating 1:1 prototypes of their final propositions. I wish to utilise and grow these skills when working with communities and artists in Lago.

sketches of a cart
The GrowMobile - Design Drawings by Mariam Aslam

As the granddaughter of Pakistani immigrants, I believe my work is a continuation of my ancestral lineage. My maternal grandfather was a farmer whose land was flooded when the British-built Mangala Dam burst its banks, like him I seek a connection to land and believe in cultivating this relationship with others in an attempt to re-indigenise our means of living. My paternal Grandfather was a Councillor for 35 years whose life was dedicated to breaking down barriers between different communities, in both the Muslim population and other ethnic minority communities in Nottingham, and bringing people together in unity. I believe my practice is an amalgamation of both of these histories.

I believe I am well suited to the Guest Arts Space residency in Ijebu as the trans-disciplinary nature of design, craft, agriculture and ecology is crucial to my work. I wish to learn from the workings on the farm: the ecology and nature, the ways of growing, and the ways of living from a spatial perspective. With my work grounded in the decolonisation of future urban climate action, I believe the learning from the cultural and creative setting of Lagos will greatly benefit this work and result in a mutual-learning process and exchange of knowledge.

As a key ethic of my practice, I wish to use my design and skills to further the ecological and social mission of the place and residency. I am eager to create design tools from locally sourced materials inspired by the people and culture around me that might aid in the regenerative processes of growing and/or living on the farm. This would not be a predetermined idea, but instead would come from imbedded research into what’s needed by the place, people and ecology. Through this design I wish to create something that has long-term impact, created with and for the people who may use it to create a legacy post my residency.

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