Wendy Ewald

Towards a Promised Land

15 July 2005 - 30 November 2006

Towards a Promised Land documents Wendy Ewald's work with twenty-two children new to the British seaside town of Margate. Some arrived fleeing countries afflicted by war, poverty or political strife; others by following their families from one town to the next. Over 18 months, Ewald photographed her subject-artists and interviewed them about their past and present lives, while teaching them how to make their own photographs.

In July 2005  Wendy Ewald’s photographic portraits of the children appeared along Margate’s Sea Wall as huge, iconic banners. On 20 May 2006, the Sea Wall images were joined by the second and final phase of Towards a Promised Land with banner photographs hung around the centre of Margate; while the children's own projects formed an exhibition at a local gallery. Working with Wendy Ewald, the children have learned, through photography, to explore and understand their worlds and express different experiences of relocation and the search for a better life.

In its final stages, Towards a Promised Land was joined in Margate by another Artangel project, Exodus, whose forms included a feature film by Penny Woolcock, a combustible sculpture by Antony Gormley and a concert and CD of plague songs.

Image: Towards a Promised Land, 2005 by Wendy Ewald. Photograph: Thierry Bal.

Audio: A Tour of Margate

2 minutes 12 seconds
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Audio: A Tour of Margate: Introduction by Wendy Ewald

This recording introduces an audio trail of Margate by Wendy Ewald as part of her eighteen-month-long project. 

Available to listen to on Soundcloud.

Listen to the rest of the tour by Wendy Ewald.

Or for individual locations:

The Dreamland Tower

Dreamland Welcomes You

Dreamland and The Punch & Judy

A Tour of Margate: Dreamland Entrance

A Tour of Margate: Kingfisher Fish & Chip Shop

Back of Escape Club

Margate Library

Thanet Road

Sea Wall

Road to the Beach

Sea Wall Part 2


Image: Margate. Towards a Promised Land by Wendy Ewald, 2006. Photograph: Thierry Bal.

Towards a Promised Land

Wendy Ewald on Towards a Promised Land
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Wendy Ewald on Towards a Promised Land

Towards a Promised Land opened in July 2005 on the chalk cliffs near Margate, UK. The five 3 by 4 meter triptychs were displayed against the retaining walls protecting the white cliffs of Margate, a town that was once a thriving vacation center, but that is known more today as a "holding location" for individuals and families who have sought refuge in England from the wars and disorders of their home countries - but have come into the country without the "proper" documents.

Each triptych consists of a photograph of a child's face, a second of the back of the head and in the middle an image of personal possessions that the child brought with him. The photographic banners hung with the children looking out to sea and inward to a possible new home. Most banners show text as well as image. The youths wrote directly on my photographs reflecting on their pasts, futures and what they left behind. I worked for more than a year with 11 of these children, whose lives have been marred by violence and dispossession. In addition to making large portraits of the children, I taught them basic camera skills. They made photographs of their early days in Margate, maps of their journeys, and recorded their stories.

Image: Margate. Towards a Promised Land, 2005 by Wendy Ewald. Photograph: Thierry Bal.

Christian's Testimony

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We came from Congo on a plane

We left because there is a war in Kinshasa. We left my cousins, the houses and friends. I brought nothing...  well, a little bit. It was just me and my mum. The journey wasn't good, but I liked the plane.We always fastened our seatbelts and in the window it made clouds. Kinshasa is not good because it is unsafe. One day at school the kids were throwing stones at the soldiers, and there were bullets in the air. Some students were killed. The students who were against the president wanted to come into school to loot us. It was then that the U.N. man threw a gas bomb so they couldn't take us. My mother couldn't come to get me because they were wrecking cars in the streets and throwing stones, so she sent her cousins instead. I didn't feel good. I didn't want to go back to school after that. I still remember the day they arrested my father and gave me some slaps. After, they cut my brother's head. I was scared because the soldiers were killing people. I thought they also wanted to kill me. My mum and I escaped.

Sometimes I dream I'm singing. Sometimes I dream I'm dancing. I dream that I am grown up and speaking English. I dreamt that I was eighteen. It was the day of my party. All my friends came. During that party I heard someone knocking on the door. I opened it and saw my brothers and sisters. They were older. My mum was sleeping. I tried to call her. My mum managed to wake up and change and then she went to their house. I only dreamt it the other day. I want to dream it for a long time. I like taking photos. It's going to give me memories. I'll have good memories of Margate because it's a nice town. There are no problems here. It is safe and everything works well. Everyone goes shopping and does what they want. I want to stay here.

Image: Christian, Towards a Promised Land, 2005. Photograph: Wendy Ewald.

About Wendy Ewald

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Wendy Ewald

For more than thirty years, Wendy Ewald has collaborated with children and adults around the world, working in communities in Labrador, Appalachia, Colombia, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Holland, Mexico, Canada, North Carolina, and New York. She partners her keen observational and creative skills with her students' imaginations, encouraging them to use cameras to create individual self-portraits and portraits of their communities and to articulate their dreams and hopes while working with her in visual and verbal collaboration.

