Common Salt


Common Salt is a new artwork: a live performance and a ‘cine-poem’.

Developed over 3 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 activates insights into our past, questions our human responsibilities, taking participants on an expansive and emotional time-travel.

Common Salt explores the knotty complexity of lucre, enclosures and borders and the economic and social history of trade. It begins in the 1600s with the first Enclosure Act in Dorset, and Elizabeth I granting a royal charter to the East India Company, and continues on a treacherous 400 year journey, through the ‘Great Hedge’ planted across India to tax salt as part of the East India Company’s transnational business, to ships wrecking on the sandbanks of England, to 21st century narratives of trade, race and culture.

“They had this thing where they cut your tie when you put through your first trade.”  Paul Hawtin, Hedge Fund Manager


Artists Sheila Ghelani and Sue Palmer began collaborating on the idea for Common Salt late in 2013 investigating a thread of connected narratives, originally inspired by the hedgerow, as part of Sheila’s two-year Rambles with Nature project.

Common Salt is being developed as a live performance around a table – a show and tell, a nature table, a battle mat – using objects and salty Shruti box laments to tell an extraordinary story.

“To secure the levy on a duty of salt….there grew up gradually a monstrous system, to which is would be almost impossible to find a parallel in any tolerably civilised country. A Customs Line was established which stretched across the whole of India, which in 1869 extended from the Indus to the Mahanadi in Madras, a distance of 2,300 miles; and it was guarded by nearly 12,000 men…..It would have stretched from London to Constantinople ….It consisted principally of an immense impenetrable hedge of thorny trees and bushes.”

— Roy Moxham, The Great Hedge of India

Sue and Sheila were in residence at b-side, Portland, Dorset in May 2017, with two work-in-progress showings on July 6th 2017 at bside’s Outpost.
The work is currently in development for a tour of museums, libraries and arts venues in 2018.