Betty Campbell Memorial Installation
JUST A FEW OF THE MANY NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ON THE EVE SHEPHERD “BETTY CAMPBELL MEMORIAL” AND FIRSTLY A REVIEW
THE BETTY CAMPBELL MONUMENT | VISUAL ARTS
Gary Raymond reviews Eve Shepherd’s monument to Betty Campbell MBE, which, when unveiled in Cardiff on Wednesday, became the first of a woman in an open space in Wales.
Let’s be honest, you can kind of get used to being a little disappointed by public monuments nowadays; you can half-expect them to be at best self-indulgent, and at worst confusing and discombobulating. Attend any unveiling of a statue, and you’ll as likely see the curled lips and shrugs of the audience as the tarp drops as you will the glistening eyes of awe. Eve Shepherd, whose Betty Campbell monument was unveiled yesterday in Cardiff’s Central Square, knew exactly the nuances of her brief, and the figures behind the Monumental Welsh Women group chose her wisely. Shepherd has a bold signature style that lends itself well to both the eye-catching and the symbolic, which is what the best public art should be. On her CV is a statue of Stephen Hawking, one of the most recognisable figures in contemporary life, and a monument to the Girl Guides, commissioned by the National Maritime Museum. I mention these two specifically, because Shepherd seems to have amalgamated the two elements that make these works great for the benefit of her Betty Campbell piece. Her Campbell is a resolutely distinctive, remarkably accurate rendition of the physical presence of Campbell, and is also deeply evocative and symbolic.
It is also – perhaps even imperative – to draw attention to the possibility Shepherd’s Campbell is not just a worthy monument to an important figure placed in a prominent spot of Wales’ capital city, but that it is also a very successful piece of public art. I went to see it in the late afternoon, several hours after the television cameras and dignitaries had dispersed and left the monument to begin its life in the wild. Already it was being enjoyed by the people of Cardiff, and around it you could hear the accents of the working class and see people of the communities represented in the diorama of the monument itself drinking it in. People taking selfies, children playing around the base of it, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters gazing at it, discussing it, hanging out around it. If art placed on the buffed floors and whitewashed walls of museums and arts centres must be contemplated in dry silence, then this is what public art is supposed to do.
And the piece has plenty about it to start discussions. Its first gateway is introducing the wider public to who Betty Campbell, the person, was: i.e., the first black head teacher of a school in Wales who was awarded an MBE for her work in 1977. The conversations, of course, can roll out from there before you even get to anything else embodied in the twenty-odd feet of bronze. This – and you can only imagine how proud Campbell would have been – is educative. It opens pathways to knowledge about Welsh black history, about social history, the history of education, things that Welsh government has only this year ensured will be taught as part of the national curriculum in Wales. (In that sense, Shepherd has also managed to achieve one of the most difficult things in public art: irony).
That Shepherd has managed to get so much into the space of the sculpture without it feeling obvious or sentimental is an achievement in and of itself. It would have been easy for the figures at the base to have come across as a GAP advert for Welsh primary schools, but Shepherd has an eye (not to mention the technique to bring it off) for the solid, for the chink of humanity releasing weight from the tableau. A Muslim girl leans against the tree trunk from which Campbell’s head emerges, reading a thick book, but she retains that slump in the shoulders of a real teenage girl. No place here for the Disney-fied pomp of the young “fearless girl” facing down the Bull of Wall Street, or even the precocious Matilda-esque rendition in Clara Campoamor’s “Reading Girl”. Next to her is a toddler, whose building blocks are constructing a school, giving a moving, playful heft to the idea of knowledge being cyclical, that investing in our children means the edification of our own futures. Books pile high all around the children, and books, like the tree trunk that acts as a spine to the monument, are pregnant with symbolism, and you can take from them what you want (interesting, though, not a tablet or laptop in sight). All of this reflects brightly in the marble base like a moat. Knowledge is an island. Islands can be bastions – think of the Battle of Britain – but they are not invincible – think of climate change or even, dammit, the current and coming chiselling of Brexit-induced shortages. Shepherd’s monument to Campbell is not just triumphal, it is a warning of how easily all this can be flooded and forgotten and neglected.
And that is why Eve Shepherd has been rightly quick to smash down any attempts to call this a statue. It is a monument, because although it pays tribute and commemorates the influence and personality of a remarkable individual woman, it also speaks of wider values and aspirations, and it speaks of the society all decent people would hope we could be. It is great art, but perhaps more importantly, it is great public art.
Gary Raymond is a novelist, critic, and broadcaster, and is editor of Wales Arts Review.
Installed in Cardiff Central Square on September 29th 2021
Statue introduced by a video link, by His Royal Highness Prince Charles
“The moment the statue was unveiled was really powerful. People were moved to tears.”
Enjoy the pictures!
