On 23 June 2021, Metal took the heart-breaking decision to take down an artwork from Gunners Park in Shoeburyness that was part of Estuary 2021, called An English Garden by Gabriella Hirst. This work had been commissioned for Estuary 2021 by Metal and The Old Waterworks and put in place, having gone through all the correct permissions procedures. It had permission to be there, beyond the end of the festival, until 31 August.
Our decision was taken after being subjected to intense pressure over the previous 48 hours from the local, ward Councillors who issued us with a demand to remove the work – and an ultimatum that if we didn’t by 6pm on 23 June they would “take action” against the work bringing with them national attention highlighting what was their fundamental misreading of the work as a “direct far left wing attack on our History, our People and our Democratically Elected Government”.
Following extensive discussion with Gabriella and The Old Waterworks, Metal took the decision to remove the work – to protect the wellbeing and mental health of our small team of staff and volunteers in Southend from possible adverse effects that might arise from any ‘action’ taken against the work based on a distortion of the actual meaning of the work and our intentions for including it within the programme for Estuary 2021.
We absolutely stand with Gabriella and the content of her thoughtful, well-researched, beautiful work and the contemplative space that she brought to the duration of Estuary 2021. The work was in situ for 5 weeks, with many visitors and good engagement, and not one complaint from the public audience, residents or regular users of the park. And we support and respect wholeheartedly, the way in which she and The Old Waterworks respond in their own way.
Since 23 June, we have taken – and continue to take – action through official routes. We will keep asking questions and demanding answers and doing everything we can to fight for and protect the rights of artists and of public artworks.
Update – what happens next
Heartfelt thanks to the many artists and cultural colleagues who have been in touch over the last few days – many of you asking what happens next.
We wrote to the wider Council Administration in Southend at the end of June, fully outlining the situation and asking some urgent questions about the manner in which it happened.
We have since received an acknowledgement letter that includes “our Administration does not in any way condone censorship nor support the approach that was taken by the opposition councillors concerned.” with a promise of a fuller response that addresses our specific questions. The letter also included the offer of a meeting to discuss the matter further, which we are glad to accept – the date for this is still to be set.
We continue to work with Gabriella Hirst and The Old Waterworks on further response, through the artwork itself, which is an ongoing project.
Image credit: Mark Massey