“You saw it in the tears of those who survived”. The words from poet Ben Okri have been painted high onto a giant wall by local street artists Ben Eine in a tribute to the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Okri’s poem “Grenfell Tower, June, 2017” was composed in the days after the fire and contains the words now written high onto the popular street art wall at the Village Underground in Shoreditch commemorating one month since the awful fire in the West London tower block.
The mural was arranged by ‘Paint the Change‘ a street art and social justice project set-up to try and start a conversation around urgent social issues through the arts. The mural is the first for the project and in Ben Eine they’ve chosen an artist well known for his calligraphic talent and unique lettering to really present the words in a striking and bold way.
“I think it is an extraordinary idea,” Okri said, referring to the mural of his poem. “Anything that can draw attention to that outrage to humanity, anything that can commemorate the dead and help the survivors has my support.”
Okri won the 1991 Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Road. He was born in Nigeria and educated in England before taking up poetry and fiction in the 1970s. His writing has touched on political and social issues since the beginning of his career. Okri lives near the North Kensington neighbourhood where the fire took place.
Eine’s work meanwhile is well known on the street art and graffiti scene. Based in London he has for years painted around the world and gained notoriety when the former UK prime minister David Cameron presented an Eine work as a gift to former US president Barack Obama.
“As a Londoner,” Eine said, “with deep roots in the city’s subculture, I am proud and privileged to be involved in this important and historic initiative. Our hope for this mural, which we’re painting in response to the Grenfell fire, is that it will help keep this discussion alive and bring the victims and survivors out of the shadows so that they can receive justice. I’m happy that my skills can try to help make a positive difference after such an awful tragedy.”
Paint the Change has grown out of another project from Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker. That project ‘Education Is Not A Crime‘, has produced more than 40 murals around the world and two documentary films to raise awareness of education inequality. ‘Paint the Change’ meanwhile will use public art and film to address issues from injustice against minorities to environmental degradation and other social causes.
“Our wall in Shoreditch is an attempt to reflect the anger in west London in our corner of the city,” Bahari said. “We’re honoured to have Ben Okri’s blessing, and proud to be working with Ben Eine who’s going to create a new masterpiece on this wall.”
“You saw it in the tears of those who survived” was painted over two days on 18 and 19 July 2017 by Ben Eine using the words of Ben Okri. The mural was organised by ‘Paint the Change’. Graffiti tributes have also been appearing under the westway underpass near the tower and you can read more about those here.