Wales honours Betty Campbell, country’s first black headteacher
Cardiff pays tribute to woman who became a model for best practice in equality and multicultural education
The family of Betty Campbell unveil a statue of the educator in Central Square, Cardiff, on Wednesday. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA
She was a pioneer and a rule-breaker, an educator, community leader and race relations campaigner who met Nelson Mandela and rubbed shoulders with royalty – but always had time to call out the bingo numbers at a local event or sign a passport photo.
In bright sunshine on Wednesday, a choir from the school Betty Campbell led with distinction sang her favourite song, Something Inside So Strong, as a huge bronze monument to her was unveiled in a Cardiff city centre square.
Campbell was the first black woman to become a headteacher in Wales. Under her leadership, Mount Stuart primary in Butetown, Cardiff, became a model for best practice in equality and multicultural education throughout the UK.
But the joyful unveiling was also important because the monument is the first statue of a real, named woman set up in an open-air public space in Wales.
Campbell’s daughter, Elaine Clarke, said her mother, who died in 2017 aged 82, would have been proud of the monument.
She recalled how as a child growing up in the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff, Campbell had been told that a black working-class woman could never reach the academic heights to which she aspired – but she had proved them wrong.
“This sculpture encapsulates Betty’s legacy of determination, aspiration and inspiration,” she said.
Her granddaughter, Rachel Clarke, said Campbell had “shook up society”, adding: “She was ahead of her time.”
She said Campbell had watched Mount Stuart being built brick by brick and was sure she was the person to lead it, even though other candidates had “looked the part”.
‘Determination, aspiration and inspiration’: Betty Campbell. Photograph: Simon Campbell/PA
During her time at Mount Stuart, Campbell was inspired by the US civil rights movement and taught her pupils about slavery and black history. Later she became a member of the Home Office’s race advisory committee, worked for the Commission for Racial Equality and helped create Black History Month.
Another granddaughter, Michelle Campbell-Davies, said there were still too few teachers of colour, and the education system was letting down students from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. But she called the statue a “beacon of hope.”
Campbell-Davies said that following the Black Lives Matter movement, statues were an emotive subject. “Seeing a statue of a black Welsh woman means that change can happen,” she said.
Helen Molyneux, the founder of Monumental Welsh Women, which is planning to put up five statues of inspirational women over the next five years, said: “Betty’s impact during her life was incredible, but, as with so many women throughout history, likely to be forgotten or overlooked by future generations unless something was done to bring her to people’s attention.”
The sculpture was commissioned following a “Hidden Heroines” campaign organised by Monumental Welsh Women, broadcast on BBC Wales. Campbell topped a public vote to decide who should be the subject of the first statue of a named, non-fictionalised woman in Wales.
There were gasps, beaming smiles and tears as the statue in Central Square, close to the Principality Stadium and not far from Butetown, was revealed.
The sculptor Eve Shepherd said it had been a “total privilege and honour” to create the statue. “I hope this sculpture is a fitting tribute to Cardiff and Tiger Bay, the richly diverse community in which Betty grew up in and loved,” she said.
A commemorative poem called When I Speak of Bravery was composed for the unveiling ceremony by Taylor Edmonds, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s poet in residence. It concluded: “Let them come/from far and wide, to see/how just one woman can touch/so many lives.”
A monument to honour Betty Campbell, Wales’s first black head teacher and black history campaigner, has been unveiled in Cardiff.
It is believed to be the first statue of a named, non-fictional woman in an outdoor public space in Wales.
Mrs Campbell, who died in 2017, proved her doubters wrong after being told as a child that her dream job as a head teacher was “insurmountable”.
The statue was commissioned following a BBC Wales Hidden Heroines poll.
Prof Uzo Iwobi, founder of Race Council Cymru, said: “Wales has shown that this black woman truly matters to us all.”
Geraldine Trotman, Black History Patron for Wales, said the unveiling of the statue of Mrs Campbell would be one of the greatest moments for Butetown and everyone who lives in Wales.
Betty Campbell, Wales’s first black head teacher, was told as a child her dream job was unachievable
A UK-wide survey of statues, carried out in 2018, found that just one in five statues in Britain were of women, with most of fictional characters or unnamed figures.
Last year an audit, commissioned in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, found there were no statues of any named individual of black heritage in outdoor public spaces in Wales, with just “an anonymous statue group in Cardiff Bay”.
The statue of Rachel Elizabeth Campbell – known as Betty – was unveiled in Central Square on Wednesday.
The statue is believed to be the first of a named, non-fictional woman in an outdoor public space in Wales
It had been due to take place in 2020, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands voted for a statue of Mrs Campbell from a shortlist of five Welsh women.
It came after a panel of experts made a list of 50 historic Welsh women, after finding there were no statues celebrating heroines in Wales.
Betty Campbell pictured with her parents Simon and Honora
Helen Molyneux, founder of Monumental Welsh Women, said she hoped the statue would “inspire the next generation of Welsh women”.
