The East End; Immigrants Meet Hipsters (and a vibrant arts scene)

The Alternative London walking tour that I took explored the culture, history, and politics surrounding the street art that has come to make this section of London such a center for artists and expression.

The area itself was once surrounded by a physical wall which stood where the talking goat statue now stands. Today, it is still a strong testament to the many different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups that once called or currently call this area of London home. Without these different influences, the area wouldn’t look the way it does today, which is reflected in the architecture, shops, and street art present in the area.

Immigrant communities were responsible for bringing with them the industries which have contributed to the creation of the area’s rich cultural fabric. For example, immigrants brought the silk industry to the area in the 1700s.

The area’s rich colorful history is reflected in the artwork found on its streets, which are a powerful metaphor for the strong and diverse political history of the area. One such historically significant venue is Christ Church, where 30 years ago was notorious for being home to drugs and other unsavory activities. A nearby pub had to be renamed after three bells were stolen from the church.


Moving back in history, the tour then began at the beginning of the settlement of the area. On the 1700s a large French Protestant community, known as Huguenots brought the silk industry to the area. Remnants of this practice can still be found in the flots above shops where looms were once housed. During the time of the booming silk industry the area became very wealthy, but once the walls around the city came down riots ensued. The industrial revolution forced the Huguenots out of the area, which was then occupied by a thriving Jewish community with their tailor shops.

By the 1880s, the area of east London had become one of the biggest slums in the area as a result of large numbers of small waves of immigration to the area from areas around the world. This in turn further increased the cultural diversity of the area.

Artwork is fragile and constantly changing on the streets due to material and techniques used by artists and those who try to restore surfaces to a clean finish. This internal struggle for self – expression and esthetic beauty makes for an interesting dynamic within East London’s arts community and city workers tasked with keeping the streets clean.


My enthusiastic tour guide, who is a street artist himself, pointed out that an audience has a responsibility to be aware of advertisements versus beauty and murals or posters.


This painting of a skeleton lacks excitement and risk because it was clearly thought out and took time for the artist to create, where as something with risk and excitement is put up in minutes and may not always turn out the way the artist intended it to. This illustrates how street artists steal both time and space to create their work within.


This is the only building in the world that has been a Protesting church, Catholic Church, synagogue, and a mosque. This again speaks to the creation of a rich cultural fabric of the area through the contribution of many different groups inhabiting the same area at different times and bringing with them their unique cultural and religious beliefs and traditions that have left their marks on the area.


Stik, the artist who created this piece has been working his craft for 11 years. Like many other works in the area, Stik’s work is site specifics; this piece speaks to the Bangladeshi, predominately Muslim population that moved into the area in the 1950’s after WWII. This site specific art creation is strongly supported by the local community who has become large supporters of the art that makes their neighborhoods unique by communicating through art in a positive way.


C215 creates multi layered stencil, which show energy and skill put into something that won’t be there for long. In the case of this stencil, the shop owner chose to move the piece to a new location so that more people could enjoy it. This action speaks to the advertising properties of local street art. With so many curry shops around, it is important for shop owners to set themselves apart from the competition, so if lots of tourists are looking at the art on your walls, then there is more of a likelihood that they will stop for a meal.


The crane painted by Rao was a reaction to community, because the painting was originally a crane, but was praised by locals as being a crane, which is important in the Bangladeshi culture.

In addition to those pictured above, there are a few other street artists worth mentioning. Invader, who is from Paris brought street art to what it is today through his use of mosaics.Bathroom tile spends lots of time on his work, in order to not draw attention to his work he and his workers camouflage themselves to look like construction workers by using traffic cones and high visibility vests. Jones statues on street lamps make even mundane objects pieces of art.


Black Truman brewery has been a landmark in the area in some form since 1660. Now, home to some 250 businesses, it is a strong reminder of the industry that helped to put this area on the global map.

By the 1990s, this area became the contemporary hub, populated with start-ups and artists who were then ironically pushed out by the popularity of the trendy area which resulted in a dramatic increase in rent prices. Recently, appreciation of community has grown through a foundation of understanding and respect by locals and tourists alike. Another fan favorite event in the area is the annual Oxford and Cambridge goat race.

Moving along, the tour soon came to an area which is the third most impoverished borough in London, alongside luxury hotels promoting themselves with graffiti. This speaks to the unique culture of the area; that luxury industry is respecting and advancing their local culture through the use of local mediums for communication in order to progress their own agenda.

2 East end

This shows the contrast of two east London: graffiti and nice cars represented by big business and luxury apartments across the street from shortage junk and graffiti.

The local arts community is directly supported by local events through the Village underground, which is an events space where all of the event proceeds go to the upkeep and rent of eco spaces on the roof where companies or groups can rent out repurposed trolley carriages as office space. This again shows the reciprocal relationships that are fostered within this community.

The artist Mobstr challenged council workers to class walls more completely by writing “buff this…” And council workers cleaned it, creating a question mark of paint that was used to cover up the words of Mobster. This can also been seen as a metaphor for questioning what the council workers are doing by cleaning off sections of this self – expressive medium.

While the focus of the tour I participated in was the street art and surrounding culture of the East End of London, it also gave a unique perspective on how the history of the area contributed to the unique cultural fabric there today.


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