London According to: Jonny Tanna from Harlesden High Street

In a new series celebrating Frieze London’s 20th anniversary in 2023, we get a street-eye view of the capital from its gallerists

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BY Chris Waywell in Frieze , Frieze London | 13 SEP 23

Harlesden High Street gallery mediates between experimental/outsider artists and London’s established gallery system. Its main space in NW10 focuses exclusively on art by people of colour and the gallery hosts a cultural outreach programme to engage new audiences in ungentrified London neighbourhoods. Founder Jonny Tanna outlines the gallery and some local attractions, why London is ‘cliqued-up’ and why visitors need to ‘come correct’. 

Ruby Eve Dickson - Reddie But NFS (Notting Hill Carnival Installation) Bill posters on wooden structure intervened with the public’s grafitti taken outside Mario’s Locksmith, 132 Talbot Rd, London W11 1JA
Ruby Eve Dickson,  Reddie But NFS (Notting Hill Carnival Installation). Bill posters on wooden structure intervened with public graffiti outside Mario’s Locksmith, Talbot Rd, W11 

Favourite restaurant or café in your area?

There’s a few too many to mention but it’s a toss-up between One Stop Caribbean takeaway, Trinidad Roti shop or Somstar. However, it’s tough as you have Park Royal close by too and there’s some incredible Middle Eastern spots there both for desserts and meals, Beit el Zaytoun being one of them, which isn’t technically Harlesden but near Harlesden station.  

Best pub near the gallery?

Grand Junction Union for the view and it’s right next to the canal across from the joyous sounds of Beit el Zaytoun (which I also highly recommend foodwise). The Royal Oak and The Green Man are local: The Green Man for the Brazilian snacks, The Royal Oak for the drinks

Sabina Francis donating food during Frieze Week
Sabina Francis donating food during Frieze Week

Your most recommended local business?

Mahogany for their Carnival costumes and Blue Mountain for your groceries. Lloyd’s groceries on Craven Park is another good spot.

Link me at the Sound System ‘23 As part of Metroland Culture’s Collective Rhythms. Courtesy Harlesden High Street.
Mandy El-Sayegh ft Linett Kamala, Two Day Sound System, 2022, two-channel video, 20 min. Courtesy the artist and Harlesden High Street. 

Favourite museum or gallery in London?

For galleries, places like Maureen Paley, Sadie Coles HQ and Cabinet London, who were born out of rebellion. I also like what Carlos/Ishikawa has been doing for a long time and highly respect the way Vanessa Carlos operates.

The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Cubitt, 198 Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, the ICA, but the best organistion that nobody knows about is Pempeople for what they’re doing to fight gentrification in south London and providing studio spaces for young Black artists as well as low-cost spaces for local businesses in Peckham and Camberwell.

Favourite exhibition in London at the moment and the last exhibition you went to?

Earlier this year Lee Scratch Perry at Cabinet as well as RIP Germaine at the ICA, especially with the layers of Easter eggs and cryptic layering within it.



Currently, Martin Wong at the Camden Arts Centre (not only was the work incredible but the video of him in Chinatown is moving), Moki Cherry at the ICA, probably some others I’m forgetting but by the time this comes out, Mandy El-Sayegh at Thaddeus Ropac I know will be something special.

Which emerging art trend and/or artist excites you at the moment?

Hate to be biased, but honestly what we’re doing, which is getting away from the art-worldy vibes, bringing in people from our community with a unique voice and trying to help people under the spectrum of Black culture in Britain. Can’t name names yet, too many speculators out there, but I think our movement and then some of the things popping off quietly on the London art scene like Woodsy’s. Outside of here, Chicago has some amazing spaces, it’s definitely a scene we can all take note from where culture and art itself is the priority above recognition and money, which we seem to have a problem with in the bigger cities. Lots of spaces and initiatives out there doing it themselves, like Good Weather, Marc LeBlanc, Soccer Club Club as well as the incredible Barely Fair run by the Julius Caeser collective/project space. But yeah, most of all excited for our own programming next year as we’re not only working with artists but also musicians and people from other forms that would help inspire and hopefully shape the cultural landscape within our community.

Pieces of a SCATTSMAN by Emmanuel Shogbolu. Courtesy the artist and Harlesden High Street.
Emmanuel Shogbolu, ‘Pieces of a SCATTSMAN’. Courtesy the artist and Harlesden High Street. 



What’s great about your gallery’s location?

That it’s still safe from gentrification, and also next to some good places to jam, as well as the locals being always friendly and people saying it’s a dangerous neighbourhood, that’s because it’s not gentrified and there isn’t a Franca Manco’s here. It’s a very warm and vibrant neighbourhood that may have a bit of a crack problem, but the people here are very supportive and we even have a Love Harlesden community forum on Facebook.

Savannah Marie Harris The Waves Have Come 190cm x 200cm Oil, oil stick, sand on canvas Presented at Independent HQ, New York
Savannah Marie Harris, The Waves Have Come. Oil, oil stick, sand on canvas, 190cm x 200cm, presented at Independent HQ, New York.

Can you explain the concept behind your gallery and the kind of artists you look for?

Dealing with some of the hip mid-tier galleries during 2016, and realising they’re more snobby than the blue-chips, we decided to build an island unto itself serving a community, creating access to people who don’t have access to contemporary art. The idea is also to help change the perception of what art is in our community, especially being we’re near west London where there’s lots of ‘salon’ galleries, as I call them. We also challenge ideas of ‘community art’ and help bring people together who wouldn’t normally meet because London is cliqued- up. In essence, we put creativity and culture before money and recognition.

