Opening in London on Wednesday, Never Forget Grenfell features the survivors, bereaved families, and wider Grenfell community
“We stood and watched our homes burn. We saw our neighbours at their windows screaming for help; we talked to them on the phone as they breathed their last breath.”
Last week (June 14) marked two years since the tragedy, and to ensure the 72 people killed are not forgotten, on Wednesday (June 19) photographer Tom Cockram launches Never Forget Grenfell at Shoreditch’s Truman Brewery, a follow-up exhibition to his powerful film.
“I photographed people in between each take (of the film),” Cockram tells Dazed, “then when it was finished I was really careful not to publish any of the photos – I thought ‘this can’t just sit online, it’s bigger than that’.”
Mirroring his video (which features Stormzy and Akala), the exhibition is made up of striking black and white portraits of the Grenfell community. Describing the photos and accompanying film as “one of the most special things I’ve ever shot”, Cockram’s aim is to keep Grenfell in people’s minds and maintain the drive of Grenfell United’s direct action.
Just last week, the group – made up of survivors and families – projected huge messages onto high-rise buildings in order to spotlight fire safety issues that still exist across the country. “It’s given them huge momentum,” Cockram explains, “because I think the whole community felt quite stagnant, coming up to two years without much change. Going forward it feels like they’ve got something to fight for.”
Their demands are simple: remove dangerous cladding, ensure all tower blocks have sprinklers and safe fire doors, and put the concerns of residents above the profits of housing associations. But given 146 privately owned buildings are still wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding, and only 56 of 158 social housing blocks have been fixed, it seems the government refuses to listen, with thousands of people still living in at-risk buildings across the UK.
Although presented in partnership with Grenfell United, Cockram asserts that the upcoming exhibition is to show “the strength of the community”, rather than become a “political attack”.
“We hope this exhibition will show Londoners that our community is strong, dignified, and united,” Grenfell United’s vice-chair Karim Mussilhy said in a press release. “Two years on from the fire we are still fighting for justice and change. We cannot allow what happened at Grenfell to be forgotten.”
Created in collaboration with graphic designer Anthony Burrill – who devised the posters for the show – the exhibition will also host a series of events, including a viewing of Dan Renwick’s film Failed By The State: The Struggle in the Shadow of Grenfell, and a photography workshop for the Grenfell community. While the private view on June 20 will include a panel discussion and live performances.
A Tottenham resident, Cockram was out of town when the fire broke out, but remembers being inspired by the comradery of so many people. “I felt so helpless through it all,” he tells me, “but this (project) has given me a real opportunity to help.”
“I was honoured to meet all these people,” the photographer concludes, “I was really taken aback by it. It was a super emotional project, but it’s been incredible to see their community, their influences, and how they’ve come together.”
If you can’t make the exhibition, Cockram urges you to support Grenfell in other ways – whether that’s attending the monthly silent walks, or “pushing your local government to fight for change”, it’s vital we don’t let something like this happen again.