The Knife Angel | Under the Blades
For the first time in my 6 years living in Middlesbrough I decide to venture into the town library. It’s a hot summer’s day and my flip-flops are suddenly terribly loud as I squeak up and down the bookshelves. Nothing seems appealing. It’s not just that the library is a bit dingy. I’m currently fighting depression and one of it’s side effects seems to be a disinterested disdain of everything.
I dejectedly sidle over to the “New Books” section. I see a book I read 3 years ago. I leave.
Outside I decide to wander over and take a peek at the thing which has attracted a small group of tourists in the park: The Knife Angel.
Currently making its tour of the UK, the Knife Angel is a 27 foot tall figure made out of 100,000 knives. 30,000 of those knives had blood on them when they were collected.
I had seen the Knife Angel posted on my feed earlier that day and quickly read a brief local article about it. I’m sorry to say, I scoffed.
“An ‘angel’ made out of knives is supposed to deter knife crime?” I cried to my husband Kevin as he made himself a sandwich. “What’s the point of it? Wouldn’t it have been better if at least there was a sculpted body impaled on it or something? Wouldn’t that be more striking?”
Depression again: everything is too much, nothing is enough.
I stand among the people gathered about the angel. It’s strange to see something like this gather a crowd here in Middlesbrough. Crowds don’t usually gather quite like this, families with small children, people taking photos. There’s an air of reverence. Something feels different. The statue is arresting when you’re in front of it. Pictures don’t do it justice. It’s body reminds me a little of the Sphinx design in the game Assassin's Creed Odyssey. The angel was created by artist Alfie Bradley. Knife banks were created with the guidance of the police force to collect the knives, whilst raising awareness for the effects of knife crime and violence. It took 2 years to build.The angels face looks out at you, bearing an expression of something I can’t quite fathom - is it admonishing? Pleading? I find I can’t leave just yet.
A group of about 5 boys on bikes, ages 11 to 12 brake and hover over their seats staring up at the creature. They seem entranced by it. This interests me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of boys that age stop riding their bikes to gaze at a piece of art before.
“Look at that one!” one of them says. “Imagine that going into someone!” There’s a sense of fear in his voice as he says it. There’s no glory in his musings.
I stroll around the angel, but I’m really watching the people. Passers-by are entranced. Couples are taking photos and reading the information carefully.
When you first look at it, you see a large bronze coloured statue, hands out as if in prayer, looking like a religious figure you might see in a cathedral. But when you look a second time, you see the knives. So many knives. All sorts of knives. What strikes me is that a lot of them look just like ordinary kitchen knives, some with bright blue and orange handles. It feels so normal. There’s nothing glorified about these knives. The ones making up the wings are badly rusted...or is that blood?
I move closer and eavesdrop on a father telling his two young sons, perhaps 6 and 8 about how some people’s names are engraved in some of the blades. It’s true. Selected knives are engraved with the names of loved ones lost to knife crime and messages from their families and friends.
“That’s why it’s crucial...absolutely crucial…” I hear the urgency in the father’s voice, almost breaking. He’s scared for their future. No one can stress it enough. Don’t carry knives as weapons.
Later, at home, I will peruse Alfie’s website and listen to some of the victim’s family members talking about the day they heard the news of their loved ones death.
“It didn’t sink in for days and days,” one of them says. “It was awful, just a sick feeling. Couldn’t eat...We weren’t allowed to see him straight away. He had 52 stab wounds.”
I stand quietly looking at the angel. The knowledge that the names of victims are inscribed on some of those knives has finally brought it home to me. This is not just a statue. It bears the marks of life. They didn’t need to make it any more striking than it is. The body I thought was needed to get the message across is already there...many of them...under the blades that point inwards to the heart of the Knife Angel.
Teesside has the ninth highest level of knife crime per 1000 population in the UK.
The Knife Angel will be in Centre Square in Middlesbrough from the 6th August to the 1st September.