The Barter Archive aims to preserve the stories and collective memories of the people working at the Billingsgate Fish Market at Canary Wharf, London. The archive begins as a series of observational drawings which are gradually exchanged for the fishmongers’ stories, memories and personal objects.
When I go to the Billingsgate Fish Market, it’s still dark and always drizzling. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I wear a mask. It’s not a good thing because people cannot see my facial expression. In a morning I went to the right side of the market. Standing on the side of the road, I started to sketch the intersection. Some people came and talked to me. Ashral, who is an Arab accountant, told me that there was another fish market called Boston Fish Market. The distance of the fish market is very close, only two or three stops away. He also taught me how to travel there.
There are few Arab fishmongers complimented my drawings. They were very enthusiastic. One of the porters told the café owner Ali that he was in my drawing. A ponytail man winked at me and asked why I used a blue ball pen to draw. I answered, ‘You are using a ball pen too!’ I use a ball pen for sketching because it is everywhere and everyone is using it.
After that, I went to the café for breakfast. I exchanged our Instagram accounts with the boss Ali. He told me about the history of the café. It’s opened in 1982 and he took over it in 2014. There was a big fire in 2017. That’s why some of the black and white photos on the wall are covered with dark smoke. He was very nice and said that he was willing to help if I need.