Mayanka Mukherji is a DPhil candidate in Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on empty homes located in the Sutton Estate and Cadogan Square, both based in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the wealthiest areas in Central London. While the former location consists of empty blocks of council housing that have been declared ‘uninhabitable’, the latter holds some of the most expensive empty mansions of the city. Through a study of these contrasting empty spaces, Mayanka’s research attempts to draw out an ethnographic portrait of emptiness through its various beneficiaries, stakeholders, fears and rumours.

These drawings are by her research participant Chris Steadman, who is a resident of the estate where Mayanka conducted her PhD research. They are shared here with his kind permission.

‘Ways of Belonging’

“Chris grew up in the Sutton Estate with his mum, and her passing left an emptiness
inside him. There was also an emptiness around him as his estate was being
decanted as part of the proposed regeneration. The process of grieving was
intertwined with claims of belonging as he booked a twin burial plot with the thought
that even if he is displaced by the decanting, he would return to Chelsea upon his
death. He filled the cabinet in his living room with photos of his mother, placing at the
centre a sculpture of a cat carrying her baby kitten gently in her mouth.

Chris and his mum shared a fondness for cats, and so, he engraved a figure of a cat upon his
mum’s gravestone. Every week, he plucked a handful of thyme (his mum’s favourite
herb) from the garden of the estate, and carried it to the cemetery, along with a
packed of monkey-nuts from Tesco that caught the attention of the squirrels who
followed him to the grave, ensuring that when he returns from the cemetery, his mum
would have their company.

His visits left beside the grave two steep impressions of his feet that had formed as he knelt by his mum’s grave and told her about his day. Chris had a multi-layered relationship to the area where he had buried his mum, planted seeds from which trees had grown, and created craters of his presence on the surface of the soil.”