West Hampstead artist defends ‘divisive’ mural on Thameslink bridge created ‘in memory’ of local bookseller John Henderson

Alketa Xhafa Mripa's mural on West Hampstead's Thameslink bridge features John Henderson. Picture: T

Alketa Xhafa Mripa's mural on West Hampstead's Thameslink bridge features John Henderson. Picture: Through Arts We Rise - Credit: Archant

A West Hampstead artist defended the divisive mural which appeared on the area’s Thameslink bridge.

The mural features the faces of long-time fixtures on the bridge John Henderson and his dog Sugar.

John, a Glaswegian who had struggled with mental health and addiction issues, died on May 19 2019, but was known to many as a bookseller on the bridge.

The artwork, which also features recreations of artwork featuring homeless people painted by artists Zabou and Ben Eine, is designed to encourage empathy according to Alketa Xhafa Mripa of Through Arts We Rise, who came up with the idea.

Alketa – who has lived locally for two decades and runs the Curled Leaf cafe in Mill Lane – said it was dedicated to John’s memory.

She said: “I knew John, not very well but enough to say hello to. Sometimes I would buy him a tea. He was such a big part of the community.”

John’s daughter Rosie Henderson-Mcgirr said she was “in love” with the mural of her dad, adding: “The art work is outstanding and I couldn’t be any happier! I want to thank the artists for their incredible skills.”

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Alketa said she has founded the Through Arts We Rise collective was set up to “raise awareness of human rights issues including homelessness, mental health, migration and gender equality”, and she added the aim was to “break the stigma surrounding these social issues” and highlight “the responsibility and ability we have to help”.

She added: “At the same time I am paying a tribute to John Henderson who had his spot in West Hampstead bridge near Thameslink for over two decades.”

Alketa said she had been given permission for the mural by Network Rail, which owns the bridge.

However members of the community – such as former Conservative parliamentary candidate David Brescia – felt at the very least there should have been a consultation about the artwork.

He said: “It is certainly divisive. Of the 22 local people I’ve heard from, 11 said they like it, while the other 11 think it looks ghastly, tacky and amateurish. But almost everyone agrees that local residents should have been consulted on the design and placement of this mural before it went ahead.”

Another local woman was upset at the “farce” of the mural’s creation, and said it was particularly upsetting as John Henderson was not homeless.