Image by Benedict Johnson
At more than a mile long, the Elizabeth line trackside wall in Newham runs through Custom House, Silvertown and North Woolwich. The wall separates the public from the Elizabeth line tracks and trains, helps to reduce noise for nearby residents and provides flood protection for the railway. It also forms one of the longest artworks in the UK.
The initial intention by Crossrail was not to clad the wall, however following concerns about the appearance of the wall by the London Borough of Newham, Crossrail submitted a proposal in 2013 to clad the wall, providing a better visual experience for residents. During the cladding design development, some technical constraints were identified and feedback from the communities living alongside the wall prompted Crossrail to consider whether the cladding solution was the best long-term solution or whether the aim should be for a more community-focused initiative.
In 2015 Crossrail worked with the Howard Griffin Gallery and commissioned three temporary artworks, painted directly onto the trackside wall in order to gauge the community’s response to an art proposal. Three international street artists produced works: Thierry Noir, Medhi Ghadyanloo and RUN. The temporary initiative was a success, and Crossrail submitted plans to apply a curated artwork along the length of the wall that faced the local residential communities.
in 2017 a competition was launched to find an artist to create the unique artwork, one of the UK’s longest. Sonia Boyce, one of the leading figures in the contemporary British art scene was selected by a steering panel of community representatives, project architects and experts in contemporary public art to create an artwork that would be applied to panels applied directly to the finished structural face of the wall. Boyce has a close relationship with the area, she grew up in Canning Town, studied in Plaistow and taught at the University of East London.
The artwork is deeply reflective of the local community, with local residents contributing stories through a series of workshops and events led by Boyce throughout the three neighbourhoods. Over 300 stories were collected by Boyce from 2017 to 2018 that highlight individual memories of the people and events that have shaped Newham. Over 170 of these stories are woven into the design of the final artwork.
Boyce also held workshops training local young people from Shipman Youth Centre, Fight for Peace and ASTA Community Hub to record and archive oral history interviews.
Over her 30-year career Sonia Boyce has emerged as one of the leading figures in the British art scene.
Her work began with drawings that reflect her personal experiences to more recent works in which she uses diverse media such as photography, video, sound and testimonies to depict contemporary life.
Boyce's recent interests explore art as a social practice and the critical and contextual debates that arise from this area of study. With an emphasis on collaborative work, she has been working closely with other people since 1990, often involving improvisation and spontaneous performative actions on the part of her collaborators.
After gaining recognition in the 1980s as part of the Black British artist's movement, Sonia’s practice has evolved to become more collaborative and site-specific, integrating all mediums including film, performance, photography and installation.
In 2007, she was awarded an MBE for services to art, and in 2016 she became a Royal Academician. She has exhibited at the ICA London, Eastside Projects in Birmingham, and the 2015 Venice Biennale. Sonia won the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists. In the 2019 New Years Honours Sonia was awarded an OBE for services to art, and in 2021 became the first black woman to represent the United Kingdom at the 59th annual Venice Biennale.
The Newham Commission is Sonia Boyce’s first permanent public art commission in the UK.
The artwork has been manufactured and installed and is now visible for all to see along the trackside wall through Custom House, Silvertown and North Woolwich.
Commissioned by: Crossrail
Created by: Sonia Boyce OBE RA
Curated by: UP Projects
Engineered by: Atkins
Installed by: Delatim/Pearce Signs
EXPLORE THE STORIES
A new website has been created which provides the background about the artwork and how it was created. It also contains the full collection of stories displayed in an accessible format and provides further information about the engagement process that underpinned the creation of the artwork.
For further information visit www.newhamtracksidewall.com
The project archive is also available at the University of East London Docklands Campus.