Two leading Black artists have been commissioned to create sculptures honouring the Windrush generation, who came to Britain between 1948 and 1971 from the Caribbean to help rebuild the country after the Second World War.
The sculptures, by Thomas J. Pierce and Veronica Ryan, are due to be unveiled in the London borough of Hackney in 2021. They will be the first permanent public artworks honouring the Windrush generation in the UK, Hackney Council said in a statement about the commission.
Hackney Council added that the sculptures “will serve as a permanent expression of solidarity with the Windrush generation, and a recognition of the hugely significant contribution they have made to life in Hackney and the UK”.
The announcement was made to coincide with Windrush Day, on June 22, an annual event marking the arrival of migrants at Tilbury Docks in Essex in 1948 on the first voyage of the HMT Empire Windrush. The ship was carrying people from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other Caribbean islands.
It’s a poignant day in 2020, as it falls amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests and during something of a reckoning in Britain about its history of colonialism — and how that history ought to be remembered.
On June 7, the toppling of a statue of a slave trader, Edward Colston, in Bristol sparked a global debate about what should be done about statues of slave traders and colonialists dotted around many of the world’s cities.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people have recently signed petitions for both colonialism and Black British history and culture to feature more prominently on school curriculums.
But the process of commissioning these sculptures began back in 2018, and “long predated the current debate about better and more diverse representation in the public sphere,” the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Granville, points out in his statement about the announcement.
“It’s not an answer to the statue conversation,” he told the Guardian. “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.”
Using photo archives, observations, and digital 3D scans of Hackney residents, one of the artists, Price, will create a large-scale bronze sculpture. It will be placed in the centre of Hackney, outside the Town Hall.
Price told the Guardian that he hopes it will help redress the dearth of representation of people of colour in public artwork. “I think representation is incredibly important,” he said.
“It’s been so lacking, we just haven’t had it,” he continued. “You can count on one hand the number of public sculptures or 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.”
Ryan, the other artist to win the commission, will create a series of large marble and bronze sculptures representing Caribbean fruit and vegetables. Ryan said of her inspiration for the work: “I have memories of going to Ridley Road Market 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,” she continued. “I remember as a toddler during the 1950s the difficulties my young hopeful parents from Montserrat dealt with, navigating a new country and often inhospitable circumstances.”
In April 2018, the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned after it emerged that her department’s policies had led to members of the Windrush generation, who had been granted leave to remain in Britain, being wrongly targeted for deportation.
This #WindrushDay2020 we're announcing the final artists for our public art commission, as well as the launch of this year's online festival: https://t.co/2pxGrB4Cuy.— Mayor of Hackney (@mayorofhackney) June 22, 2020
To learn more about Hackney's work to celebrate & fight for the Windrush Generation: https://t.co/63bEvFTKbmhttps://t.co/g6lwjfopcb
The Windrush scandal, as it became known, disrupted thousands of lives, with people who had been resident legally in the UK for decades losing jobs, being denied medical care on the NHS, or being deported.
On Windrush Day 2020, the author of a report into the Windrush scandal, Wendy Williams, warned that there is a “real risk” of something similar happening again.
She told the BBC that the Home Office still needed to "make good on its commitment to learn the lessons".
Williams’ review, published in March 2020, had 30 recommendations, including a programme of reconciliation events with members of the Windrush generation, and the appointment of a Migrant’s Commissioner.
In response to her comments today, the Home Office released a statement saying that it intends to “right those wrongs”, the BBC reported.
It was further reported on Monday that a Windrush Working Group has been established, co-chaired by the Home Secretary Priti Patel and Bishop Derek Webley, that aims to “bring together stakeholders and community leaders with government officials to address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants.”