Black Lives Matter campaigner creates artwork in forest

A woman who became the target of online racist abuse after organising a Black Lives Matter protest in her home town has helped create a new artwork based on her life experiences.

Khady Gueye, 25, met opposition from some people in Lydney, Gloucestershire, when she planned her own rally following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in the US.

Lydney Town Council attempted to block the demonstration as England was under a national lockdown but later backtracked.

Black Lives Matter campaigner Khady Gueye has worked with poet Zakiya McKenzie to create Soil Unsoiled in the Forest of Dean (Ben Birchall/PA)
Black Lives Matter campaigner Khady Gueye has worked with poet Zakiya McKenzie to create Soil Unsoiled in the Forest of Dean (Ben Birchall/PA)

She suffered racial abuse and received threats – leading her to temporarily move away from her home.

Miss Gueye has now contributed to a new arts project being installed in the Forest of Dean, called Soil Unsoiled.

Her sculpture, which has been located near the iconic Sculpture Trail, has been created using timber that has been charred and blackened to preserve it and captures the local charcoaling traditions of the Forest of Dean.

A poem, written by Bristol poet Zakiya McKenzie, is etched into the wood.

Miss Gueye, who is Senegalese-British, said: “Working to bring to life my own lived experiences of racial inequality in my home town, whilst tough, has been so important for my own sense of identity as a mixed-race woman in rural Britain.

“My work in the community is focused on inspiring young people and finding ways to bring people together to combat racial, social and economic inequality, and I hope this sculpture will allow people of colour to feel seen, heard and valued in this area.

“I’d love for this to be a space of reflection for locals and visitors to the forest.”

Khady Gueye received online racial abuse after organising a Black Lives Matter rally in her hometown last year (Ben Birchall/PA)
Khady Gueye received online racial abuse after organising a Black Lives Matter rally in her home town last year (Ben Birchall/PA)

Soil Unsoiled has been installed as part of the 35th anniversary of the Sculpture Trail by the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust.

Also being unveiled is the Forest to Forest trail running alongside the existing Sculpture Trail.

It is designed to be shorter than the main four mile trail and will stay in place for six months and features sculptures from eight artists celebrating forest wildlife, flora and fauna.

Artist Alicja Biala with her Totems artwork, which symbolises the relationship between humans and the forces of nature (Ben Birchall/PA)
Artist Alicja Biala with her Totems artwork, which symbolises the relationship between humans and the forces of nature (Ben Birchall/PA)

Emma Clitherow, from Forestry England, said: “The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail has been enjoyed by millions of visitors who have come to Beechenhurst over the last 35 years.

“Many people come to experience this rich and diverse natural woodland habitat and the sculptures within it that have been inspired by the place and designed to fit as part of the landscape.”

Cathy Mager, from the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust, added: “Throughout the challenges of the pandemic over the last year, many more people have found comfort in nature.

“We wanted to use the Sculpture Trail’s 35th anniversary to really celebrate this wonderful and unique environment.

“Forest to Forest has been designed to be a fun, family-friendly route, whilst Soil Unsoiled offers the chance to reflect on issues that have come to the forefront of our attention in the last year.”