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  • Writer's pictureFraser Urquhart Media


The latest piece of street art for the ‘In Paint We Trust’ project has been revealed this week and is one of both local and historical significance to Coventry. Dedicated to Ira Aldridge, who was an activist in the move to abolish slavery, this beautifully colourful portrait has been created by leading visual artist, Dreph.

Situated on a prominent wall at Belgrade Theatre overlooking the water fountain, this spectacular piece of street art has been chosen and painted by the nationally recognised, visual artist, Dreph (Neequaye Dsane), who specialises in large scale portrait and human figure paintings.

The stunning mural – which is over 20ft tall – is particularly poignant, as Ira Aldridge became Manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828, making him the first black person to ever run a British theatre. His performances and the plays he presented led the city to petition Parliament to abolish slavery. He was also the first black Shakespearean actor, playing principal roles including Romeo, Hamlet and Othello. Amazingly, he had achieved all this by the time he was 20 years old.

Artist Dreph, commented: “It was an honour to make a piece of work that amplifies this fascinating story. Many of the passers-by that I spoke to, did not know who he was or his connection to the city. So, it was great to be able to bring awareness to his life and achievements.”

Hamish Glen, Artistic Director at Belgrade Theatre, added: “We are very proud to be involved in Coventry BID and the City of Culture Trust’s ‘In Paint We Trust’ project, and are hugely impressed with Dreph’s painting of Ira Aldridge.

“Aldridge’s story of being given control of the Coventry Theatre as a very young man in 1828 was the inspiration for our radical project to “hand over the keys” to the Belgrade to the next generation of theatre-makers for UK City of Culture 2021.

“Coventry has a proud history of radicalism, activism and reinvention that we hope to celebrate, and to build on throughout the year.”

Adrian Woolford, Assistant Manager at Coventry BID, commented: “It was fantastic to watch the mural come to life as Dreph worked on it over the three days he was in Coventry – even the wet weather couldn’t dampen the spirits! The fact that it features Ira Aldridge and highlights his links to the city, means this piece of ‘In Paint We Trust’ artwork is particularly significant and is already proving to be a great talking point for people, as they’ve been intrigued to learn more about who he is and what he did. Throughout the installation the Street Art Strategy team were on hand to give passers-by an overview of the artwork and the artist.”

Mel Smith, Street Art Strategy team, said: “Watching this mural develop over two days has been such a beautiful experience. We have had brilliant conversations with people passing by – sharing Ira’s amazing story, information about Dreph and the plans we have for the ‘In Paint We Trust’ programme. It’s surprising how many people have never heard of Ira Aldridge, we are hoping this mural will change that. His story is inspiring and needs to be heard.”

Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director at Coventry City of Culture 2021, commented: “This is a monumental artwork presenting Ira Aldridge, the first black man to run a theatre in England back in the 19th century during the struggle to abolish slavery. His story is of a brave, brilliant, artistic young man who against the odds travelled from America to London, and was welcomed and given the keys to Coventry Theatre. His story is one of hope and courage. He represents Coventry’s role as a city of welcome, of sanctuary and of harmony.

“Created by Dreph this is the next extraordinary installation for Coventry’s new street art festival, ‘In Paint We Trust’, led by locally based artists Street Art Strategy. Great to see these artworks throwing a light onto some of the people and stories who really demonstrate the pioneering spirit of our city and highlight Coventry’s dynamic role in the world.”

‘In Paint We Trust’ is being delivered in partnership with the Coventry City of Culture Trust and Coventry Business Improvement District, led by Street Art Strategy. Local, nationally and internationally renowned street artists will bring Coventry to life with colourful, imaginative and bespoke pieces which will appear in unexpected places throughout the city centre, encouraging people to explore.

Images by Heather Kincaid, Coventry City of Culture Trust.

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