People Make Peckham: The South London Gallery – Elijah Maja

‘I’m invested very heavily in Peckham as a community, from family, to food, to friends, to the Nigerian community to the different places I have inhabited’, says Elijah Maja, who is currently on the Open Plan Gallery Traineeship at the South London Gallery (the SLG).

Elijah has a strong interest in the arts and community sectors and is especially focused on working with children. Before working at the SLG he had a couple of creative projects set up with friends, such as World Service; an arts, radio and broadcasting channel, and Matter Research; a platform for Black artists to show, discuss and formulate rapport. He noticed it was hard to grab people’s attention when you are not approaching them from a recognised or established company. He was drawn to the job at the SLG because of his interest in providing access and resources to the next generation allowing them to see what their true potentials are. His big interest is in ‘providing access to children; black and minority ethnic groups/people who are often overlooked in arts, with access and visibility being of utmost importance to my outreach efforts.’

One of Elijah’s biggest concerns is to make sure that children who live in the local area know that the gallery is for them too, that there are things they can get out of it, which is why it is important for him to be at the Fox Reception at the gallery on a Saturday, to let the children know ‘it’s your area, it’s your home, and you should feel comfortable going inside these spaces.’

He wants to encourage the local kids that art is for them, and isn’t something to feel alienated by. The SLG are very aware of their responsibility to provide a visible avenue for people coming from local communities, from non-arts backgrounds, from families without the privilege of access from birth to have access to the gallery.

Elijah helps to achieve this through outreach and creative projects. One of these ideas was recently burying a time capsule filled with the memories of the children to commemorate the closing of The Shop of Possibilities; the SLG’s free after-school play space for children to experiment with art and making. Another was to lead a 35 mm single-use camera project with the children who were all under 12 years old.

Elijah is responsible for the running one of the SLG’s projects which is an after-school play space, which has recently moved location on the Sceaux Gardens estate and has been renamed Art Block.

It’s the children’s space, they should feel relaxed in there.

It’s also a space where mums and dads can come and meet each other, and see their children being creative. After the fire that devastated one of the blocks on Sceaux Gardens housing estate in 2009 a lot of people moved to new homes. Since then there are lots of new faces who have moved into the area so the hope for Art Block is that it can act as a meeting point for neighbours.

Morag Myerscough, installation view from Art Block opening. Photo by Andy Stagg.

Art Block sits at the bottom of one of the newly refurbished housing blocks on Sceaux Gardens, most of the walls are large clear windows meaning it’s easy to see in from the outside and welcoming to passers-by. The inaugural artist commission for Art Block was created by artist and designer Morag Myerscough who has created a bespoke installation inspired by workshops with local children to explore pattern making, poetry and 3D design. Although change can be daunting for children, Elijah hopes that the opening of Art Block will encourage many more residents to get involved within the arts. He hopes that as well as a space to be fun and creative it also encourages kids who may not have originally seen art as a viable means for them to come and enjoy the gallery and explore their unbounded potential within the arts.