Exhibition opening of Pieces of SCATTSMAN by Emmanuel Shogbolu. Courtesy the artist and Harlesden High Street.
Exhibition opening for ‘Pieces of a SCATTSMAN’ by Emmanuel Shogbolu. Courtesy the artist and Harlesden High Street. 



What changes have you seen in your local area since the gallery opened? What changes would you like to see in the future?

There’s a lot of people who pass through, because we allow unsolicited submissions from our community and we have brought change to many people’s lives through our programming and mentorship. We have ended up working with a lot of the locals in many different ways, and one of our crowning achievements was working with Paulette Coke, who’s a very underrated painter. Some galleries speak about working with the underrepresented but they won’t work with artists who don’t have a market, which is a shame, as I think galleries should take more risks by investing in artists who have potential. It benefits the galleries as well as the artists to take those risks.

Scatty Blue Construction canvas. Warrior SQ, E12 Video projection and layered tarp
Scatty Blue Construction Canvas. Warrior SQ, E12. Video projection and layered tarp. Courtesy the artist and Harlesden High Street. 



What challenges are gallery owners/artists experiencing in your area? 

We are the only gallery owners here, besides ones that live here and commute to the city, it feels blessed to have a few living close by but being supportive: used to get the 18 bus home with Charlie from Edel Assanti and would often grab some gunga pea soup with Laurie from the Artist Room. We also get put on the backburner in favour of other more ‘hip’ white-owned spaces, probably because we are still seen as niche and don’t fit into everyone’s idea of what a gallery should be. Maybe we should emulate other galleries and try to look like a bank with a big reception desk at the front. Generally, we’ve come to terms that we’ll always be overlooked because it comes across like we aren’t servicing the majority of the people in this business (where people don’t realise our goal is to bring people together but also understand other people’s cultures and not through a touristic lens) but also because we show artists people have never heard of, so those who matter will always come through.

Mandy El-Sayegh Skincare, 2022 Mixed media on Linen with silkscreened collage elements, intervened with spray paint from the public
Mandy El-Sayegh, Skincare, 2022. Mixed media on linen with silkscreened collage elements, intervened with spray paint from the public.

What sets the London art scene apart from that of other cities (your local art scene in particular)?

London has a unique voice and I think our space has a unique voice, as most Black-owned spaces in London are either not focused on a POC programme, or only chasing paintings or high-profile artists. We hope that people in all communities can take more risks. There’s a few gallerists here who are supportive and it’s great to be bucking up on them at openings or events and showing that solidarity in whatever way possible. We also have a small chat group for new galleries where we lend support and advice toward each other, but I still feel that a stronger sense of community and less rivalry and competition would be healthy (probably wishful thinking on my part).

Two Day Sound System As part of the Dub Inna Babylon series Middle of the Room Ruby Dickson ft Heteronymous Painters and Selena Scott Reddie but NFS, 2022 Bill poster on Oriented strand board, intervened with grafitti stickers and flyers from passerbys 170 x 200cm
Left: Mandy El-Sayegh, Skincare, 2022. Mixed media on linen with silkscreened collage elements, intervened with spray paint from the public. Middle: Ruby Dickson ft Heteronymous Painters and Selena Scott, Reddie but NFS, 2022. Bill poster on oriented strand board, intervened with graffiti stickers and flyers from passers-by, 170 x 200 cm. Right: Alvaro Barrington, Sound of the Islands September 2022, 2022. Acrylic and oil on burlap in reclaimed wood and corrugated steel frame, drums. Mattia Guarnera-MacCarthy, Anga, 2022. Airbrush on canvas, 150 x 150 cm.



Why would you recommend this area to art lovers new to London?

I’m a bit careful about that, don’t want bare hipsters coming over and thinking ‘this is the place to be’ but if they come through, come correct and with love. Don’t rock up with a gaze enjoying a bit of slum tourism, which is what we noticed with some people when they come to openings, taking photos of locals and being sarcastic. Come correct.

Paulette Coke, a disabled artists living with bone cancer who approached HHS directly and is now represented by them. Paulette is a pillar of the local community and heavily involved in the activist work the gallery pursues. Paulette is pictured with her work ‘The Dark Side of Jamaica’, 1987
Paulette Coke, a disabled artist living with bone cancer who approached HHS directly and is now represented by them. Paulette is a pillar of the local community and heavily involved in the activist work the gallery pursues. She is pictured with her work The Dark Side of Jamaica, 1987

Best thing about London?

The people are cool and how open-minded we are toward each other, regardless of how I feel it isn’t as multicultural as it thinks it is, people still have each others backs when it comes to the crunch (from my experience, anyway).

Worst thing about London?

Not as multicultural as it thinks itself to be. We’re all in our own sets and need to mix it up and come together more, without invading each other’s territory.

Harlesden High Street and the surrounding area. Courtesy of Harlesden High Street.
Harlesden High Street, featuring Charlie, let’s go! by Hilda Kortei. Courtesy of Harlesden High Street. 

About

Harlesden High Street was founded with the mission of facilitating access between experimental/outsider artists and the traditional gallery system. We host several spaces across London exhibiting contemporary art by local and international artists, centering work by people of colour. In addition to our exhibition venues, we host a cultural outreach programme with an aim to reach audiences in ungentrified neighborhoods who might be less likely to engage with typical gallery programming. 



Our main space in Harlesden proudly only hosts people of colour in our programme, external and offsite spaces hosts an experimental programme transcending borders.



Harlesden High Street, 57 High St, London, NW10 4NJ. @harlesdenhighstreet

Chris Waywell is Senior Editor of Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.

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