A programme of art, culture and new infrastructure to reimagine the future of the UK’s biggest council housing estate


Abbas Zahedi

We Don’t Know Where We Are In The Drama


Coinciding with the building of the Becontree Estate a small wooden statue, now known as the Dagenham Idol, was discovered on the site of the old Ford factory. Now on permanent display at Valence House Museum, this small ungendered effigy dates back to the late Neolithic or early bronze age.

Looking at maps of ancient British sites and aerial photographs of the Becontree Estate, Zahedi was drawn to their similarities, in particular their circular formations relating to ancient processes of marking the landscape. These are often described as memory palaces by anthropologists.

Inspired by this idea of Becontree being reframed as a modern-day memory palace, Abbas will work with Arc Theatre’s young women’s group, Raised Voices, who are based at Kingsley Hall. Historically this youth-led group has functioned as a safe space for members to produce work around themes of mental health and their day to day lives on the estate. For Zahedi this resonated with the Hall’s radical history and link to the influential psychiatrist RD Laing, who was known for his contributions to the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement, and the setting up of community-based approaches to mental health.

Zahedi will draw together ideas around memory loci and Laing’s thinking to embark upon a process of research and collaborative story-telling with the group to enable them to form contemporary oral mythologies based on their own experiences and sites of significance in Becontree. These new myths will serve as a symbolic continuation of the story of the idol and will become the basis for performance pieces presented at an event for the residents.

Zahedi's practice blends contemporary philosophy, poetics, and social dynamics with performance, sound, sculpture, and moving image. With a focus on how personal and collective histories interweave, he makes connections with people involved in the particular situations upon which he focuses, to invite others into the conversation.

Abbas produces layered interactive installations serving as emotional interventions that are elegiac and symbolic whilst also rooted in the real world. Abbas composes his installations with a sensitivity to architecture and space that he further emphasises through the arrangement of deliberate bodily encounters, a process also designed to give agency to the human experience and is seen by the artist as a form of hosting and care.

Commissioned by Create London, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.