Leading black artists Thomas J. Price and Veronica Ryan will create new sculptures honouring the Windrush generation of workers who came to the UK from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971. Both works are due to be unveiled in the east London borough of Hackney in 2021.
Price tells The Art Newspaper: “The timing is significant as the recent Black Lives Matter protests have made far more people consciously aware of the power of representation in public statues; I think my Windrush sculpture will be received within this new understanding.”
Today is Windrush Day, marking 72 years since the HMT Empire Windrush ship arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex with more than 500 immigrants on board seeking a new life in Britain. In 2018, UK residents of the Windrush generation were wrongly detained; an estimated 50,000 people subsequently faced deportation if they had never formalised their residency status.
Price will use photo archives, observations and computer-modelled 3D scans of Hackney residents to create an amalgam bronze figure which will be sited outside Hackney Town Hall.
He says: “Hopefully my fictional character will be recognised as a work that asks questions of what it means to belong to society by making visible those who are often marginalised… I think it's a powerful statement about existing in a world that tries to force limitations upon your potential.” The move comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new commission to review and improve “the diversity of London’s public landmarks”.
Montserrat-born Ryan will create a series of large marble and bronze sculptures representing Caribbean fruit and vegetables. She says: “I have memories of going to Ridley Road Market [in Hackney] with my mother as a child to buy fruit and vegetables, fabrics, and sewing materials. Little did I know, those early experiences would become essential material for my practice as an artist.”
The works are commissioned by Hackney Council in partnership with the arts organisation Create. The selection panel was chaired by Mark Sealy, the director of the Hackney-based gallery Autograph ABP.
A public consultation, which sought opinion from local residents, was launched in 2018. Another proposal, submitted by the artist Hew Locke and curator Indra Khanna, involved creating a cast bronze depiction of the HMT Empire Windrush ship.