BRENT BIENNIAL: ELECTRONIC SHEEP, KILBURN

Electronic Sheep, The Kilburn Tapestries. Image courtesy of the artists.

Designers Helen Delany and Brenda Aherne (AKA Electronic Sheep) have created an art piece 'The Kilburn Tapestries' which celebrates and depicts the lives both past and present of the Irish Community in the Borough of Brent and in particular the Kilburn area.

This work designed and hand drawn by Helen and Brenda is the final illustration completed in preparation for the knitting of the tapestry which will be produced in 2021. As Brent 2020 Culture Fund Awardees, the designers began the research for this piece at the end of 2019 – taking a full year to collect and gather unique research.

The focus of the tapestry is on the Irish creative community in particular and its influence on the music and arts scene in London. It also celebrates the opportunities that London presented to so many young Irish people who moved there whilst also recognising how difficult that move was for some. There are so many stories and elements to it including the designers' own personal experience of Kilburn. All characters, places and objects are hand drawn from Helen and Brenda's observations, personal photos and/or photos and heirlooms loaned to them by people from the Brent community.

Follow the piece's production on Instagram @The_Kilburn_Tapestries

The Kilburn Tapestries, panel 1 illustration.

Panel 1 celebrates the work of multi-award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Enda resides in Kilburn and graciously selected these words for the Tapestry. This excerpt is a sombre reminder of the hard times a lot of Irish people experienced in the past when they moved to London first.


The Kilburn Tapestries, panel 2 illustration.

Panel 2 is dedicated to the legendary Irish music promoter Vince Power and the huge influence he has had on the music scene in London. He also championed many new Irish acts who came to London to play in his acclaimed music venue and bar 'The Mean Fiddler' (established in Harlesden in 1982).

After meeting and chatting with Vince on a number of occasions we heard several stories to inspire us for this panel and so this scene was set on Kilburn High Road on any Saturday night circa 1970 - 2020. It features a collage of stories – Vince himself standing outside his furniture shop which was his first business venture in Brent (based on a personal photo given to us by Vince). It also depicts various Irish musicians – Rory Gallagher sitting on a car, Shane McGowan, Brigid Mae Power, Kevin Talbot and Sinead O'Connor. Phil Lynott is pictured with best friend Gus Curtis. All musicians featured are Irish; either living in Brent or who played for the 'Mean Fiddler' at some point.

Brenda and Helen spent a few summers in London as teenagers and went to the 'Mean Fiddler' in the late 80s. Here Brenda is shown waiting outside the club whilst Helen is already inside looking out the window... these images reflect true events!


The Kilburn Tapestries, panel 3 illustration.

Panel 3 is a portrait of Helen and her daughter Trilby Fox in their current home in Kilburn. Helen has lived and worked in London since she was 21 years old and like many Irish in London she has one foot in London and one in Dublin. They are surrounded by the collectables, heirlooms and significant objects that are relevant to the Brent/Irish story. Brenda (who lives in Dublin) is peeping out from the Laptop, she is a constant virtual visitor to Helen's house. Magazines on the floor include Thread mag from Dublin, Farmers mag from Mickey Moss Garage and Masculinities mag featuring Lucy Fine and Sam Callahan, all have Irish heritage/ Brent locals.


Notes: The tapestries are enriched with hand drawn illustrations and patterns inspired by original photos and heirlooms kindly given to Helen and Brenda by Brent residents past and present. These include Terri Cash, Tina O'Sullivan, Lucy Fine, Eoin Whelan, Anne O'Riordan and Mickey Moss.

Irish dancer Triona Newman Lennox generously loaned pictures of her childhood Irish dancing costumes which were used to design and illustrate the border.

Phil Lynott and Gus Curtis were hand drawn from a picture of them in London. This photo was given to Brenda by Gus's granddaughter Willow in Dublin. Willow is a friend of her daughter Bonnie. There have been so many stories like this that unraveled during our extensive research and reiterated the strong bond that Irish people have with London and Kilburn in particular.

Helen and Brenda are very grateful to everyone from the community who helped with their research and they plan to revisit and tell each story individually and in detai

Supported by the 2020 Culture Fund