New Cross Fire Mural project: I Am Her
I was asked to project manage this powerful community art project that pays tribute to a painful past, reveals a troubled present and tenuously suggests the possibility of a hopeful future.
The project began as a community led response to the still unanswered questions relating to the New Cross Fire which took place in 1981, in which thirteen young black people died in a house fire that broke out during a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road on January 18. The police response to the tragic incident sparked a strong reaction by the black community, who felt marginalised as second-class citizens.
Three scenes stand side by side, occupying a vibrantly painted mural. On the far left, a menacing officer’s mouth opens wide to expose a prisoner behind bars, on the far right hooded youths stand, pressed against walls and try to reach through blue chains, while in the middle of it all a peaceful man tends delicate flowers as white doves fly towards a yellow rising sun.
The mural was created by six young teenagers from Deptford’s Addey & Stanhope School, under the guidance of Northern Irish artists Danny Devenny, Mark Ervine and Marty Lyons. The trio were made famous by their political murals on city walls during the Troubles.
Tayla, 15, one of the young artists who worked on the project, explained the concept behind the images. Tayla said: “It’s about how we, as young people in the black community, feel about the police. They look down on us and stop us, especially boys, judging us purely by the clothes we are wearing.”
She hopes that the mural would open up a dialogue between police and the black community. “I want the police to see this. I want them to work with us, and I want the mural to help us do that.”
project, funded by the Centre for the Arts and Learning in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.