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The Sacred Crane, The Flayed Pig & The Mighty Hedgehog

May 20, 2012
by the gentle author

Hanbury St, May 2010.

Hanbury St, May 2012.

I shall never forget how my heart leapt with delight when I saw Roa, the Belgian street artist, painting his forty-foot crane in Hanbury St two years ago. Originally intended as a heron, Roa changed his design while it was still a work-in-progress after Bengali people asked if it was a crane, a bird that is sacred to them and to many other cultures around the world. Since then, Roa’s crane has presided benignly over Brick Lane, becoming a landmark, an embodiment of the soul of the place and an object of pilgrimage, as thousands have come to photograph it.

Yet my moment of delight was countered this week by a moment of dismay to see a man installing a huge banner of ugly corporate-style design announcing “Banglatown, Brick Lane, Curry Capital 2012,” obliterating the heron save for the tip of its beak and its tail. The banner is spectacularly pointless, since once you can see it you are already in the midst of the curry restaurants, and it reflects shamefully upon the currymongers that they should demonstrate such hubris as to sacrifice the celebrated work of an internationally famous artist in this way.

As he always does, Roa was conscientious in seeking the consent of the owner of the building before he undertook his painting, which has proved itself to be an exemplary piece of street art by enlivening its immediate environment and bringing poetry to this neglected corner of Spitalfields. By contrast, those who installed the obnoxious banner did not obtain approval from the owner of the building. But – worse than this – in their haste, they put it up without waiting until planning permission had been given or any public consultation undertaken, showing no respect for due process or the wishes of the inhabitants of Spitalfields who are paying for the offending banner through their council tax.

Meanwhile, an online petition to remove the banner and uncover the crane has reached over a thousand signatures in just two days, as some measure of the widespread affection in which this painting is held. And, given that the planning decision on this banner is not due until after May 29th, there are likely to be more than a few objections before then. With painful irony, a covering letter attached to the planning application for the miserable banner proposes that it will “encourage footfall” and informs us that it was “designed by the council’s in-house team with a knowledge and understanding of the local community.” It took two thousand signatures on a petition to persuade Hackney Council to grant a reprieve for Roa’s Rabbit in the Hackney Rd and I suspect we shall see a similar scenario played out in Spitalfields over coming weeks.

This spring, Roa returned to undertake two new paintings in the neighbourhood, a flayed pig on Buxton St and a mighty hedgehog on Chance St. The hedgehog takes the place of the squirrel one hundred yards away in Club Row, the first of his finely-drawn creatures Roa painted in the East End in the autumn of 2009. Such is the popularity of this work that locals now refer to photographers as “squirrel snappers” And, even though the squirrel has been damaged by a series of tags painted across it, the new hedgehog more than makes up for this loss in terms of scale and presence. At the end of Chance St where it meets the Bethnal Green Rd, the hedgehog waits eternally poised to cross the road.

The genius of Roa’s work is to evoke creatures possessing such febrile life that they confront us with our relationship to the natural world, which we can easily forget in the city. His huge animals become the familiar spirits of the places they inhabit and we love them for the ambivalent natures, simultaneously appealing and threatening, yet always drawing our respect.

The flayed pig on Buxton St.

The mighty hedgehog on Chance St.

A little dog crosses the road to see the hedgehog.

Two thousand people signed the petition to prevent Hackney Council painting over Roa’s rabbit in the Hackney Rd in 2010.

Roa’s squirrel on Club Row in autumn 2009, sadly covered by tags today.

You can sign the petition to remove the banner covering Roa’s crane here.

The planning application for the banner is on the Tower Hamlets Council website here.

You can register formal objections to the planning application for the banner by leaving your comments here.

You may also like to read about

An Afternoon with Roa, Street Artist

The Return of Roa, Street Artist

The Vermin of Spitalfields

The Squirrel & The Rat

16 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    May 20, 2012

    done, thank you.

  2. Monika permalink
    May 20, 2012

    What a shock to see the crane covered up by this ugly poster! I’ve signed the petition and submitted my objection to the council (and shared with friends too).

  3. Jaki permalink
    May 20, 2012

    Unbelievable! What a monstrosity! Shared on Facebook and my friends urged to sign the petition.

  4. May 20, 2012

    Wonderful art. But the hedgehog is obviously Spiny Norman!

  5. May 20, 2012

    As PR this is going to be a massive FAIL for the council. Only someone with a heart of cold cash could believe that the corporate banner should cover up the crane. Why are our council wasting money branding our streets anyway? Brick Lane seems to have branded itself quite effectively with their help already. This looks like any another manifestation of the vested interests who seek to promote their ‘Banglatown’ agenda – a mock ‘Chinatown’ project that previously wanted to build new arches at each end of the street (not popular) and rename the new Overground station (geographically silly.) What next? A banner over the Tower of London that reads ‘Tower Hamlets’ or one wrapped around the mayor that says ‘Shameless self promoter’?

  6. May 20, 2012


    @Yewtree: Yes, my first thought was of that Monty Python sketch! ‘Dinsdale….’ I’ll definitely look him up on my next visit.

  7. May 20, 2012

    Done! Let’s hope we can help by such a simple act.

  8. May 20, 2012

    London needs this awful monstrosity as much as it needs the Olympics!

  9. May 20, 2012

    The biggest fail in this exercise in autocracy is that the crane already does brand Banglatown – as you have patiently explained in this and previous posts, it was going to be a heron until Roa got chatting with the locals and adapted it to a crane for the Bangladeshi community. I’ve already pointed out to people that the signage ought to be in FRONT of Brick Lane, such as even as far as on Commercial Street, not BEHIND it on Hanbury.

  10. Sue permalink
    May 20, 2012

    Done, and shared on FB. Thank you….

  11. Georgia Warren permalink*
    May 20, 2012

    Owner of Roa’s crane is demanding council take their ad down! (I hunted him down and just spoke to him.)

  12. May 20, 2012

    Can I recommend that you make an individual objection to the council rather than add to the petition? Took me around a minute to complete after following the link and it counts as one objection.

    If you put your name on the petition, even if there are thousands of other signatures, it only counts as one objection when it is delivered to planning.

    You can register formal objections to the planning application for the banner by leaving your comments here

  13. May 20, 2012

    Cheers MC. I’ve done that. Free the crane!

  14. Lee permalink
    May 22, 2012

    Great news, the crane has been saved! The council have taken the hideous banner down. I work a few minutes walk away from the crame and was dismayed at the mayor’s lack of care…. We will have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t try to sneak it back up after the consultation period ends…thanks to Alternative London for breaking the story and for The Gentle Author’s articulate support…

  15. Malcolm permalink
    May 22, 2012

    Oh, that’s good news. I have set my students the task of finding each of these marvellous paintings on Friday. I was worried the Crane, my favourite, would be missing.

  16. June 18, 2012

    Result. Application withdrawn.

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