From Digga D to the Morley's Founder – The Blue Plaques for London's Modern Icons

Jack Walker wants to commemorate the people who have gone under-appreciated.
Nana Baah
London, GB
Images: Jack Walker

Walk around London and you’ll notice plaques – bright blue and bigger than a dinner plate – on the sides of various buildings, stuck there to commemorate notable dead people.

After moving to the capital from Nottingham two years ago, artist Jack Walker noticed that he hadn’t heard of many of the people on these English Heritage plaques. After some research, he also discovered that the majority of these plaques were commemorating men, and that only four percent honoured Black and Asian people.


So, prompted by a university project, Walker decided to create his own plaques – “True Plaques”, stickers that fit in the palm of your hand. The stickers commemorate some of 21st century London’s finest, from Doreen Lawrence and Digga D, to Kannalingam “Indran” Selvendran, the founder of Morley’s, south London’s favourite chicken shop.

VICE: What drew you to recreating the English Heritage blue plaques?
Jack Walker:
I've always been interested in the blue plaques. When you're walking around central London, you see them and they’re quite interesting things and people, but I’d never recognised anybody on them – a lot of them are poets and writers. I looked into it, and the criteria for a current blue plaque is that you have to have been dead for at least 20 years. So I wanted to create something that was more relevant to our generation. 

What makes them more relevant?
The fact that it’s London and there are barely any blue plaques for people of colour. It’s not representative.

How did you decide on which public figures would get True Plaques? 
I was asking people from London to tell me who they like, and who significant people are to them. I spoke to Aima, [one of the founders] of All Black Lives UK, and they nominated Tanya Compas, who is an activist and youth worker. It sort of stemmed from there, and I found other people too. There are some people that everyone knows, like Kathy Burke or Michaela Coel, and then there are some lesser known people too.


Was getting them up a struggle? Did you actually find out where people live?
I've tried to do stickers in Nottingham before and they just got taken down. What’s good about [London] is that they don't get ripped off if you put them on lamp posts and places that people stop – so above where you press the buttons to cross the road, or those modern telephone boxes. I found the estate where Michaela Coel grew up, so I put some up around there. But for some people like M.I.A., I only know that she’s from Hounslow, so I just put them up in the vicinity. I put at least six stickers in each area.

What do you think of the way we celebrate people and their successes?
Why do we wait before celebrating people? Somebody had to do something in their life that’s quite significant, and then you’ve also got to wait for them to die, and then wait another 20 years [to get an English Heritage plaque]. 


Are you going to continue creating new ones?
I definitely would. I did maybe a week of research, and a few weeks of finding people, so I wasn’t expecting it to be my most popular work.  I think it should be a recurring thing – maybe [at the end of each year, for] people who have done stuff that year.