Black Country Voyages (2014–2017) is an art programme for local young people, aged 16–21. Involving members of the Ikon Youth Programme (IYP), the project takes place on board a canal boat Aaron Manby generously lent by Sandwell Council. Black Country Voyages is organised in collaboration with the Canal & River Trust.
For 2016 Mahtab Hussain is the lead artist for Black Country Voyages, converting the boat into The Auspicious Journey, a story of mass displacement in Pakistan in the 1960s that led to the establishment of new communities in The Black Country. The construction of the Mangla Dam, across the Jhelum River, between 1961 and 1967, resulted in over 280 villages and towns of Mirpur and Dadyal being submerged and over 110,000 people being displaced. Some of those affected were given work permits for Britain by the Government of Pakistan, with many making their way to find work in the Midlands or the North West. The canal system was the bloodline of industry for The Black Country and it was here many migrants came to find work.
Working with clay and traditional photography, Hussain will make work about people affected by the dam construction. For the artist, the significance is water – the community was displaced by water, transported by water from Pakistan, and employed to work with water. During the summer Hussain will host workshops along the canal network for visitors to interact with Black Country Voyages.
In 2015, artist Jacques Nimki lead Black Country Voyages, transforming it into The Black Apotheca – a floating laboratory of herbal concoctions derived from local plants, fermenting slowly over time, housed in glass, reflecting light and colour. It showcased drawings, recipes and objects, all relating to the business of apothecaries, plus a collection of lozenges, cordials, country wines, sorbets and teas which were available for consumption at selected events. During this year tour we visited Wolverhampton, Smethwick, Oldbury, Wednesbury, Brownhills, Dudley, Stourbridge and Walsall and our partners included Galton Valley Heritage Centre, Red House Glass Cone, the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society, the Black Country Living Museum, Stourbridge Navigation Trust, Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery and Walsall Council.
Midlands-based artists Juneau Projects were the leading artists for Black Country Voyages in 2014 with a project inspired by nature and its interaction with society. Working closely with IYP they transformed the boat inside and outside into a hand-painted archive of people’s ideas of the natural world. Working in Langley Green, Smethwick, Oldbury, Cradley Heath, Brownhills, Dudley, Stourbridge and Tipton, our partners included the Glass House College Stourbridge, RSA Academy Tipton, Sandwell Community Libraries, Galton Valley Heritage Centre, the Cradley Heath Collective, Red House Glass Cone and the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society. The interactive programme saw Juneau Projects and IYP traveling along local canals, engaging local audiences through workshops, live performances and exhibitions.
IYP celebrated its fifth year in 2014. Meeting regularly at Ikon Gallery since 2009, it is for young people interested in getting involved in cultural activities, organising events and working with artists, local creatives and other young people. A free programme that meets every Thursday evening, we welcome new members throughout the year. For more information or to get involved please contact Claire Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ikon on 0121 248 0708.
Black Country Voyages is organised in collaboration with the Canal & River Trust.