I’ve just read about a mural in Newport being destroyed. You may be wondering why I’m mentioning a mural in Newport, when this is a site about York. Because it really shocked me, and the strength of feeling is something I understand, and because it has some parallels with recent debates here in York over the ‘1970s’ elements (and later) in King’s Square, also being removed/destroyed.
But this is much worse, as this is a work of art being wiped out.
I couldn’t watch it all, as the mindless destruction — council approved — was provoking too much of an emotional reaction. Fury, mainly. My fury surprised me. I don’t live in Newport, didn’t know anything about this mural until about half an hour ago. But thought I’d share my reaction as it ties in with recent happenings in York, and the anger some of us have felt at the destruction of what we value. Which is, according to James Alexander’s recent comment on Twitter, not ‘York’s true heritage’.
Surely our true heritage assets are those things that mean something to us. This varies. I don’t have any feeling for the Shambles, only admire it for existing for so long. It’s a tourist street and just part of our official, sanctioned, pretty ‘heritage’, the famous part of it.
It goes much deeper than that, ‘our heritage’. Whether it’s our heritage in York, or the connection other people feel to the places they know well.
My anger regarding the destruction of our heritage here in York pales in comparison to some of the comments I’ve seen just now in reaction to the holes being bashed in that mural in Newport. But I get it, I’m with them, just watching the video made me feel really quite violent. Isn’t that strange. I’m actually a very peaceful person.
It’s symbolic, that’s part of it. The mural was a recognition of a historical event, a memorial. But it’s also an artwork (created in 1978 by artist Kenneth Budd, using 200,000 pieces of tile and glass). And if you destroy those, it’s like burning books.
Updating ideas of heritage
What it’s clarified for me is that local authorities and the official guardians of our heritage (Cadw, in this case, English Heritage in York’s case) really need to have a look at their ideas of what constitutes ‘heritage’. They’re working on outdated notions. We know what is our ‘heritage’. We know what we care about and value, and it isn’t the same as the official English Heritage or Cadw listings.
The Newport Chartist mural has been destroyed to make way for a shopping centre. Are all our cities erasing their particular character in the race to be a ‘world class space’? Wiping out the truly distinctive elements, the irreplaceable features, in order to create another bland featureless place, copied from others?