Born in Detroit in 1951, Ewald is currently a senior research associate at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and an artist-in-residence at the university’s John Hope Franklin Center. Over a decade ago, she founded the Literacy Through Photograph program in Durham, North Carolina, now thriving in many elementary and middle schools.

Ewald has received many honors in recognition of her innovative creative practice, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Visual Arts Fellowship, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Andy Warhol Foundation, and the Fulbright Commission.

Image: Towards a Promised Land, 2005 by Wendy Ewald. Photograph: Thierry Bal.

Making Towards a Promised Land

Wendy Ewald in conversation with Michael Morris
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Wendy Ewald in conversation with Michael Morris

Michael Morris: How were the parameters of such an ambitious project first mapped out?

Wendy Ewald: I visited Margate about a year before the project actually began. At that point we had no idea who we were going to work with. We walked around and visited schools and groups and institutions; we went to the mosque; we met kids who were caring for adults. It was very interesting, overwhelming actually, as there were about ten different groups I could have worked with.

When I visited Northdown Primary School, the principal told me that there was a 50% turnover in the student population every year. That was amazing to me, that a town could change so much in one year. With that statistic, I began trying to focus on the experiences of people starting their lives over in Margate and what those experiences were for children, in particular.

Although the coast of Kent has been the gateway to the U.K. for asylum seekers over many years, I didn't want to limit my attention to foreign immigrants, because it was obvious that the 'flood' of asylum seekers was something of a cliché. The Nayland Rock Hotel, formerly one of the town's grandest hotels, now houses asylum seekers, who some Margate locals see as having a free ride while everyone else struggles. So I decided to develop a project with the broad idea of what it is for kids to start their lives over, whether fleeing war-torn places or being moved by parents from one part of the country to another. I asked the principal at Northdown Primary School and the assistant principal at Hartsdown Secondary School to identify British kids who had moved to Margate. The Nayland Rock Hotel was the obvious place to work with asylum-seeking kids, as well as the Orchard Centre (the real name of the centre has been withheld to protect its inhabitants) where unaccompanied immigrant minors are housed. These four groups formed the matrix of this project.

MM: What kind of community did the children represent for you? Did you discover common threads in their diverse experiences of departure and arrival?

WE: Some of the kids from Northdown and Hartsdown schools had come to Margate just months earlier, some more than two years earlier. They were acquainted with each other but weren't necessarily friends. They came to Margate because their families needed to make a change: Gareth's father wanted to get away from sectarian violence in Northern Ireland; Lanny's mother left Wales quickly to get away from an increasingly abusive relationship, and so on. The kids at the Nayland Rock Hotel had arrived with their families within the past few weeks. I was privileged to be able to stay there for some weeks, to get to know people and see how their lives were unfolding in this new situation. The unaccompanied kids at the Orchard Centre were in a more extreme situation. Most of them didn't even know that they would end up in England.

For the most part, the kids in each of the four groups didn't know each other before we made this project. They came together by working and sharing and comparing experiences. By the end, I certainly felt that I was working with a community.

MM: How aware were the British kids of what it means to be a refugee or asylum seeker?

WE: A couple of the younger ones had heard the term but weren't sure what it meant. Reece talked about how it disturbed him not being able to communicate with a Chinese man in a restaurant; and Max talked about how the refugees had to leave their countries and it wasn't their fault.

MM: But they didn't identify these experiences with their own sense of displacement?

WE: It was only when we began to look at the pictures and read the testimonies of the asylum-seeking kids that the British kids really recognized that they shared experiences. They said, "Oh yeah, I brought this with me, just like Christian". They realized that Christian was the same age as them, and that although he had fled something much more difficult [the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo], they all had similar reactions in terms of what to take with them and what to leave behind.

Read the rest.

Image: Towards a Promised Land by Wendy Ewald, 2006. Photograph: Thierry Bal.


Photographs of the participating children
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Photographs of the participating children and their belongings.

Image: portrait of Ashlea. Towards a Promised Land, 2005. Photograph: Wendy Ewald.

Book: Towards a Promised Land

Chronicling the eighteen months that Wendy Ewald worked in Margate.
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Towards a Promised Land

£10 from Amazon

Children have taught me that art is not a realm where only the trained and the accredited may dwell. The truly unsettling thing about children's imagery is that, despite their inexperience with what adults might call rational thinking, their images tap into cetrain universal feelings with undeniable force and subtlety. — Wendy Ewald.

Towards a Promised Land documents Wendy Ewalds work with twenty-two children new to British seaside town Margate. Interviewing them about their pasts, she taught them how to use a camera at a pivital moment of change in their lives. . This book brings together Ewald's and the children's work with a selection of interviews, writing and commentaries on the contemporary search for a sense of place in a world of constant and turbulent change.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • B/W
  • Publisher: Steidl/Artangel
  • ISBN: 3865212875
  • Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.9 x 0.7 inches


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Who made this possible?


Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.