A hopscotch through black history is the idea behind an ambitious new mural in a Hammersmith park by artist Jacob V Joyce, commemorating the borough’s rich diversity.
Commissioned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council, with the help of a major grant from Transport for London, the mural covers a brick wall 19m wide and 4m tall, flanking the sports court in Marcus Garvey Park, near Olympia.
The park is named after black civil rights champion Marcus Garvey, who lived close by in Talgarth Road from 1933-40.
The mural shows children jumping along a hopscotch path which is dotted with symbols and figures from black history, from slavery abolitionist Olaudah Equaino to Notting Hill Carnival founder Claudia Jones.
“We are proud of H&F’s diversity, and proud of the vibrant artistic scene in the borough,” said Cllr Andrew Jones, H&F Cabinet Member for the Economy and the Arts. “This magnificent mural celebrates both, and its significance and symbolism cannot be overstated. Jacob V Joyce has done a tremendous job, and I hope everyone will visit.”
The mural is a result of the council’s Arts Strategy (pdf 627KB) which aims to make H&F one of the leading destinations for the arts in the country.
“I’ve never worked on a project as big as this,” admitted Jacob, who was assisted in the monumental painting task by six other artists. “When people think of black history, they usually think of the USA. But I wanted to mark our local black history; and I hope it will become an education resource for schools.”
More than 25 artists tendered for the project, with Jacob declared the winner from a final shortlist of four by a panel including local residents, a ward councillor and Alwyn Simpson, chair of the Friends of Marcus Garvey Park.
Alwyn said that the selection group had had a tricky final choice after agonising over two worthy options. “In the end, we felt Jacob’s design best reflected what we wanted; it represents those who have fought for freedom in different ways, and different eras,” he said.
“We needed something in the park to make people ask: ‘Who was Marcus Garvey?’”
He believes the mural will become a tourist attraction for UK and overseas visitors, building on the links with another Marcus Garvey Park, in New York.
In the commissioning brief, artists were asked to dream up an artwork that commemorated the park and its unique history, that was 'uplifting yet poignant in nature', and which enriched the experience of park users while being sympathetic to its location.
The site had its challenges. Two street lights interrupt the artwork, and several buttresses mean the old brick surface isn’t uniformly smooth.
“We had to blast off the old paint from the surface,” said Jacob. “It’s been a learning experience! The textures in the wall vary so much; it was hard to control everything.”
A former artist in residence at the Tate, Jacob’s comic book style appealed to the selectors, and has made the completed artwork more accessible and eye-catching.
Of his vision for the mural, Jacob said that he imagined children skipping along a timeline of black liberation, with portraits, symbols and dates of historical events linking the history of anti-colonial struggles down the years.
“I hope it will be a useful contribution to Black History Month [in October],” he said. “The symbols in the mural are combinations of African and Caribbean symbols, and they include a green long-tailed hummingbird, native only to Jamaica, which represents the cross-pollination of pan-African movements that was at the heart of Marcus Garvey’s philosophy.
“The mural features a lot of people that black people wish they’d learnt about in school.”
The children featured in the mural are portraits of children who use Marcus Garvey Park. “We put up a barrier to stop people coming near when we were painting, but the children just jumped over it,” laughed Jacob. “So the pictures in the mural are modelled on the children who use the park; they posed for us.”
The first step in creating the mural was chopping back the buddleia which cascaded over from behind the wall; a task entrusted to Jacob’s partner, gardener Marcus McDonald. The purple T-shirt worn by one of the children in the mural echoes the buddleia colour.
The project was completed by Jacob with the assistance of artists Buki Bayode, Sola Olulode, Richard Ikhide, Rudy Loewe, Ailsa Yexley, and Marcus.
Though an experienced artist, Sola had never worked on a giant mural before. “What’s been great is that, while we’ve been painting, so many people have stopped and thanked us,” she said.
“They’ve told us it really brightens the park up. The wall surface has been a challenge; some parts are smooth, but others you have to ram the paint into cracks and holes with the brushes!”
There will be a formal opening ceremony in August.
History of park
Marcus Garvey Park has an intriguing history. It was an area of prefabs after the Second World War, then became a car park before being converted into a green space in 1987 to mark the centenary of Garvey’s birth.
Thanks to the support of the Friends of Marcus Garvey Park and the council, it has become a much-loved, well-used part of community life, winning a Green Flag award, and being described as ‘thriving’ for the third year in a row by London in Bloom.
With benches, extensive play equipment and CCTV to counter any antisocial behaviour, what was already a popular asset now has an exciting new attraction to its name.
The mural will officially open in August with an inaugural ceremony.
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