The Subject Index



Best has extracted material (approximately one thousand items) about Peckham and its environs (including pamphlets and ephemera, press cuttings, books, films, index cards, maps and photographs) from the Southwark Local History Archive and is representing this archival material within the installation.



The subject index that has been created by the SLHA, describes the categorisation of their archive. This index is alphabetical and based on the ‘dewey decimal system’; it is the primary method by which visitors navigate the archive. Best’s interest in the index is that it appears to be a rational system for navigation but in fact is subjective and depends on the choices made by the archivist whose responsibility it is to file the items. The poetic nature of the words that form these categories are explored in the exhibition.

Best likens the project to an “embassy – one territory camping in another”. In this case, an archive – replete with filing cabinets, archivist’s desk and a photocopier – will occupy the gallery. Visitors to the exhibition not only found items of historical interest to look at – they also found gaps in what the archive does not represent. Best said:

“Working in the archive, I’ve been fascinated by the gaps in our view of reality. An archive may look seamless but in fact it is not; anything that is not mentioned has the appearance of not having happened.”

The collection brings to life the significance of Southwark’s role as a hotbed of activism around social issues in the 20th century, including the trade union movement, protests, theosophical debate, race and gender equality and social justice. Predictably, there is a preponderance of material about men in public life. However, amongst the histories less represented are artefacts relating to the lives of women, universal suffrage and psychoanalysis. The filing cabinet containing local women’s memoirs was off hiding in a corner. Best work also explored notable women’s biographies in the archive including Mary MaCarthur, Annie Besant, Ada Salter and Una Marson, in the form of a slide installation.

Once the exhibition ended, the loaned material was returned to the archive accompanied by some of the selected ‘deposited’ items representing the lives of local people today, some joining the permanent archive for posterity.

Emily Druiff, executive director of Peckham Platform, called for people to take part:“It’s really exciting to have the gallery temporarily transformed into an active archive celebrating the unique histories of Peckham. It’s a very public opportunity for everybody to address the skew of history. Help us fill the gaps and ensure your life is represented in Peckham’s archive.”

Visitors to the Local History Library and Archive during the exhibition found any items on loan to Peckham Platform replaced temporarily with details about visiting the exhibition and how to see the item at the gallery.


Dates and Opening Times

20 January – 22 March 2015

Wednesday – Friday 11am-6pm, Saturday – Sunday 10am-5pm


Peckham Platform, 89 Peckham High Street, London SE15 5RS


0207 358 9645


The Subject Index is a collaboration between artist Anna Best, Peckham Platform and Southwark Local History Archive (SLHA) – a public resource in Borough High Street.

Emily Druiff, director at Peckham Platform

Peter Rhodes – signwriting and learning activities

Alex Wilson – technician and production

Fran Allfrey – audio recording

Assisting with the project – Grace, Jess , Silvia

the Volunteers at the gallery – Dulcie, Damaris, Sara, Silvia, Louella, Ren, Hannah, Mario, Lauren, Eleanor, Kieran

At the Southwark Local History Archive

Dr Patricia Dark, Stephen Potter, Lisa Soverall

with thanks to  Kath Best, Chek Best, Jackie Best, Emma Smith, Boutcher School



vellum – listen to Dr Patricia Dark

Steven Potter Librarian’s speech



Simultaneously Anna made a work for The Winter Garden at Flat Time House curated by Lucy Reynolds. The artist and curator collaborated with Peckham Platform’s associated primary school. The children recorded all the words they could read up and down Rye Lane. This was followed by two live performances with Anna Best initiating a peripatetic audience between the art spaces, a journey which manifests the gentrification of the area aptly:

Reading Rye Lane in Reverse

a publication was produced containing the reading.