Residents of Brick Lane, including artist Tracey Emin, have lodged strong objections to plans to erect a set of gates designed to look like a veil or hijab at either end of the famous thoroughfare.
Dubbed the ‘hijab gates’, they have been accused of creating racial divisions and tensions by being unrepresentative and misconceived in a multi-cultural and diverse area.
As well the current Bangledeshi population, the area has been home to Huguenots from France and Jewish refugees, as well as currently being an artistic and creative centre. Apart from Emin, other artists who live there include Gilbert and George and Jake Chapman.
Emin, who lives just off Brick Lane, has claimed that Tower Hamlets council is risking serious racial tension if they force the ‘hijab gates’ without proper consultation.
Ms Emin said in a letter to the council: “I sincerely object to these proposals … the proposed material has no relevance to the heritage of the area or its future.”
She continued: “I am shocked to learn that the scheme is budgeted at £2m and I strongly feel that rubbish collections, vermin control, education and improved policing are more important to resolve.”
Will Palin, secretary of Save Britain’s Heritage, as well as a local resident, has also strongly objected. In a letter to the council he said: “The headscarf motif is undoubtedly faith-specific to Islam and therefore does not represent the breadth and richness of the borough’s history.”
“Brick Lane is already extremely cluttered with signage as well as with commercial refuse containers. The quality of the roadway and pavements is very poor in places…until these basic problems are sorted out expensive new street furniture such as that proposed should not be installed,” he continued.
The Spitalfields Trust said the idea of the arches was “misconceived”.
The are designed to be part a £1.85m cultural trail to celebrate the diversity of the area, itself part of an £8.5m renovation scheme.
The level of protest has forced the council to delay a decision and give more time for objections. The closing date for objections is now next Monday and a final decision will be taken by the council planning committee early next month.
The council stressed that headscarves were worn for a variety of purposes, by many different religions and ethnic groups and were not just designed to represent Islamic dress. The council said the concept behind the arch is “loosely based on the sculptural form of a headscarf, reflecting the many cultural backgrounds that have occupied and sought refuge in and around Brick Lane over the centuries.”
It pointed out that the area was a ‘melting pot’ and that orthodox Jewish women often wore scarves, while many young men and woman wore scarves or bandanas as ‘a fashion statement.’