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This article is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

Ana Maria Pacheco’s Journey to the Underworld, or, Misfortunes of a Sardine Marius Kociejowski

Old Kent Road formed part of Watling Street, the Roman Road which ran from Dover to Holyhead. Chaucer’s pilgrims made their way to Canterbury along it, and a few centuries later, in 1660, Charles the Second, coming from the opposite direction, bedazzled his way to power with, according to John Evelyn, ‘a triumph of about 20,000 horse and foote, brandishing their swords and shouting with inexpressible joy; the wayes strew’d with flowers, the bells ringing, the streets hung with tapestrie, fountaines running with wine.’ The only time I’d ever been on the Old Kent Road is in a game of Monopoly. I am, at heart, a monarch of crumbling edifices. The area, a mishmash of the shabby and the starkly modern, is not without its antiquarian surprises. The converted Victorian school building where the Brazilian sculptor and painter Ana Maria Pacheco lives is wedged between the unhappily-logoed Toys R Us, its pale brick some kind of Lego surrogate, and the sedate grounds, covering six acres, of what was once the Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum founded in 1827 for retired publicans and their wives. Here, the London of brutal architecture rubs up against the London of a more lyrical age. One may read into this, although to say so is almost to spoil the game, a perfect analogy for Pacheco’s artistic vision, a steady tug of war between harsh and gentle.

A few days earlier, I went to an exhibition of hers at the small church of All Hallows ...

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