Ben Slow has returned to Hanbury street to paint the same spot he painted back in 2010. This time, Ben has painted portraits representing the white nationalists of The English Defence League and Islamic extremists. Here’s what Ben has to say about the work:
With my latest street piece, I returned to the wall on Hanbury street which I first painted around this
time back in 2010. That piece was one of the first ‘proper’ street pieces I ever painted. It was of a
Bengali mother and child. The image was chosen to relate to the local Bengali community who
thankfully embraced the piece. I felt that with this next piece, I wanted to challenge people (and
myself) a little more.
This time I wanted to deal with something at the complete opposite end of the spectrum but still
very much related to the local community. I had a very clear idea of what this piece was meant to
represent when I started it, and to be honest, I thought it would be very obvious from the outset.
However, I was shocked (and also delighted) with the variety of responses and reactions I received.
My idea behind the painting was to show two characters as different sides of the same evil. On the
left you have a portrait of a member of the EDL (The English Defence League) and on the other,
that of an Islamic extremist. I have been very interested by such characters for a while. As a
portrait painter they were interesting in terms of the expressions and shapes, but as a human being,
I always struggle with the stories behind such portraits and that they are captured out of such hatred
and contempt for another human being.
My point is simply that these two people represent the same thing – that of intolerance, racism and
hatred. A very unfortunate but very real side of society that has become far too apparent of late.
They see those who do not conform to their views as the enemy, and they preach hatred. They
project themselves as different from the other but to the majority of people they represent the exact
I thought I would have trouble getting this painting done. I think it would be fair to say that I
under-estimated the tolerance of people. Except for a couple of snide comments, I received nothing
but positive responses. The majority of people completely understood what I was trying to say and
backed what I was doing. Most people, whatever ethnicity or nationality they may be have no time
for the types of people I was painting and I can not tell you how happy it made me to hear this. The
beautiful thing is that that these extreme individuals are a minority and long may it stay that way!
As with the majority of my street work now, it is important for me to say something with what I am
painting. Be that representing someone I admire or appreciate, or in this case highlighting a
particular point. As much as I am a painter, I am also a massive fan of street art, but I feel that not
enough artists are using their privileged platform to full effect. I am all for stuff that looks great and
is aesthetically pleasing, but for me it is also important to say something once in a while, get people
thinking rather than simply admiring the beauty of something.
Photo by Shafiur Rahman