The House of Small Things

Roma Tearne
13 September 2002 to 9 October 2002

The mixed media works in this exhibition spoke of concerns such as displacement, memory and self-identity. Roma Tearne, who is Sri Lankan by birth, arrived in Britain as a young girl. Now, as an adult, she revisited her past in Brixton through her haunting images of interiors – the rooms inside a doll’s house that she played with as a child, and oblique views inside her childhood home. A book of images and text by the artist accompanied the exhibition.

She arrived in Britain in 1964 aged 10 by boat from Sri Lanka on a journey that took 21 days. She said of this journey: “Crossing oceans we travelled 7000 miles, chased by monsoons and battered by rough seas. It was a journey I would never forget. Its impact on my life was far reaching but it would be three decades before its full significance would dawn on me.” The disparate objects placed in the rooms – a piece of English furniture here, a Sri Lankan doll figure or a pile of textiles there – are the sole inhabitants of the miniature spaces. An oblique sense of melancholy reflects the sense of alienation that she felt as a newcomer in an unfamiliar country.

Delicate paintings of near-empty rooms with peeling wallpaper added force to this impression. They also feature a mix of cultures, with foreign text incorporated into the pattern of the background walls.

Also in the exhibition was a series of glowing images that combine photography, painting and daylight. Tearne placed a painting in daylight, photographing it to produce the subtly different images in this exhibition. These photographs reflect the artist’s developing interest in different lighting effects in interior spaces created through a variety of media.