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Prem Sahib
Prem SahibPhotography Thierry Bal, courtesy Art Night 2018 and the artist

This artist’s work is a tribute to London’s gay bathhouses

Prem Sahib discusses his new installation, which will be unveiled as part of Art Night

In February 2016, it was announced that Chariots, the largest gay sauna chain in London, would be closing its flagship branch in Shoreditch. As soon as this landmark of London's gay community began to make way for luxury hotel development, artist Prem Sahib got to work on his piece ”Do you care? We do” – a defiant monument to the bathhouse made from 12 lockers salvaged from its demolition. The piece is now to be acquired by the Tate, and along with his sculpture “Helix” it will be the first of Sahib's works to enter the collection of a British museum – a watershed moment for the LGBTQ art community. 

“A big part of this work was trying to keep these lockers together so that their history didn’t become further fragmented,” the artist enthuses. “It’s great to know that they will be shown again in public and that the museum is obliged to looked after them.” 

Today, Chariot's only remaining gay sauna can be found in Vauxhall in southwest London. The district is well known for its contemporary gay club scene, and Sahib has recently been commissioned to create a large-scale sculpture in the area as part of Art Night 2018, one of London's largest free contemporary art festivals.

“I will be building a maze-like structure modelled on the floor plan of a one bedroom, new-build luxury apartment,” Sahib explains. “It references historical structures found in the neighbouring pleasure gardens, such as the dark walks and pavilions that were notoriously transgressive spaces after dark, but also the interior of contemporary saunas, night clubs and cruising spaces.”

“The LGBTQ community is an important part of Vauxhall, so I think its presence should be reflected in what is essentially a public artwork” – Prem Sahib

The structure, titled “500 sq ft”, is a manifestation of Vauxhall's rapidly increasing wealth and cultural divides, incorporating both the area's history as a space for underground activity and its sprouting antithesis of luxury high-rises, the skeletal forebodings of a heavily gentrified future. As Sahib explains: “I can’t help but see people begging on the street everyday on my way to the studio in tandem with the high levels of development taking place. Figures from the Albert Kennedy Trust show that 24 per cent of young people on the street identify as LGBT, with over three quarters of this figure stating coming out to their families as a reason.”

“The LGBTQ community is an important part of Vauxhall, so I think its presence should be reflected in what is essentially a public artwork,” the artist continues. “With the area changing so rapidly, it troubles me to think that certain realities might be side-lined in favour of more sanitized versions that suit the new overarching ‘narrative’ of the area.”

“500 sq ft” will explore the interplay and boundaries between private and public city spaces, a recurring theme in Sahib's work. Resembling one of the soaring apartments from Vauxhall's high-rises brought down to ground level, the structure will open its doors to the area's homeless and poorer communities for a virtual luxury home viewing. Remaining in Vauxhall Park for three days and nights, the sculpture might also invite interaction from passers-by not often exposed to contemporary art within a gallery space.

As part of Art Night, Sahib will be hosting a special edition of Anal House Meltdown, the queer dance party he founded with fellow artists George Henry Longly and Eddie Peake. Taking place at Bloc South, only a short walk away from “500 sq ft”, the night will see DJs including Lauren Flax, Jeffrey Hinton and Princess Julia take to the decks. “With all the pressure faced by nightlife in the area, Bloc South is one of few spaces to have opened in the area in recent years,” Sahib recalls. “It was also the first new late nightclub license to be granted in 10 years in London. In celebration of this and with it being Pride weekend, we’re hosting a very special AHMD for an epic 12 hours!” 

Art Night 2018 will take place on Saturday 7 July. Sahib will host Anal House Meltdown at Bloc South from 10pm-10am

The Contemporary Art Society and Art Night have co-commissioned artist Prem Sahib to create an outdoor pavilion in Vauxhall Park for Art Night 2018. Two works by the artist will subsequently be gifted to the Tate collection through the Contemporary Art Society