In Hackney Wick, London, street art covers up decay
In Hackney Wick, East London, graffiti is playing a crucial role in covering up decay and dilapidation. Only a stone’s throw away from the London Olympic site, Hackney Wick was supposed to have been dragged kicking and screaming from dire neglect to modernity and perhaps into a semblance of chic. The London Olympics came and went without much of the event’s goodwill, wealth and legacy spreading to Hackney Wick. The half crumbling warehouses and light industrial units that this neighbourhood is known for are still there. Word is, there is a strategy in place to demolish these to use the land and space for brand new flats and apartments. Given demand for housing in London is unbelievably high this is probably likely to happen and probably sooner than most people would expect.
As the end of an era beckons, Hackney Wick has, in the meantime, metamorphosed into a haven for graffiti and urban art. As I walked around in complete awe at some of the street art on show I noticed a group of people being photographed probably for the cover of an album, I thought.
This is in some ways, is the new Hackney Wick. A home to artists, creative folks and graffiti hunters. A few months ago as I hurriedly run for the train at Hackney Wick station, I came across a young Arab woman photographer engrossed in capturing the graffiti nearest to the station on her DSLR. I smiled and pointed her to other areas she could find more. Fast forward, a few months later and here I am again in Hackney Wick but this time with my DSLR, a tourist of sorts no doubt from my part of London, North London. As I walked around I couldn’t help but feel that the graffiti in itself on show signified the last breath of Hackney Wick of old. The Hackney Wick that apparently pioneered the use of the word “petrol” in a refinery started in 1860 by Carless, Capel and Leonard. The Hackney Wick that saw entrepreneur Achilles Serre, introduce dry-cleaning to England. The Hackney Wick that saw the world’s first synthetic plastic, parkesine, invented by Alexander Parkes, and manufactured from 1866 to 1868.
The images of murals and graffiti below are ushering Hackney Wick into a watershed moment. Perhaps the calm before the gentrification. But, more than that they are also a celebration of this historical part of East London and the beauty still inherent amidst the decay. The geometric brick walls, uneven metal and wooden fencing that separate the decaying warehouses from the streets, dried-up paint chipping off old walls all add an appealing East London urban grittiness to Hackney Wick. A grittiness that Londoners take for granted now, but which may undoubtedly be missed when it is gone forever.