A report by Lanre Bakare for London’s Guardian.
Two sculptures – including a 2.7-metre (9ft) figure that will stand outside Hackney town hall – will become the first permanent artworks to honour the Windrush generation when they are unveiled next year.
The artworks are being created by artists Thomas J Price and Veronica Ryan and will be installed in 2021. Their announcement coincides with Windrush Day on Monday, and with ongoing debate in the UK about contentious statues and their connections to colonialism and slavery.
The mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, said new sculptures were a “real statement of pride” for the Windrushgeneration and their descendants in the borough. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, recently announced a commission to review and improve diversity across London’s public spaces.
“It’s not an answer to the statue conversation. But I think it’s an early down payment on righting some of that wrong, and a chance to see more diverse people represented in a public realm,” said Glanville.
Price, whose artwork has repeatedly addressed ideas of identity and whose grandmother was from Jamaica, said the sculptures would highlight the dearth of black figures represented in civic spaces. “I think representation is incredibly important,” he said.
“It’s been so lacking, we just haven’t had it. You can count on one hand the number of public sculptures of statues of non-white people, and it’s even worse for black people. You have to be Nelson Mandela. It’s incredible. And yet that is just seen as normal.”
Price told the Guardian he hopes his bronze figure, which will be created by using photo archives and digital 3D scans of Hackney residents, will act a permanent reminder of the borough’s connections to Windrush and give black Britons a sense of belonging.
He said: “For the people who are here today who are British, but have to answer that question of: ‘Where you really from?’ They can see there’s a sculpture standing 9ft high, looking like someone they know, in the centre of Hackney.”
Ryan, who moved to New York in 1990 but who grew up in UK with parents who emigrated from Montserrat, is creating a series of large marble and bronze sculptures representing Caribbean fruit and vegetables. Ryan said she remembers visiting east London markets as a child and that the use of fruit and vegetables in the sculpture ties into the narrative of migration and movement.
“I have memories of going to Ridley Road Market with my mother as a child to buy fruit and vegetables, fabrics, and sewing materials,” she said.
“The movement of fruit and vegetables across the globe historically exemplifies the way people have been part of that movement. Many fruit and vegetables have their origins in Asia, and Africa. The perception of origins, and belonging to specific places is an extended part of the conversation.”
Price said the sculpture would provide people with “a sense of visibility, connectedness, belonging, and an ownership of history that they’ve not been allowed to access fully” because it is not taught in school.
The announcement of the sculptures comes as several controversial public statues and artworks have been removed or reassessed.
A statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was “dumped, like the victims of the Middle Passage, into the water” during a Black Lives Matter protest, while Oriel College in Oxford said it would remove a statue of the Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes after a campaign that started in 2015. In London, a statue of slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay was also removed following a petition.
Price – whose work has appeared in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and who studied at Chelsea College of Art – and Ryan – whose work is in the Tate collection – were chosen by a panel chaired by Mark Sealy, the director of Hackney-based gallery Autograph ABP, after a consultation process that began in 2018.
Hackney council has previously called on the government to help members of the Windrush generation acquire British citizenship and for naturalisation fees to be waived. In May 2018, Glanville wrote an open letter to then home secretary Sajid Javid that criticised the government’s “appalling” immigration policies following the Windrush scandal.