Hackney Council has today announced that artists Thomas J Price and Veronica Ryan have been commissioned to create two new individual public artworks celebrating and honouring Hackney’s Windrush Generation, the first permanent public sculptures to do so in the UK.
The artworks will be unveiled in 2021, and will be installed in two different locations at the heart of civic and community life in the borough, including outside Hackney Town Hall. The works will serve as a permanent expression of solidarity with the Windrush Generation, a recognition of the hugely significant contribution they have made to life in Hackney and the UK, and will symbolise the ongoing commitment from the borough to provide refuge and welcome to worldwide migrants.
In August 2018, Hackney became the first local authority in the UK to pass a comprehensive motion regarding the Windrush Generation, pledging to oppose the criminalisation of Windrush families, calling for an end to the ‘hostile environment’ policies and for support for those who have been affected by them.
This announcement follows the Council’s decision to review the role of statues and the naming of landmarks, street names, parks and other public spaces to ensure they best reflect Hackney’s diversity and history of fighting racism.
The announcement is made on Windrush Day 2020, and follows an extensive consultation process which began in 2018. Following an initial shortlisting process, the final decision to commission Thomas J Price and Veronica Ryan was made by a panel including Hackney residents, Windrush campaigners, artists, architects and local councillors including Cllr Carole Williams – Hackney’s Windrush lead. The panel was chaired by Mark Sealy, Director of Hackney-based gallery Autograph ABP, with approval from Mayor Phillip Glanville.
Using photo archives, observations and digital 3D scans of Hackney residents, Thomas J Price will create a large-scale bronze sculpture, which will be placed in the centre of Hackney, outside the Town Hall. This larger than life physical representation of people from the African Caribbean diaspora will be a bold celebration of the legacy and cultural influence of the Windrush Generation, while also seeking to address the disproportionate lack of statues representing black citizens in the UK in a nuanced form that reinforces the beauty of the everyday and the human.
Veronica Ryan will create a series of large marble and bronze sculptures representing Caribbean fruit and vegetables. Speaking of her inspiration, Veronica Ryan said:
“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. 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.”
The Mayor of Hackney, Phillip Glanville said:
“We are thrilled to be welcoming the work of Thomas J Price and Veronica Ryan to Hackney. These very different works by two leading black artists will represent a symbol of our borough’s ongoing commitment to honouring the contribution the Windrush Generation has made to our borough. The visionary work of these artists helps us to demonstrate how much we value the role arts and culture play in expressing our identity and interpreting this essential part of our collective story.
Since 2018 we have been in conversations with cultural experts and our local community about the commission and the significance it brings to not only our borough but the story of Black History in the UK. While our commitment to this work has long predated the current debate about better and more diverse representation in the public sphere we’re proud, as we undergo our review of landmarks and naming of public spaces, to be able to make this announcement on Windrush Day 2020. It is a clear example of our ongoing efforts to reflect on and celebrate our migrant history, recognising it and Black History as an essential and valued part of Hackney and who we are as a borough.”
Cllr Carole Williams, Hackney Council’s Windrush Lead and Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources, said:
“To see Hackney become home to two new pieces of art belonging to two different generations of the Windrush community is something we take pride in. Placing their work in the heart of Hackney represents our long history of welcoming migrants from across the world and recognising art as a form of expression and identity.
We’re proud to be home to one of the largest black British populations in the UK and we’re committed to recognising the ongoing contributions they bring through celebration, support and honour. The announcement of our Windrush artwork is another example of how we stand by those commitments and insist on visibility and gratitude to black British people within our civic and accessible spaces.”
Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP, said:
“I’m delighted that Thomas and Veronica have been chosen for these incredibly important public art commissions. It’s been an engaging and deeply participatory process from all those involved. Through this process we now have the opportunity to mark with respect and grace the incredible contributions the Windrush Generation has made to Britain and beyond.”
Thomas J Price said:
“This is an amazing opportunity to show how people connected to Windrush are part of the very fabric of this country. I feel honoured to be part of this celebration of its legacy, especially as my Jamaican grandmother came over as a nurse. Hackney is a place I know well and is close to my heart. I was born and raised in London and frequently visited Hackney to see friends long before I started to come to the area for arts and cultural activities. I am very excited to work with the people of Hackney on this project, and it’s my hope that this piece will challenge social perceptions and receive engagement from audiences that are often left out of traditional gallery environments.”
Veronica Ryan said:
“The chance to work on this commission is really brilliant and exciting. l look forward to realising this timely project during this pivotal moment for transformation, positive representations of cultural diversity, and tangible visibility in public sculpture. It is wonderful that Hackney is taking this initiative.”
The project, produced in partnership with Create, is part of the Council’s wider Windrush Engagement Programme which started in 2018. Working directly with over 3,000 Windrush elders and their descendants on intergenerational activities in areas of arts, heritage, sport, health and education, the programme has given African Caribbean elders a voice and reconnected younger generations with their heritage.