Nuclear Dawn redux

Lambeth has a long and rich history as a hub for radical artists and their groundbreaking work, but its many murals often appear to be forgotten as part of London’s cultural heritage and legacy. All that might be about to change, however.

Next to Brixton Village, on the side of a Victorian building now long boarded up, stands a 25 square metre mural entitled ‘Nuclear Dawn’. Affectionately known to locals as the ‘one with the skeleton in it’, the 1981 mural is now up for restoration. The timing couldn’t be better.

The mural – showing a large eerie figure sowing bombs across the streets of London – was a critique of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her support for nuclear armament during the Cold War. It also became part of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament‘s iconic imagery, featuring in the group’s merchandise.

‘Some are likening the posturing of USA and North Korea as similar to the threat of nuclear holocaust with that of 1980 era of Reagan and Thatcher,’ Nuclear Dawn’s artist Brian Barnes told Lambeth Life. ‘There is nostalgia for the mural because it has lasted for 36 years.’

The original press release explained the work as a demonstration of how ‘war will come about through governments and capitalism wishing to control oil supplies’. In the bottom corner Barnes painted politicians and royals ‘safe in a bunker’, to show how the elites will always save themselves.  

The restoration is coming about with the ‘help and encouragement of local people’, and to commemorate the giant piece of local art, there’s even a new beer by Brixton Brewery named after it. The brewery has even promised to help with the funding of the restoration – a tough job given the size of the mural.
But Mr. Barnes, who is also the man behind other famous Lambeth murals, including the Stockwell War Memorial, is thinking of giving a little contemporary flavour to Nuclear Dawn.

‘The idea is to renovate the version we painted back then,’ the irreverent 73 year-old said. ‘Perhaps change the people in the bunker for today’s characters: May, Trump, Boris, et al. There has been anticipation for repairs since 2011 at the 30th anniversary.’

The mural has been plagued by natural deterioration and graffiti, but Mr. Barnes hopes the new coat of paint will bring it all back to its former glory. ‘Brixton is changing drastically from the time I first worked there. Nice to try to keep the mural as a constant feature.’

If you want to help the restoration effort, you can purchase a poster of ‘Nuclear Dawn’ from the Brixton Pound Cafe 77 Atlantic Road, SW9 8PU.

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