Flapjacks and bananas were the order of the day at 19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields yesterday for the visit of world-renowned artists Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor.
The artists stopped off at the house, home to a museum of immigration and diversity, during their seven mile ‘walk of compassion’ from the Central London to Stratford to raise awareness of the refugee crisis.
The museum’s volunteer staff greeted the artists, who were joined by up to 100 members of the public, with the “symbolic gesture” of bananas, apples, flapjacks and water.
“It was like some modern version of the loaves and the fishes,” said Susie Symes, chair of the 19 Princelet Street, a museum that tells the story of London’s refugees and migrants.
“We brought the food and drink out and the street seemed full. They had some but they were absolutely insistent that we shared it with the whole crowd. That sense of sharing is so much of what this message is.”
Ms Symes described the occasion as a “moving mixture of being very sad and very joyful”.
“Here is a man standing in our street who doesn’t want to be forced into refuge because of who he is and what he does,” said Ms Symes about dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
“And now here he is on our doorstep – that makes us feel very moved and very happy and yet at the same time we’re thinking about 20 million refugees and another 35 million internally displaced people in this world.”
19 Princelet Street is a museum run by volunteers that seeks to connect past stories of refugees and migrants and connect them to those of the present day.
“We’re a place that’s completely founded by refugees,” Ms Symes said. “I think Anish Kapoor saw this as perfect and we saw it as perfect. People came over in little boats in the sea 300 years ago, and people are drowning from little boats today.”
The artists, who both wore blankets across their shoulders to symbolise the needs of refugees, led the solidarity march from the Royal Academy in Central London, where Ai Weiwei is hosting an exhibition, finishing at Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal sculpture in Stratford in East London.