Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Frith Manor School’s new community flag will be displayed at the Arts Depot from 3-14 April alongside socially engaged artist Gil Mualem-Doron’s ‘The Fabric of Our Nation’ exhibition. The new community flag was created by Frith Manor students through a series of workshops led by Mualem-Doron as part of the school’s ongoing ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ project, with the final flag being designed by the artist himself. The flag was created using textile designs representing over 105 countries from which Frith Manor pupils and their ancestors originate, celebrating the diverse cultural heritage of the school through the visual arts.
Frith Manor Art & Design Lead Emma Jacobs engages with many contemporary works and artists in her role and found that Gil Mualem-Doron’s ‘New Union Flag’ project resonated with her and headteacher Wendy Wayland’s pride in their own diverse school community. Mualem-Doron’s project seeks to “re-imagine the Union Jack” by recognising and honouring the United Kingdom’s complex cultural legacy. Mualem-Doron’s ‘New Union Flag’ is a living work, continually evolving to reflect the ongoing changes of the cultural makeup of the UK, supported by contributions of participants of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. After further discussion, Jacobs and Wayland applied for a grant from the Barnet Youth Access Fund to develop a community flag for Frith Manor, receiving £500 for the project. They then planned a whole-school ancestry research project, which included a diversity and flag-making workshop for Year 6 students led by Mualem-Doron. “I was privileged to join Gil’s workshop with the Year 6 children at Frith Manor School,” said Year 6 parent Tal Porat. “Gil’s talk about the subject of work was interesting and engaging, he encouraged the kids to think about their origins and talk about it proudly. The kids then had lots of fun designing their own flags, using different patterns. The whole workshop was extremely creative and original, I loved the way identity was explored through material designs. I can’t wait to see the final outcome!”
Mualem-Doron described these workshops with students as “the type of work [he] likes most, because it is interactive,” enjoying the opportunity to discuss with students and hear their reactions and responses. In his workshops, Mualem-Doron explores the history of the United Kingdom, helping students to dig deeper into its cultural legacy and colonial and imperial past while understanding how this history has shaped the country we know today. “By doing this in quite an amusing and playful way through an art project, I think it is open to conversation much more easily. If you were to engage with [these topics] in a history lesson or geography lesson, it would be approached in a different way. I think using art to engage with these sometimes-difficult conversations makes it a lot easier,” said Mualem-Doron.
As part of the school’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ project and in developing the new community flag, pupils from various years at Frith Manor were tasked with exploring their families’ heritage and their own identity, working with their families to create family trees going back four generations, with family members being excited about the opportunity to discuss their ethnic backgrounds and explore their family history. “Coming out of the pandemic was the perfect time to bring our community together through the visual arts. The engagement the project created with our families through ancestry research was incredible. Everyone wanted to get involved,” said Jacobs. “We received almost 500 four-generational family trees reflecting 105 countries that our pupils originate from and have noticed a greater sense of identity and belonging amongst everyone in the school.”
The new community flag and accompanying workshops have allowed pupils to explore concepts of diversity, inclusivity, and culture, with many having a newfound appreciation for and understanding of the diverse community they live in. Pupils’ families have also enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the project and are excited to see the work celebrated at the Arts Depot. “The Community Flag is one of the projects that has really captured our imagination,” said year 5 parent Lucy Sahathevan. “It was such a lovely activity for us to think about where everyone is from, and just to spend time sharing memories and thinking about our path as a family. We are part of such a diverse and vibrant community at Frith, and it has been fantastic to help create something where we are all represented, celebrated, and championed. I can’t wait to visit the exhibition with Tabby and to see the flag itself,” Sahathevan continued, “I feel very proud of the work achieved. At a time where flags are so closely associated with conflict, it feels even more significant to show how they can remind everyone of the beauty and importance of collaboration and inclusion.” Year 1 & 3 parent Christabel Mensah-Stapleton echoed her appreciation of the celebration of the school’s cultural diversity saying, “We were all excited about the project and the kids couldn’t wait to ask their grandparents more about their cultures. Frith Manor is such a culturally diverse school which we love and we’re all looking forward to the exhibition and seeing our Ghanaian and Vincentian heritage included.”
Jacobs said the community flag is “just the beginning”: like Mualem-Doron’s ‘New Union Flag’, Jacobs plans for Frith Manor’s flag to continue to evolve to reflect and celebrate the cultural makeup of the school. The project has not only given students a greater sense of identity but has allowed them to learn about and explore ancestry, history, culture, and art in a tangible way, “allowing students to see their story in a wider social framework,” according to Jacobs. “Working with contemporary artist Gil Mualem-Doron was a fantastic experience for the pupils, and gave the project a sense of what can be achieved through socially engaged public art. We are really proud of what we have achieved together as a community and can't wait to see the flag displayed at the Arts Depot over the Easter holidays". Speaking on the project, Mualem-Doron said, “I am very grateful for the opportunity [to have worked with Frith Manor]. It was so welcoming, and I was really amazed – I wasn’t prepared for a flag with over 90 different nationalities! It was so diverse and it was fascinating for me.”
The ‘Fabric of Our Nation’ exhibition will be open to the public from 3-14 April at the Arts Depot in the Apthorp Gallery from 10 AM-4 PM; no booking is required. The exhibition will be interactive, with photo opportunities, puzzles, and a chance to listen to different reactions to ‘The New Union Flag’. Gil Mualem-Doron will also be hosting a workshop, ‘The Fabric of Our Nation: A Closer Look,’ on 4 April where visitors will get a tour of the exhibition, gain insight into Mualem-Doron’s journey in creating the project, and have the opportunity to make a flag that represents their family’s heritage. The workshop is free and open to all ages, but under-16s will need to be accompanied by a parent or carer.
If your school is interested in inviting Gil Mualem-Doron to lead workshops and help pupils to design a flag that celebrates their cultural backgrounds, you can contact him via email at email@example.com. Gil Mualem-Doron has produced several works that explore ongoing social issues and questions through a variety of mediums; visit his website to learn more.