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Community Is Everything

Well I have a chip shop on Iffley Road and my friend Jeremy, who is in Old Fire Station, he’s my customer, I’m on his way home. So he often stops and buys fish and chips, that’s how we met. And then I always talk to my customers, you know, because I cook fresh food for them. As they’re waiting so we have - always chats as well, so I found out he works here. Anyway, I always do projects for myself, and I was doing this project, taking photographs, portraits of the people coming to my shop, and people living around that area, because I wanted to keep like a ‘friends’ album. Because I get attached to people, we become friends, and when they leave, or pass away, God bless them, I feel sad, and the only way I can keep them for myself in any way, preserve them, I know it sounds funny, is to take a picture of them, have a memory of them. So that’s how it started.


So I started collecting these pictures, and then I asked my friend to make a little sort of blurb book for me, because I’m old fashioned. So I asked a friend, you want to make a book for me, of ninety nine of the pictures, of the portraits I’ve taken? Anyway, so when I made this book I showed people and they said, what do you want to do? I said, this is what I’m trying to make, an album for myself just - it was, just for myself.


Anyway, Jeremy liked the pictures and said that he wants to do a show here, that’s how I came into partnership with them. I have a friend, who had already told the curator in Modern Art, Emma Ridgway. So I told Jeremy that I’d like to but we have already approached Modern Art Oxford. So he said well let me see what we can do. And they were so kind, both places, and they collaborated, they thought ok they’d do it together, so that’s really fantastic.


I got the good fortune of working with both sites, so it’s really great, and yeah so I had a really good time, because they are very friendly, they are helpful and they really looked after me. It’s like family, and I found so many friends. It’s fantastic, in both places.


They were so nice to me here - for instance Jeremy applied to Arts Council for me. I didn’t know how to do those things. They spent a lot of time and effort to get the grant for me. Exhibitions are expensive to put on – the grant paid for printing, the framing, posters, all sorts of things - otherwise we couldn’t have done it. And they gave me support - both Old Fire Station and Modern Art - the curators Sarah Mossop from the Old Fire Station and Stephanie Straine from Modern Art, they both came with me. And my friend James Atlee, he was all the way with me as well. They all supported me, when we were going to choose the frames and the non-reflective glass, they all came to the framers with me and they were guiding me and helping me and we were discussing things, because they have experience in exhibitions, so their opinions was invaluable. If they hadn’t helped me this exhibition wouldn’t have happened, no way.


What has changed for me? Well what I like to do always is bring people together, show the good side of people, so it came to the people’s attention. And people got that message and I think it has made the community a bit closer, you know. They appreciate each other more, they are more aware of each other and I think that’s good, I think we achieved that goal, thank God.


I did my portraits with love - to keep my friend’s pictures for myself, like a family album. Where I come from in Iran, the family album is the most important thing in your house. If your house got robbed and its burning, you leave everything, take the family albums out first.


I did it for love and people got that – and they gave love back, and that’s fantastic. And that love hopefully, will spread between them, and then it will spread to other communities. That’s what we have to do.


Look, there is only one race and that’s the human race. And that’s tonight’s story – that’s what I wanted to show. You know these days, wherever you look, they keep talking about the differences between people, which are very minor, very minor. But the similarities are, massive, many more numerous, than differences. But togetherness and love brings happiness.


The best part of this project for me is that I found friends in both places, in Modern Art Oxford and in the Old Fire Station and its real - you know they’re good friends, and it’s really nice to feel that you are wanted and you are loved back, so that’s the best part.


My life is still the same, I haven’t changed, I’m the same, I’m doing the same thing as well. But, as I said, I found lots of friends, new friends and also I would say shop is more busy, business is better. It has worked that people came to see, who is it? What’s going on here? And then they ate our food and they realise oh mmmm, that’s not too bad either, so they stuck with us, they stayed with us, yeah.


You see, my shop is like a centre point, because I don’t care whether you are buying or not buying, I’m happy to see you anyway. So people come and talk to me anyway, they know that so they are welcome, and I try to give as much time to people. You know if I’m busy I say ok sir I must go do the potatoes or something, but when I have time I make as much effort to talk to people, because I enjoy it. I don’t do it because I have to but I just love it.


Community is everything isn’t it? The whole world starts with a home, family, and community.

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