Viccy Ibbett, Public Catalogue Foundation Volunteer, tells us about a touching sculpture at Liverpool Street station, commemorating the help given to refugees in World War II:
‘In Liverpool Street station it is easy to miss my favourite of London’s public sculptures, Für Das Kind – or ‘For the Children’, a bronze of two children with suitcases that is tucked away by the entrance to the underground station. It is easy to miss not only because the sculpture displays such a regular scenario of commuters and baggage that it blends into the crowd, but also because real life commuters are liable to interpret the statue’s generous plinth as an invitation to hunker down beside the little boy with their own baggage while waiting for a train.
The statue honours the famous Kindertransport system that sprang up in the UK during the second World War. In the early years of the war, the UK waived immigration restrictions in order to welcome over ten thousand European children who were fleeing from Nazi persecution. Children who arrived in the UK were placed with a foster family and promised a sum of money should they succeed in re-establishing contact with their families after the war.
The sculpture has had a chequered history. The artist, Flor Kent, originally dedicated quite a different sculpture in 2003. Then, the sculpture occupied a more prominent place in the station and consisted of only the bronze girl, standing beside a monolithic glass suitcase, which contained actual artefacts brought over to the UK by children arriving by Kindertransport. Now, the sculpture has been relocated to its current spot by the underground station and features both a boy and girl, with smaller bronze suitcases.Last week I was touched to notice that the sculpture had been transformed again, and this time not by the artist but by an anonymous commuter. A profusion of red, pink and white carnations had been placed in the arms of the girl, and over the plinth. It was a gesture of solidarity with the refugees currently attempting to escape into Europe, whose plight was most recently thrown into relief by the discovery of the drowned body of a two year old boy from Syria on a beach in Turkey. The sculpture no longer functioned merely as a reminder of the generosity of the British public in the past; it demanded that today’s refugees are afforded the same basic human consideration. As a work of commemoration, and as a piece of social activism, the flowers affected a potent renewal of the sculpture’s original message.
This use of art to convey a pressing social need reminded me of the efforts of state-sanctioned artists during the Second World War, who were commissioned by the British government to record the war effort at home and abroad. Of these, Mary Kessel stands out for her delicate studies in oils of German refugees after the German surrender. In her diaries, written in Berlin at the time this painting was made, Kessel instructs herself to ‘remember for ever those things that war has made’. Today, art has again been an important element in the public response to the refugee crisis. Creative Collective for Refugee Relief is an online platform where artwork can be sold and the profits donated to NGOs working with refugees.
When I returned to Liverpool Street Station the next day (to get a sharper photograph), the flowers were gone. I was disappointed. I even considered updating them myself. But despite and perhaps even because of, its short-lived nature, the carnations decorating the Für Das Kind sculpture succeeded in their aim of reminding me and other passersby of the imperative that the British recollect their past generosity and re-enact it today. The Für Das Kind sculpture itself, and its availability for this sort of public interaction, was an essential conduit for this message.’
Image credits: Image within text by Viccy Ibbett. Featured image https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AF%C3%BCr_das_Kind.JPG