Having lived here almost all my life, I still find that London is full of surprises. To this day, I can walk around a part of London that I thought I was familiar with, and still find something new. One of such discoveries I made recently was in an area that I had previously attended sixth form: Waterloo. I was roaming the area near Waterloo train station when I found what looked like a dark, abandoned tunnel. It looked suspicious at first but my curiosity got the better of me and I went inside. What I did not expect was that this underground tunnel was actually a hotspot for the largest collection of street art in the city. Fortunately, I had my camera with me.
This place is called The Leake Street Tunnel and it is a truly vibrant place. Originally, the tunnel was deserted and out of use. But in 2008, the elusive, unidentifiable artist, Banksy used this as the venue for the “Cans Festival”, which saw the tunnel revived as an unofficial gallery of street art of all kinds.
Three-hundred metres in length, Leake Street has art on every square metre of its walls and ceiling. Though it is a quiet place, the moment you walk in, you can almost feel the creativity, the passion and the excitement emanating from every corner of the place. At any point in time you will always find at least one person generating art there. The creators always seem so focused and the work that they do feels so personal that I do not have the heart to take a photo of the artists at work.
The artwork I have seen here is truly special. Some of it is funny. Some of it is heart-breaking. Some are insightful. One of my favourite reads: “live without the fear of being found”, while another one says “the cost of human irresponsibility is the exhaustion and extinction of others” (below). But the highlight of my exploration of Leake Street has to be black-and-white painting on the ceiling of a woman wearing what appears to be a gas mask (the first picture).
As impactful as their work is, there appears to be a shared understanding among the street art community that whatever they make today may be overwritten tomorrow. There is so little space and so many individuals attempting to get their voices heard. And this is how they do it. As a result, if you come back to Leake Street in a month’s time, you may find that the landscape is quite different to how you left it. The murals on the walls are constantly changing with the cultural and social climate of the world, just like the clouds in the sky drifting with the wind.
Street art, by nature, is unconventional, daring and controversial. Of course, some may question the legitimacy of “graffiti” as a true form of art (and even its legality). Nevertheless, I believe it is important to our society because it is a way for people to display their diversity and tell the world how they really feel about everything that is happening.
While there is no shortage of street art in London – you may find plenty of it in Brick Lane, Shoreditch, Camden and Hackney – Leake Street is perhaps my favourite spot of all. Indeed, who knows what I may find the next time I visit there?