Participatory public art: Shadwell Soundwaves

Shadwell Soundwaves 2008

Shadwell Soundwaves is a series of six stone benches at the centre of Tarling Heights and Watney Plaza, a new complex of flats, shops and park for local people developed by One Housing Group (formerly Toynbee Housing Association) for Shadwell in east London.

During the spring of 2007 I spent time with local people and talked to them about their memories and experiences of living and working in Shadwell. Extracts from these conversations were then carved into the benches. The quotations reveal and document the diversity of the local community and include references to the history of the docks and old Watney Market, stories of migrant populations and young people’s ideas about the future in this ever-changing part of London.

Stone carver Simon Keeley cutting out the lettering on site

I worked with the Bangladeshi Youth Movement, Watney Market Library Book Group, Docker’s Club, Link Age Plus at Sonali Gardens, London Somali Action Forum, Tarling Residents’ Association, Swedendorg Elders Club, Lady Mico’s Almshouses, Friends of Yiddish, and Care House.

The carved texts are intended to intrigue passers-by. Some are in languages not all will understand. But it is important that the texts are direct transcripts of spoken words, voices that deserve to be heard in this community.