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Petition emerges to save railway bridge artwork

Organisers said they had concentrated on the “powerful statement of the artwork” rather than researching the artist’s personal life

11 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A PETITION signed by hundreds of people in support of a railway bridge mural has forced a “pause” in plans to remove it.

The Through Arts We Rise lettering mural next to the West Hampstead Thameslink Station was supposed to be removed this week after the council said it amounted to “advertising”. Network Rail, which owns the bridge wall in West End Lane, had following Town Hall advice requested the graphic letters should be “edited” by the arts group that created it.

NW6 neighbourhood groups have said they should have been consulted and a row about the project, much of it played out social media feeds, has turned ugly.

West Hampstead councillor Peter Taheri said: “There are strong feelings from a significant number of well-intentioned people both in favour of and against the mural – and an unfortunate atmosphere where people on both sides of the matter report to us that they feel intimidated.”

He added: “There is no scientific way immediately to gauge where the balance of local community opinion lies on this; it is clearly divided. Councillor Shiva Tiwari and I have asked for a pause in enforcement, to create a space for consultation. “We hope that people listen to each other with respect and that a local consensus will emerge.”

The immediate removal plan did not apply to the artwork painted on the other side of the road, an image of John Henderson and his dog Sugar. Mr Henderson, who lived in Kilburn, sold books outside the station for 20 years before his death last year.

Cllr Taheri said last week it was not appropriate to have a mural provoking debate about homelessness in West Hampstead because its residents were already community-spirited and kind people who did a lot to help. This week he issued a new statement.

“I’m happy to have a conversation about what is the most effective way to get support to rough sleepers,” he said. “I’m sure most people share my ambition that no one should have to sleep rough – not in West Hampstead, not anywhere else.”

The Through Arts We Rise mural was created by artist Ben Eine. He pleaded guilty to an assault of his girlfriend in 2018 and several residents have criticised a decision to hire him for what has been promoted as a community project. Mr Eine was contacted for comment with no response.

Organisers, however, said they had concentrated on the “powerful statement of the artwork” rather than researching the artist’s personal life.

The online petition in support of the mural said: “The lettering on the mural represents a response to the climate of anxiety, defeat, and desperation that London is experiencing during these uncertain times.”

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