The circular patch of Three Mills Green by the historic House Mill is the site of a public artwork that is historic in its own right. It is one of the first few sculptures of a black woman in the UK and the first such statue by a black artist.
The statue, called Reaching Out, stands nine feet tall on Three Mills Green and is hard-to-miss. It is of a young woman, an ‘everywoman’, holding a mobile phone in a casual, relaxed manner. Depicting everyday people is actually one of the hallmarks of the statue’s artist Thomas J Price and replaces another similar work of his on the green, which is a similar larger-than-life likeness of a black man casually holding a phone.
As one of the few sculptures of a black woman in the UK that has been unveiled amid a year of protests and public conversations about racial equality, the statue was a timely reveal. However, Megan Piper, who co-founded the art trail called The Line that Price’s work is a part of, says this statue has been in the works for around a year.
Nevertheless, Piper says she hoped this statue would have a ‘positive contribution to the debate.’
‘Having this everyday figure for people to relate to was a really strong pull for the trail’ she says, referring to Price’s original installation of a man called Network. ‘Once that work was recalled we were keen to keep [the artist’s] presence on the line.’
But the timing of Reaching Out’s unveiling meant it was inevitable that this statue would become a political statement, in part due to its nature as one of the few sculptures of black women in the UK.
The artist Price said in the Observer, “It was important to me not to have to fulfil a certain expectation, like the idea you would have to be a top athlete, or a Black Panther or a politician to be up there.’ Instead he said he wanted to depict the everyday and not their ‘public roles.’
The statue is part of the public art trail that follows the Limehouse Cut from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the O2, and includes longstanding monumental works like Anish Kapoor’s The Orbit.
Piper says they are working on including more multimedia installations that include more diverse perspectives. A recent addition to this trail is a soundscape by British-Ghanian artist Larry Achiampong meant to be listened to on the cable car from Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks as the audio piece reflects on the colonial past of the London waterways.
‘Bottom line is that art is for everyone,’ says Piper. ‘And when you bring art outdoors that feels particularly true. You literally don’t have the barriers of the walls of an art gallery.’
If you enjoy outdoor art, why not uncover where you can find more public art around Roman Road?
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