Common Salt

Sue and Sheila in hedge and tiger print dresses stand behind the Common Salt table full of the objects used in the performance such as a birds nest, gambling chips, a box hedge ball, a projector and screen, books, a glass dome, a pile of salt, some cut outs of animals
Sue and Sheila at the Common Salt show and tell table at Kings College London, October 2019


Common Salt

Sheila Ghelani and Sue Palmer

Common Salt is a performance around a table – a ‘show and tell’.

It explores the colonial, geographical and natural history of England and India taking an expansive and emotional time-travel, from the first Enclosure Act and the start of the East India Company in the 1600s, to 21st century narratives of trade, race and culture.

Sue and Sheila activate insights into our shared past, laying out a ‘home museum’ of objects and stories; of the Great Hedge of India, of borders, and collections – all accompanied by original Shruti box laments.

Common Salt – the interconnectedness between history, empire, nature and memory is hidden in plain sight.

Common Salt book

Our book, designed by RULER, is published in partnership with the Live Art Development Agency. The book documents and explores the project, placing the performance text, images and reflections from both artists alongside writings from invited guests, including curators, activists and artists.

Contributors including Alan Read, Jane Trowell, Deepa Bhashti, Maddy Costa, Matty Pye, Lisa Woynarski, Rajni Shah and Alice Procter reflect on the wider contexts of the themes explored in Common Salt.

Buy the Common Salt book from LADA, or from Sheila Ghelani’s shop.

Previous performance locations 2018-22: South London Botanical Institute, Battersea Arts Centre, Bristol Central Library, Bside Festival Portland, Dartington Hall Devon, Wellcome Collection London, Frome Museum, Southernay House Exeter, King’s College London, Wells Library Somerset, Cambridge Junction, Frome Library Somerset, Lancaster Maritime Museum (Lancaster Arts), Yeovil Library Somerset, Queen’s House Royal Museums Greenwich, SITELINES & the University of Reading at The Merl Reading, OSR Projects West Coker Somerset, Manchester Central Library, Attenborough Arts Centre Leicester & Chelsea College of Arts.

Audience responses:

‘Common Salt … was exquisite … A miniature with epic undertones.

‘Common Salt is an extraordinary, sleep-stealing, intricately-woven story of history and power and race and…oh so much more. Can’t recommend it highly enough – a unique and unforgettable experience.

‘ … like reading a book in 3D real life.  Both my friend and I were gripped throughout and couldn’t stop talking about all the ideas it sparked.

‘Common Salt was incredible – Sheila Ghelani and Sue Palmer create a completely hypnotic space. Honestly unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Salt line Common Salt

Common Salt on Sheila Ghelani’s website

Common Salt featured as part of BBC India article – The mysterious disappearance of the world’s longest shrubbery by Kamala Thiagarajan.

Thinking about Common Salt – Sheila and Sue reflect on making Common Salt – May 2020

Exeunt review of Common Salt – by Naomi Obeng – March 2020

On Salt and Tax – article in FEAST Online Journal Issue 2 Salt – February 2020

Listen to an interview with the artists by Scare the Horses curator Paula Crutchlow, with contributions from Dr Nicola Thomas, Cultural Geographer at University of Exeter – February 2020

Artist of the Month at Art.Earth – Sue Palmer writes in response to questions about making Common Salt – September 2018

Common Salt (A Lament) was made by artist and moving image maker Lucy Cash in collaboration with Sue and Sheila. It was exhibited at b-side festival’s ‘Outpost’ in 2018.


Background to the work:

Common Salt is an artwork made by artists Sheila Ghelani and Sue Palmer, who began collaborating in 2013, investigating a thread of connected narratives, originally inspired by the hedgerow, as part of Sheila’s two-year Rambles with Nature project.

Developed over 4 years of research into the colonial and geographical history of England and India, the work is rich and complex, resonant with our contemporary times.  Working against our collective amnesia, Common Salt explores the knotty complexity of lucre, enclosures and borders and the economic and social history of trade.

The artists developed Common Salt while in residence at b-side, Portland, Dorset in May 2017, with work-in-progress showings on July 6th 2017 at b-side’s Outpost.

Thistle and tongs Common Salt

Common Salt tour 2018:

South London Botanical Institute, London (part of Chelsea Fringe) | Thursday 24 May | 4:00pm & 7:00pm

Battersea Arts Centre, London | Thursday 7 – Saturday 9 June | 2:30pm & 7:00pm

Bristol Central Library, Bristol | Thursday 13th September | 4:30pm & 7:30pm

Artist Talk – a Lunchtime Lecture in Bristol Library about the research behind Common Salt with Sue | Thursday 6th September | 12.30pm to 1.15pm

b-side Festival Fortuneswell, Portland, Dorset | Saturday 15 & Sunday 16 September | 1.00pm & 4.00pm

Dartington Hall, Devon (hosted by | Friday 28th September | 6:00pm & 8:00pm

Wellcome Collection, Reading Room, London | Thursday 4th October at 6.00pm & 8.00pm | Friday 5th October at 4.00pm (BSL interpreted)

Frome Museum, Somerset | Saturday 20 October | 4:00pm & 7:00pm

Southernhay House, Exeter, Devon |as part of Scare The Horses | Thursday 31 January 2019 | 6:00pm & 8:30pm

Common Salt national tour 2019 – 2020:

Kings College London, (part of Theatre Capital programme) | Thursday 17 October | 11.00am (with post show discussion)

Wells Library, Somerset | Saturday 19th October | 11.00am & 2.00pm

Cambridge Junction, Cambridge | Monday 21st October | 5:30pm & 8.00pm

Frome Library, Somerset | Saturday 9th November | 11.30am & 2.30pm

Lancaster Arts / Lancaster Maritime Museum | Saturday 16 November | 3.00pm & 7.00pm

Yeovil Library, Somerset | Saturday 30th November | 11.30am & 2.30pm

Queen’s House, Royal Museums Greenwich | Friday 6th December| 11.30am & 2.30pm

SITELINES  & University of Reading at The Museum of English Rural Life, Reading | Wednesday 29th January | 2.00pm (students/fully booked) & 7.00pm

OSR Projects, Old School Room, West Coker, Somerset BA22 9BD | Saturday 1st February | 3.00pm & 7.00pm

Manchester Central Library | Friday 7th February | 11.30am & 2.30pm

Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester | Friday 6th March | 4.00pm & 7.00pm

Museum of London Docklands | Friday 9th October 2020 | 3.15pm & 6.30pm (fully booked) | Saturday 10th October | 4.45pm  Event includes a self-led tour around the Museum of London Docklands in connection to the history of the East India Company. Book tickets and all information here.

The following shows were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic: Red Brick Building, Glastonbury, Holburne Museum Bath, Live Art Development Agency London, Urban Room, Folkestone, The British Library London.

Chelsea College of Arts London | Wednesday 4th May 2022 | 2.30pm & 6.00pm with aftershow Q+A at 7.30pm

Supported using public funds by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Developed with support from b-side and One Final Act by Rajni Shah Projects.

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2019-20 national tour produced in partnership with Somerset Libraries, Somerset Art Works and all our host venues

Hand Salt Coin 1 Common Salt