This statue is one that marks many incredible events in history, from the Empire Windrush to what became the Bronze Woman Project. This blog will take you deeper into how this sculpture came to be and the significant history that is behind it. What you will find at the centre of it all, is one very special woman by the name of Cécile Nobrega.
The Bronze Woman is London’s first statue of an African-Caribbean woman, which has since been recognised as an ode to motherhood and the prominence of this ethnic minority. The statue sits at 10ft high and was installed in the Stockwell Memorial Garden. It was based on the now famous poem of the same name by Cécile Nobrega who lived in Stockwell until her passing in 2013. The Bronze Woman poem was written around 50 years ago, celebrating Caribbean women, with lines like ‘find me a place/ in the sun’ and ‘there i will set her/ honoured, free’. With this poem, Nobrega was able to immortalise not only her own memory and legacy, but the memory of all women.
Cécile was a teacher, poet and playwright, born in Guyana. She had been an advocate for ‘The Bronze Woman Project’ since 1994. With her poem echoing themes of freedom and restriction, she believed that women from third world countries and descendents of slave trade victims recieved inadequate recognition for the part they played in society. The project was launched as a charitable organisation that raised money to enlist the help of Olmec, a charitable subsidiary of a South London housing association. Cécile won many awards for her music and plays, including Stabroek Fantasy, a play written in 1956, about the Stabroek market in Georgetown, where the playwright grew up.
In 1969, Cécile emigrated to the UK, where she was active in the National Union of Teachers, and fought against placing misunderstood children of ethnic minorities in Educationally Subnormal schools. She quickly made a name for herself as a fighter for equality, believing that everyone should have a chance at a normal life, that no one should be born with disadvantages.
Other groups she joined included the International Alliance of Women and the Commonwealth Countries League, giving her opportunities to travel to meet like-minded women. She would go on to spend the rest of her life advocating for the appreciation of womanhood.
Logo for the International Alliance of Women (International Alliance of Women)
After Cécile’s 10 year campaign, plans for the statue were set in motion, with Olmec raising £84,000 and finding sculptors, as well as a location for the statue. The statue was unveiled on 8th October 2008 by a group of Caribbean women, including Baroness Rosalind Howells OBE and Music of Black Origin Awards founder Kanya King. Sculptor Ian Walters designed an initial model for the statue, having before been praised for his sculpture of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square in 2005. After his death in August 2005, the project was transferred to Aleix Barbat’s hands, who was a final year sculpture student at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in London at the time.
The year the statue was installed also marked the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush ship to Britain and the 200th anniversary of the end of the transatlantic slave trade.
This year marked the 71st anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush ship at Tilbury Dock in Essex. The 22nd of June 1948 has now become a vital date in London’s history, where 802 Caribbean citizens were onboard and became the first of 500,000 Commonwealth people who settled in Britain after the Second World War. They were invited to live as British citizens, advertised to them as a chance to rebuild the ‘mother country’. However, this unfortunately didn’t stop the prejudice and inequality that still persists today.
The British Nationality Act 1948 meant Jamaians and Barbadians, and others living in Commonwealth countries, had full entry and rights to settle. This led to these cultures helping to rebuild Britain’s economy after the war. An example of this is a large percentage of Caribbeans working for British Rail and the National Health Service.
On the 1st of June 2019, marking exactly 100 years since Cécile Nobrega was born, an iconic Blue Heritage Plaque was installed on her Lambeth home, close to where the Bronze Woman Statue still stands. Stories like this one remind us of the importance of never giving up on fighting for what you believe in.
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