“Betty’s impact during her life was incredible, but, as with so many women throughout history, likely to be forgotten or overlooked by future generations unless something was done to bring her to people’s attention,” Ms Molyneux said.
“The monument created by Eve Shepherd will certainly achieve that. It is a truly iconic, beautiful piece that will attract the world’s attention to Cardiff.”
Who was Betty Campbell?
Betty Campbell taught at Mount Stuart school in Butetown for 28 years and helped found Black History Month
Betty Campbell was born in 1934 in Cardiff’s docklands area, better known as Tiger Bay, to a Jamaican father and Welsh Barbadian mother.
She worked as a teacher in deprived multi-racial areas of the city, first in Llanrumney and then at her local Mount Stuart Primary School.
She became the head teacher there, despite being reduced to tears as a child when her teacher told her there were too many barriers for her to become a head teacher.
Throughout her life, she championed her nation’s multicultural heritage, and put black culture on the curriculum at her school.
She was a county councillor for Cardiff’s Butetown ward and was a member of the preparation committee for the opening of the National Assembly in 1998.
She was on the race relations board between 1972 and 1976, a member of the Broadcasting Council for Wales from 1980 to 1984, a member of the Home Office’s race advisory committee and served in many educational roles.
Butetown attracted people from across the world
A positive role model.
Her daughter, Elaine Clarke said she was extremely proud and privileged to have her mother remembered in such an iconic way.
“Through her sculpture, [sculptor] Eve encapsulates Betty’s legacy of determination, aspiration and inspiration that reflected her passion for diversity and equality making her a truly positive role model for many in the community and beyond,” she said.
Betty Campbell’s face was projected on the side of BBC Wales’ Central Square building as the winner was announced
Chantelle Haughton, who attended Mrs Campbell’s school as a pupil, said she had been a pioneer for change, decades before black history is set to be taught in all Welsh schools under the new curriculum.
“The thought of Betty’s statue fills me up and the wonderful opportunity this memorial brings for Mrs Campbell’s story to reach so many more from here on,” she said.
Betty Campbell: Statue of Wales’ first black head teacher in Cardiff
Betty Campbell MBE was Wales’ first black headteacher
A statue to honour a teacher named Betty Campbell, has been revealed in Cardiff.
Betty was a black history campaigner and also Wales’ first black head teacher.
The monument is thought to be the first statue of a real-life woman – that’s not a character from a book or story – in an outdoor public space in Wales.
More about Betty
Betty Campbell, who was an only child, with parents Simon and Nora Johnson
Rachel Elizabeth Campbell – known as Betty, was born in 1934 in Cardiff’s docklands area to a Jamaican father and Welsh Barbadian mother.
Growing up, Betty’s father was killed during the Second World War and her mother struggled to earn money.
Despite the family’s difficulties, Betty won a scholarship to Cardiff’s Lady Margaret High School for Girls.
But it was during her time at school that she was told that a working-class black girl could never succeed.
“When I was in form three of high school I told the head mistress that I wanted to be a teacher,” Betty said, speaking in 2016.
“I’ll never forget her saying ‘oh my dear, the problems would be insurmountable’,” suggesting that her chances of becoming a teacher were impossible.
“Those are the words she used. I went back to my desk and I cried. That was the first time I ever cried in school.
“It made me more determined; I was going to be a teacher by hook or by crook.”
Young people tell us why a new statue of Betty is so important to them
After becoming a mother at the age of 17, Betty eventually signed up for teacher training in 1960.
“I had my first three children within three years but I’d never given up my dream of being a teacher,” she said.
“[My mother] said ‘don’t be so soft. You’ve got three kids. How are you going to do that?’ I said ‘Mamma, I want to be one of them.'”
She went for an interview and was offered a job working as a teacher in deprived multi-racial areas of Wales, first in Llanrumney and then at her local Mount Stuart Primary School, in Cardiff where she eventually became the head teacher.
“I always felt that black people weren’t getting their fair share from society,” she said.
“I had ambitions of running my own school. People would have said it was all pie-in-the-sky but I thought ‘no, I’ll have a go’.”
‘Wales has shown that this black woman truly matters to us all’
Betty Campbell taught at Mount Stuart in Butetown for 28 years
Throughout her life, Betty promoted Wales’ multicultural heritage, and put black culture on the curriculum at her school.
She died aged 82 in 2017 and was later chosen as the subject of the new statue by thousands of people who voted for her in a BBC Wales poll.
Professor Uzo Iwobi, Founder of Race Council Cymru, said: “Wales has shown that this black woman truly matters to us all”.
What’s it like being Young Black and British?
A UK-wide survey of statues, carried out in 2018, found that just one in five statues in Britain were of women, with most of fictional characters or unnamed figures.
Following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, it was found that there were no statues of any named individual of black heritage in outdoor public spaces in Wales.
On Wednesday 29 September, Betty’s statue will become the first, as it’s unveiled in Central Square, in Cardiff.
The monument was due to be revealed last year, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.