Some of you may know that I’ve been hunting street art for many years. Mostly I find these various size works in and around the Shoreditch area in East London or The Leake Street Tunnel near Waterloo station. Whenever I travel abroad I always try and find the local street art district with some amazing and well known artists’ work being visible in more than one country it’s always a nice surprise to spot a tag or style from an artist you’ve seen before. My Instagram page has been running since May 2020 and has organically grown to just over 1000 followers. This is just the tip of the iceberg of course, with the fandom and movement having at least 100 times that in street art fans in the UK and with some Instagram followers having well over 15,000 followers. I’m not shallow enough to worry about the followers that I get that much but it’s nice that people want to see my photography and my street art hunting efforts. That for me is the real enjoyment of street art hunting, the not knowing what you’ll find next and with most pieces changing every week, it’s an exciting and constantly evolving outdoor gallery and I also often get a good 15k worth of steps out of each hunt whilst wandering around the streets of EC1, so it’s good for my health too.
A couple of days ago I was asked if I’d like to see some street art created by Sonia Boyce to cover the wall protecting the new Crossrail line that runs from Abbey Wood and though North Woolwich, Silvertown and Custom House. This would be the biggest mural in Europe covering an area over 2km long. This should be interesting to see but I would always be a bit hesitant however about a corporation getting involved in an artwork project as the amount of bureaucracy and committee meetings often results in something very bland and disappointing.
The Crossrail version of the Berlin wall certainly needs something to brighten up the area and I’m surprised that street artists or enthusiastic youths with spray cans and no idea haven’t already had a go at it with “Bozzo Woz Ere” but it seems mostly unmolested if just a dirty white wall. The pre-printed panels that are going up ready for the summer 2021 launch are pretty much as I would expect. Mostly a safe hospital style design of a black and white cityscape with flowers along the bottom. The panels are dotted with quotes from local residents and are mostly uninspiring. One quote did stand out though that I’m stunned actually went through the due diligence and creative process. The offending element was highlighting the crime and murders in the area. This will do wonders for the house prices I’m sure.
The quote read,
‘I love this area North Woolwich.
I’m glad I was brought up here, it’s like a village. It has a hairdresser, a corner shop, a post office, a library, three parks, a bakery and a pharmacy.
There’s the Police Station, there’s a Chinese takeaway.
It has everything all in one small area and everyone knows everyone.
The only negative thing is the crime and the murders, which has been increasing.
This is unfortunate, but other than that everything else is fine.
Also there’s a little beach and you can take a ferry ride.
It’s all so close.
Like a village.’
How on earth did that ever get approved? Having seen this I decided to Tweet about it on the @Moliblog Twitter page showing my shock and disappointment at the way Crossrail and the artist can think this a great way to promote the area?
Given the reputed £1m+ price tag, I can tell you that local community groups could really use that money post Covid more than hearing that they live in a crime and murder zone. It’s especially insensitive as less than 5 minutes walk away, a shrine is still in place to a young man that was the victim of knife crime. You could argue that the quote was honest and a temporary piece of commentary it would be challenging and inspire change, however as a permanent wall covering it falls short of any decency and consideration for local residents.
Crossrail didn’t reply to my tweet and why would they. However, after ITV news and The Evening Standard quoted my tweet on their websites, the story did get some momentum and I’m glad to say that Newham Council put out a press release asking for the offending panel to be covered up or removed. The Crossrail programme manager Jim Crawford appeared in ITV news that night and was frankly clueless about the whole project and claimed he would look into it.
I’m pleased to say that today the panel has been taken down and hopefully something more positive will replace it. A quote maybe about the power of street art that can bring people together despite a big dividing wall though the borough. At least they don’t have guard towers and searchlights. Yet.