The artist Veronica Ryan has unveiled her new sculpture in the east London borough of Hackney honouring the Windrush generation of workers who came to the UK from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971.
Montserrat-born Ryan has created a series of large marble and bronze sculptures representing Caribbean fruit and vegetables—including breadfruit (Moraceae) and soursop (Annonaceae)—which are located near St Augustine’s Tower. The unveiling marked the first day of Black History Month.
Ryan says in a statement: “With all the world crisis we are experiencing, this is a wonderful time to embrace positivity. Cultural visibility and representation evident in public spaces is crucial. I am very happy that my sculptures will be part of this recognition.”
In an interview earlier this year Ryan discussed the work further: “They are made of permanent materials and although they measure more than three metres across, there’s nothing monumental about them—they can also be playful and you can sit on them. I like all these different points of reference, and the direct relationship between the object and the public was a driving factor in my choice. It would never occur to me to make a figure—I don’t think in figures—but I didn’t want to make an abstracted form, either. I wanted something that would directly resonate with a wider part of the community.”
Ryan's sculptures—and another Windrush piece by Thomas J. Price to be unveiled on National Windrush Day next June—were 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. The accompanying public programme around the works is supported by the Freelands Foundation.
A public consultation, which sought opinion from local residents, was launched in 2018. Another proposal, submitted by the artist Hew Locke and the curator Indra Khanna, involved creating a cast bronze depiction of the HMT Empire Windrush ship.
Price is among four other artists shortlisted to create a new monument at Waterloo Station in London commemorating the Windrush workers.
In 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush ship arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex with more than 500 immigrants on board to help fill post-war UK labour shortages. In 2018, the children of the Windrush generation were told that their status was illegal and faced deportation despite living and working in the UK for decades. The government apologised for their treatment.