Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Four artists shortlisted for the Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station

The names of the four artists shortlisted to create the planned Windrush Monument were announced last week. Their designs for the Monument - which will be located at Waterloo Station - will be displayed around the country this summer.
Images of the shortlisted artists
(L to R: Jeannette Ehlers, Thomas J Price, Valda Jackson, Basil Watson)

This post covers:
  • the aim of the Windrush Monument
  • the shortlisted artists
  • arrangements for consultation with the Caribbean community in the UK.


The Windrush Monument

The Windrush Monument will be a permanent tribute to a generation of arrivals from the Caribbean to Britain – from the arrival of MV Empire Windrush in 1948 and in the decades that followed.  Artist shortlist for national Windrush Monument revealed |Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Windrush Commemoration Committee 

The aim of the Monument

The intention is that the Monument will be:
  • An ambitious public artwork 
  • A testament to the contribution of Caribbean pioneers in communities across the United Kingdom. 
  • A visible statement of shared history and heritage
  • A permanent place of reflection and inspiration. 
Specifically the monument will recognise how the Windrush Generation have - over the last 70 years:
  • enriched the history of the UK
  • made invaluable contributions to all aspects of British life, from our health and transport services to our politics, businesses, literature and culture. 

That's quite a challenge for any artist!


Location: Waterloo Station

Waterloo station in London is where thousands of Windrush pioneers first arrived in London, after the M.V. Windrush docked at Tilbury, before starting new lives across the UK. 
The station's strong association with the stories of many members of the Windrush Generation means it was chosen as the location for the sculpture - to celebrate their arrival and contribution to the UK.
I remember vividly my own moment of arrival, as a 10 year old – stepping off the train and standing on Platform 19 at Waterloo Station. That spot, familiar to so many of us and our parents, is less than a few hundred metres from where the Windrush monument will stand in perpetuity. Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE
The intention is that the Windrush Monument will be unveiled on Windrush Day 2022.


Shortlisted artists

Unsurprisingly, the four artists shortlisted to design the monument are all of Caribbean descent. Two are from the UK and two are based outside the UK - but have a Caribbean heritage.

They include world renowned, established and up and coming artists working across the visual arts. 

The artists were selected by the Windrush Commemoration Committee (WCC), chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE. 

The four artists chosen to make up the final shortlist are listed below. Links to their websites are embedded in their names.

Basil Watson

Basil Watson [Instagram] was born in Jamaica and emigrated to the uSA in 2002. He has done most of his work in North America and the Caribbean.

He is both a Sculptor and painter. He has 
  • designed public sculptures and monuments across the world including statues of Martin Luther King (see below), Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey. 
  • He was awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) in 2016 by the Jamaican government in recognition of his artistic accomplishments.  
  • He created Rings of Life, 2012 - which was unveiled by Prince Harry at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Jamaica as part of Jamaica's 50th Independence celebration.

Home Page of Basil Watson's website

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of internationally renowned painter Barrington Watson, it was a natural progression for Watson to study at the Jamaica School of Art. He then went on to establish a successful career as Jamaica's leading sculptor. The most notable of his achievements include having monumental works on the campuses of the 3 primary universities in the island, as well as signature works at the 2 major Stadia. In 2016, the Government of Jamaica awarded Basil the Order of Distinction (Commander) in recognition of his contributions in the field of Art.

Emigrating to the United States in 2002, Watson established his home and studio in Lawrenceville, GA. Having continued the steep climb to international recognition, he has completed major works in China, Guatemala, and in various States within the US. (Profile from his website)

My thoughts

He's certainly a very impressive sculptor of renown - and obviously has very strong connections to Jamaica. However, will the lack of a specific link to the UK and the Windrush Generation work against him in the final selection? I think so...


Jeannette Ehlers

Between 1999- 2006 she studied at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art, Denmark.
She uses a mixture of photography, video, installation, sculpture and performance in her work. Her work addresses complex questions about memory, race and colonialism, influenced by her Danish Trinidadian heritage. 
In 2018 Ehlers was the co-creator of a significant public memorial in Copenhagen to Mary Thomas (a 19th century slavery freedom fighter), in collaboration with the Crucian artist La Vaughn Belle.

