Storyteller keeping arts alive in east London is chosen for National Lottery exhibition

PUBLISHED: 15:00 03 November 2020

Shamim Azad...

Shamim Azad... "I had no idea that what I do and communities that are marginalised would be noticed on such a national scale." Picture: Chris Floyd


A retired schoolteacher turned author and poet is featured in a select photography exhibition after being chosen by the National Lottery for keeping the arts accessible in east London during the pandemic.

Everyday heroes... 'Portraits of the People' are what the National Lottery calls Everyday heroes... 'Portraits of the People' are what the National Lottery calls "remarkable individuals" during pandemic enriching people’s' lives. Picture: Chris Floyd

Shamim Azad, living with husband Dr Selim Jahan in Bow, is a bilingual author in Bengali and English who has been recognised for her online storytelling classes for children during lockdown.

She has been running weekly video broadcasts on Facebook to keep the community spirit alive working with Apples and Snakes, a spoken word poetry organisation funded by the Arts Council.

“The pandemic was a time when I knew I should focus on adapting my skills and go online,” Shamim recalls. “I did storytelling and advised Bangladeshi gardeners, running workshops on the environment online.”

She also gave talks on women and the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic and took it on herself to translate the Mayor of London’s message and the NHS message into Bengali when the pandemic began.

Eight poets were recruited from diverse origins by Apples and Snakes to work in schools and in communities.

Shamim was among them, telling stories and performing poems, having written plays and published 30 books in English and Bengali, now recongnised across the land.

“My proudest moment is the National Lottery recognition,” Shamim says with pride. “I had no idea that what I do and the communities that are marginalised would be noticed on such a national scale.”

The 2020 Portraits of the People celebrates what the National Lottery calls “remarkable individuals” like Shamim, who have worked during the pandemic to enrich people’s lives.

Photographer Chris Floyd said: “I wanted to do justice to their selfless efforts who have taken their skills and built accessible resources for those who needed it most. It’s a small thank you in comparison to what they’ve done for their communities.”

Chris created 13 portraits of everyday folk who have done exctraordinary things during lockdown. He snaps celebrities in normal times like Paul McCartney, Mo Farah and Victoria Beckham.

The exhibition is “a moment in history” preserving the work of unheralded champions for posterity. It is on the websites of the National Portrait Gallery, Photographers’ Gallery, British Film Institute, National Museum of Wales, MAC in Belfast, Ikon in Birmingham, Summerhall in Edinburgh and Ruthin in Wales, and also on display at the BFI on the Southbank.

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