Artist's Statement by George Sfougaras
I was fortunate to be selected as one of the twelve artists that would be commissioned to respond through art to a book that is considered significant in the literary landscape of Wales.
When the title of the book was given to me, I was somewhat surprised. I had not read this book, although I was aware of it having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
I could not wait to read it, and when I did, I could not put it down. It described a dysfunctional family, living in a socially deprived area in Tiger Bay, near the docks. The landscape was unfamiliar to me experientially, but very resonant in terms of the human drama and the sense of asphyxiating poverty.
In addition, aspects of the behaviour of members of the family were familiar to me through my work as a teacher with young people facing challenging health and family circumstances. I share something with the writer. A sense of being or having been part of another community and culture.
Trezza Azzopardi's father was from Malta and my family are Greek. This duality creates fertile ground for asking interesting questions, but not necessarily finding answers. There is a tension between too many allegiances and in belonging to two cultures and to none.
I hungrily read the book and became submerged into the emotional landscape of the novel. The setting had a very distinct physical aspect. Tiger Bay, Butetown, the slums of the old Cardiff Docks. Old Victorian houses in various stages of decay provided the backdrop for a human drama that one could not but feel drawn into. The smells of the surroundings, the dull, joyless houses, purely functional, and then only just so; the logistics of keeping a family, when the main earner is a gambling, immoral and self-absorbed loser; the innocent descriptions of the horrors of paternal neglect and violence.
My first reaction to the book after I completed it and sat there considering what I had just experienced is hard to describe. I had a sense of being wounded, or of something terrible having occurred to which I had been a witness, without realising it, and without the physical presence required to stop it.
The "marks" we make as we pass through this life define who we are, what we want for ourselves and what we hold dear. They should be a testament to the inalienable belief that we should be creating a better world for future generations. In the novel each character left a "mark". These ranged from a self-inflicted cut, to an act of quiet kindness by one sister towards another; from the taking of a life, to the indelible marks of emotional cruelty.
As we progress into an unknown tomorrow, human interaction with our environment and the communities and relationships we create, hold the key to the quality of our lives and ultimately, our very survival.
Cultural geography maps our values. Values we are willing to uphold if we are to grow emotionally as well as materially and technologically.
This statement is an extract from a longer piece in which George Sfougaras outlines his artistic practice and his approach to this commission. This is available to read here.