My thoughts 

A young emerging artist who has completed one significant public sculpture of a single figure - with a co-creator.

I can't help thinking that the lack of any connection to the UK will count against her.


Valda Jackson

Valda Jackson is a daughter of Windrush generation pioneers.
She is a multidisciplinary artist - and works in sculpture, painting, printmaking and moving image - as well as being a published writer.

Her intention is to create complex narratives that reflect and question our past and present with intent on influencing our future. 

She's completed a number of public art commissions for public organisations as part of her collaborative public art practice ‘Jackson and Harris’. In 2017, the practice won the Marsh Award for excellence in Public Sculpture from the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association. 

Her work is about existence. It’s about survival, individual entitlement, privilege and dignity; themes that extend themselves into much of her Sculpture Commissions where the private is made public, and the personal becomes universal. 


Public Art by Valda Jackson
examples of her carved brickwork relief sculptures.

My thoughts 

I suspect many around the UK will be very sympathetic to somebody who is a child of the Windrush being the creator of the Windrush Monument. I find the focus of her work to be very sympathetic to the intentions behind this Monument - and her monumental relief work in carved brick for her commission for the Peabody Estate is very impressive. It connects to the everyday experience of the people living there - both past and present.

I think she's a strong contender. 


Thomas J Price 

Thomas J Price is a British sculptor of the YBA school with significant experience of creating public artwork. Born in 1981 and 40 this year, he lives and works in London and studied at Chelsea College of Art and the Royal College of Art. There have been major exhibitions of his work at the National Portrait Gallery and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Price’s work across media, encompassing sculpture, film and photography, is engaged with issues of power, representation, interpretation and perception in society and in art. 

He's created only the third statue in the United Kingdom of a black woman, and the first by a black sculptor - erected at Three Mills Green in Stratford. See Sculptor's black 'everywoman' erected on public art walk in London and Sculptor unveils ‘black everywoman’ as UK row over statues and race grows

He has been recently commissioned by Hackney Council to create a permanent sculpture honouring Hackney’s Windrush Generation at Hackney Town Hall. 

Hackney and Windrush
An example image of what might be suitable for the monumental sculpture
to commemorate the Windrush generation at Hackney Town Hall
(from the website of Thomas J Price)



My thoughts

His background is credible in UK art terms in terms of education and experience - and credible in terms of experience of the experience of black people in the UK. He's also had some notable exhibitions at important venues. His portrayals are of individual everyman and everywoman of black heritage. His articulation of what's he about comes across as a bit too "artspeak" on his website. He's much more credible when contributing to or writing articles. 
"White artists are putting themselves forward to create replacement sculptures of slave owners with no sense of irony. That’s a saviour complex, and that exemplifies what is wrong, when even the solution doesn’t involve the Black experience." ("Taking Down Statues Isn't Enough. We Need to Radically Rethink How We Celebrate Power". | Time Magazine June 2020)

I think he's also a strong contender.

The Consultation with the Caribbean Community


Over the summer the public will be encouraged to consider the proposals. 

UP Projects have been appointed by the Windrush Commemoration Committee (WCC) to manage the process of selecting the artist who will design and construct this important monument - because of 

  • their track record of producing and curating contemporary art for public spaces and 
  • their experience of working collaboratively with communities and artists to make work that has social relevance and enriches the public sphere.

UP Projects’ team includes a Caribbean Networks Consultant and a Curator & Caribbean Community Engagement Consultant, who will liaise with the Caribbean community as a major part of the public engagement strategy. 

The aim is to ensure that a meaningful monument is commissioned to represent the Windrush Generation. The views of the Caribbean community will be taken into consideration by the WCC as they make their final selection.

The winning design is planned to be revealed in Black History Month in October and the monument is expected to be unveiled on Windrush Day 2022.

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