STEVEN DOWNES, editor of Inside Croydon, on the crass insensitivity of a senior councillor over an ‘artwork’ revealed off Surrey Street Market
Residents, business owners and even senior figures on Croydon’s Labour-run council were embarrassed and angry when, within days of the appalling terrorist attack on another south London market at London Bridge, one of their cabinet members was celebrating the unveiling of an artwork on Surrey Street Market which portrays a small boy armed with a hand grenade.
A version of a sculpture called Boy Soldier by Tristan Schoonraad, who trades under the Banksy-style title of “Schoony”, has been set into a wall just off Surrey Street, at the entrance to Waterworks Yard, on the building next to the Crisis Centre.
One academic, who has been studying how local authorities and developers have used premium-priced coffee shops and “artisan” bakeries to gentrify areas and force out the working-class community, described Boy Soldier as “artwashing laid bare”.
“This is art as excessive, nasty commercialism. Mocking, sneering and deeply offensive, it has no place in Croydon, or anywhere else for that matter,” Stephen Pritchard, of Northumbria University, told Inside Croydon.
The street art was first revealed on Wednesday, the day before the General Election, when Labour’s Sarah Jones was seeking to oust Tory MP Gavin Barwell from the Croydon Central constituency, which includes the area around Surrey Street.
“This is exactly the sort of tactless, insensitive thing which will give our council a bad reputation, and could cost us votes, tomorrow and next May,” one senior Labour figure at the Town Hall said.
Boy Soldier is part of a £1.1million council-funded gentrification of the 700-year-old street market. The spending is the pet project of the Labour cabinet member Mark Watson, who has described the salt-of-the-earth, value-for-money market as “tatty”.
Watson’s overhaul of the market, which re-opened on Monday, has already earned the ire of several long-standing stall holders after a 10-week closure and loss of their traditional stalls.
Boy Soldier, derivative versions of which Schoonraad has been churning out for almost a decade for his celebrity clients, has in the past sold for £6,000 to £7,000.
“What do Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Benedict Cumberbatch and Surrey St have in common? Boy Soldier by Schoony!” gushed an over-excited Watson on Wednesday, just a day after the flag outside Croydon Town Hall had been flown at half-staff supposedly in respect for the victims of the terror attack at Borough Market in central London.
Watson is part of the Gang of Four that controls the Labour group on the council.
Via the public forum of Twitter, Inside Croydon asked Watson, “Given the context of this week, with a terrorist attack on a south London street market, care to comment on the insensitivity of this?”
Watson’s response? Presumably, the elected councillor believes he is immune from public opinion. He blocked Inside Croydon on Twitter. Like that’ll work…
Further enquiries confirm that residents living near the market, shop-keepers and stall-holders, and even Watson’s party colleagues on the council, had never been consulted about the artwork, nor the timing of its unveiling.
It is the second time this year that Watson has spent thousands of pounds of public money on a piece of “street art” of dubious merit for Surrey Street, apparently without any transparent financial controls.
The work appears to have been commissioned through Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, the owner of the Rise Gallery, and beloved of Croydon’s Glee Club and the council chief executive, Jo Negrini.
Negrini had the gallery owner accompany her to events such as the MIPIM developers’ piss-up in the South of France in March. Zuchowski-Morrison has been tipped to be handed the prestigious new gallery space to open beneath the Fairfield Halls. Which will be nice for him.
But despite Boy Soldier’s provenance, Watson’s cabinet colleagues remain unimpressed.
“The merits of the sculpture are neither here nor there,” said one.
“It’s the crass insensitivity of revealing this piece, now, barely a day after all the hashtagged virtue signalling on social media about the London Bridge terrorist attacks. It’s a real low for bad judgement. And Watson’s gone ahead and done it apparently off his own back.”
Pritchard, a PhD researcher who has been studying “art-washing” as a pernicious technique used for gentrifying working-class areas to make them more attractive to multi-billion developers, told Inside Croydon, “How insensitive of the council to erect this hip, trendy sculpture just days after the atrocity at Borough Market.
“Not only was this hideously post-modern parodic lump hung up without thought for those who lost their lives, were injured, were left traumatised, but it also mocks working-class people who face the very real danger of social cleansing. It represents the menacing face of gentrification.
“The ‘sculpture’ is designed to act as both beacon and warning. A flame to which trendy artists, hipsters and posh cupcake makers will flock, followed undoubtedly by rising rents and the displacement of local people and businesses. And a foreboding, azure-coloured non-entity, threatening to shatter, explode the livelihoods of market stall-owners, market goers and, indeed, the very fabric of everyday life in the area.
“This is artwashing laid bare. Art as excessive, nasty commercialism. Mocking, sneering and deeply offensive, it has no place in Croydon, or anywhere else for that matter.”
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