Rikki Li is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
In this week's post, Rikki takes us on a walk through trendy, street art-covered Shoreditch.
- - -
As always, let me start with a story:
During the early weeks of my internship in London, I was tasked with the responsibility of picking up fashion pieces from various vintage clothing stores in Shoreditch. After quickly glancing at the list of stores that my supervisor had sent me, I remember my first thought being: wow, I feel like I’m living the hipster dream. The places that I was being sent to were named things that I would only ever expect to hear from an open mic night at a coffeehouse: Porcelain & Red, Rebel Alliance, Nordic Poetry.
Of course, the moment I arrived in Shoreditch and pulled out my phone to look up the exact address of my first destination, my battery died. I spent the next 15 minutes fruitlessly trying to resurrect my phone while walking in aimless circles, running options through my head. I was on too tight a schedule to go home, and now there was no way for me to contact my supervisor about my predicament. In a moment of panic, I looked up, likewise curious as to where my feet had subconsciously carried me, and found myself face to face with a flat, dark building, painted in all black save for the bold white letters spelling “BOXPARK” on the façade. This, I would later learn, was Shoreditch’s iconic shipping-container-turned pop-up mall, home to various independent businesses and offbeat cafés.
I ended up hopping from store to store, asking if any of the employees could lend me a working iPhone charger. Most of the employees were fashionable and young, probably not much older than myself, and also incredibly kind. It wasn’t long before I found someone with a compatible charger, and as we both waited for my phone to revive itself, she asked me about my day and sympathized with my “flustered intern” state. There was a sense of camaraderie there that warmed me to my bones—a realization that I was smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood where the demographic consisted of people that were more or less just like me.
Since that day, I’ve been to Shoreditch many, many times—either for class field trips, internship duties, sightseeing, and most recently, a MyEducation guided tour. However, all this time, I’ve held off on writing about the neighborhood due to what I can only describe as a literary speechlessness. I guess, in a way, I’ve gotten so used to the area that I’ve lost sight of what to say about it.
However, one of the great things about tours is that they often help you see a certain area from a new and different perspective. Perhaps this is because, during a tour, you are no longer in control of your own agenda. Instead, you get to step back and let someone else take you through the motions, and from there, you start to notice things that you had missed in the past. Specifically, after what just may have been the last time I’ll ever be in Shoreditch, I really took notice of the graffiti and street art present on almost every urban surface. It seems almost silly to say so, as the graffiti in Shoreditch is neither quiet nor sparse, but I think after a few visits, even the most colorful of things can start to become background noise. It’s really a shame, since Shoreditch is a neighborhood filled with controversy (read: gentrification) and intelligent, artistic individuals. The street art is only visual testament to the constant humming energy of these unspoken, powerful messages.
Below, I’ve included three of my favorite examples of street art from Shoreditch, along with snippets of my unedited thoughts regarding those examples. I hesitate to call them pieces of poetry, as they are truly just stream-of-consciousness tidbits that I managed to type into my phone after snapping a photo—but I figured it was worth sharing them anyway.
i can still hear the voices
outside my window the censure between each
footfall, each chant a limelight
dear little bullet, do you
parsing through that dark living flesh,
splintering the thicket of bone,
a column of firecracker roses laid
to rest, little children
crushed under car tires.
like gossamer and silk, she watches
the road shimmers after rain like a milky way,
and in the cold she imagines
toes gray, curled,
the whiff of chiffon against bare ankles
her sunshine belly
every night, she dreams in color.
the spin cycle’s only for heavy loads and
four cups of rice is too much for a single person.
from the wrapper on a cereal bar, you find that your skin is worth
$10 per square inch.
the dishwasher is full to bursting
facing the showerhead brings back a
thrumming that reminds you
of the metro back in Vancouver,
pillowed on your mother’s thighs at 3 am
swaying to the rhythm of the future.
Rikki's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.