A model of the Windrush monumentby Jamaica Basil Watson which will bemounted in Waterloo Station in Englandnext June.
Jamaican sculptor wins UK monument commission

SCULPTOR Basil Watson is confident that his body of work, family history, connection to his subject matters, as well as his ability to engage his patrons are among the factors which worked in his favour to earn him his latest commission — the Windrush monument.

The Jamaican-born, US-based artiste has earned the commission to create the monument dedicated to the Windrush Generation — persons from the Caribbean who migrated to England beginning in 1948 aboard the ship Empire Windrush. The monument is to be mounted in Waterloo Station in London, England.

Speaking to the Jamaica Observer, an enthused but humbled Watson surmised that his submission to the Windrush committee found favour as it was able to make a human connection with the British people, who were also part of the selection process via a public vote.

“I think I presented a quality piece of work. The way I work is a key factor in making that connection with people. It not so much the object, but I always try to connect with my subject. In this case I was able to empathise with the Windrush. My father [master painter, the late Barrington Watson] was part of the Windrush Generation. He left Jamaica for England in 1951. In fact, he and my mother met on the boat to England and were married shortly afterwards. My brother was born a few years later in England. While I was conceived there, my mother chose to return to Jamaica where I was born. We then returned to England in 1958, where we lived until 1962. I believe that was a factor.”

If I didn't connect with the British public, I doubt it would wash. So, I am happy they too appreciated the vision,” Watson added.

The sculptor is now pressing ahead to meet the unveiling deadline of June 22, 2022 — which has been designated Windrush Day in the UK. This means creating a scale model of the work which will then be scanned with 3D technology that will then be digitally enlarged to create the final size of the monument.

“It is a short window, but it has to be done. Once the scans are completed, I will be travelling to the UK to do the clay cast and then bronze the final work which will be about 12 feet tall when finished. Like I said, it is a short time but I have to deliver — and I am up to it,” said Watson.

The decision on Watson's work was announced last Friday. In May of this year he was named among four artists who were shortlisted. The three others were Valda Jackson, Jeannette Ehlers, and Thomas J Price.

Watson uses figures of a man, woman and child, representing the family, climbing a pile of suitcases, representing their culture. The suitcase holds within it everything this family has in their possession from their place of origin — in this case the Caribbean. It holds within it all things valuable.

No stranger to having his work displayed in public spaces, Watson has created sculptures of athletes Merlene Ottey, Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell and folklorist Louise Bennett Coverley, popularly known as Miss Lou in Jamaica, and the monument to American civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King in Atlanta, USA.

Despite the international acclaim, Watson stated that this recognition has come because of the support he has received at home in Jamaica over the years.

“This all started in Jamaica. My work at the PCJ; people like Allan Rae at Sabina Park; Portia Simpson Miller who asked me to do the Merlene Ottey statue; Babsy Grange who asked me to do Bolt. These are the platforms that I stand on, so I am honoured — and this latest commission caps a lifetime of involvement. To be chosen from such an impressive field of artists is a big responsibility, but I am pleased,” said Watson.

Master sculptor Basil Watson
BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

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