Community Engagement is a Paper Rainbow

January 10, 2019

Mumbai-based artist, activist and academic, Aqui Thami has been the V&A Research Institute’s (VARI) Offsite Artist in Residence since October 2018 in partnership with Create London. In November, she launched a month-long community art project with a group of local women in Manor Park, the ‘DIY Rabbits’. The Rabbits have been scurrying about in a brilliant and creative frenzy ever since.

When VARI opens the calls for its Offsite Artists in Residence, we are looking for a unique individual. Not only does he or she exude artistic prowess but the resident thinks of innovative ways to engage with the community, particularly the communities local to the V&A’s future site in East London, and to bring the V&A’s rich collections to them. Seems simple enough, but what does community engagement look like in practice?

It looks like this.


Aqui Thami and her DIY Rabbits prepare interactive posters for display


Like making the time to gather together twice a week for a month and share ideas for creating work that reaches the community. Like creating neon-coloured, Risograph-printed interactive posters. Like inviting passers-by in Poplar’s Crisp Street Market to answer: “What am I making London?” and having them write down their response on the posters. Like wheat-pasting their answers across the walls of the Lansbury Micro Museum, a V&A exhibition space nestled within the hubbub of the market, in a rainbow mosaic of personal and shared values.


Aqui hard at work wheatpasting the posters


It’s the ‘DIY Rabbits’ community art project founded by VARI’s current Offsite Artist in Residence, Aqui Thami. Aqui put out the call for her Rabbits in November and the group of young women who answered have worked tirelessly to create work that has not only allowed them to build a creative community, which has shaped their lives, but also the lives of those in the surrounding neighbourhood.


The interactive poster display begins to take shape


I went to see how the Rabbits were working this magic on a grey and blustery day in the Crisp Street Market. Bracing the teeth-chattering chill, they wheeled around a trolley loaded with interactive posters which they printed at the Rabbits Road Press and invited mothers, fathers, children, cyclists, Saturday shoppers, some with little or no English to write down their answers: “I am making London …

… more liberal and open-minded …

… a safe place …

… more Irish …

… a community …

… smile …

… good by looking after children …

… cleaner …

… a foodies’ paradise …

… recycle …

… a place for creativity …

… multicultural …

… a place for football …

… homes …

… happy with my icecreams.


Posters ready for signing on the trolley with improvised sticky-note paperweights!


Not everyone wanted to stop and interact, and hurried away with their bags and their prams. Not everyone who stopped found it easy to communicate and the Rabbits helped them to write down their contributions. I could see how this kind of community engagement practice required confidence and steely determination. There is nothing glamorous about a mighty gust of wind whipping up posters in your face and scattering them across the market in a neon storm for you to chase. Run, rabbits, run!


Smiles, moments before the posters fluttered away


I could also see what rewards it offered Aqui, her Rabbits and local Londoners. Here was the DIY ethos that she brought with her all the way from Mumbai, the inspiration provided by weeks of researching the V&A’s trove of political posters and the energy and excitement that builds when you adapt historic practices of poster-making and activism to contemporary making activities that invite in the wider community.


Mixing up homemade wheatpaste,to display the posters


Soon it came time for Aqui and her Rabbits to return with the trolley to the Lansbury Micro Museum and paper the walls with the hundreds of posters made with the help of the local community. Though they were trembling with cold and a little thwarted by some of the locals who refused their invitation to stop and interact, I could still feel the Rabbits’ energy pulsing in the bijou Micro Museum and see a nascent artists’ collective emerging.


Aqui and the DIY Rabbits inside the Lansbury Micro Museum


This is what Aqui’s public engagement practice looks and feels like. How would yours look and feel?


The DIY Rabbits undefeated at the Lansbury Micro Museum


Aqui’s final Open Studio is on next Tuesday 15 January 2018 from 6–-8pm at the White House, 884 Green Lane, Dagenham, RM8 1BX. Aqui will open up her studio, showcasing the work produced during her residency as well as some of the political posters and zines that have influenced her. Aqui will be discussing her practice and her experience of the residency with her DIY Rabbits. Join us to share some food and to bid Aqui farewell as her residency approaches its end. Register for free here.

Aqui’s residency is in collaboration with Create London and the Rabbits Road Institute and is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.





About the author

January 10, 2019

I began my adventure at the V&A in 2011 when I was Assistant Documentation Officer in the Collections Management Department. After studying Law, I returned to the V&A in 2017...

More from Rachel Feldman
2 comments so far, view or add yours


Loved this story and would have liked to experience it. But I live in Amsterdam (NL) . Hope to visit V&A in future. Keep up the good work

Excellent information. An Impressive share thank you.

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