Art Theology No. 3

Next in Rev. Jim Williams series of ‘Art Theology’ reflections: 

Shaida Walking: Julian Opie 2015

Palm 119: 1
You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.

Every year I question why tens of thousands of people would board overcrowded coaches and travel for hours to get stuck in a seven-mile traffic jam along Blackpool Promenade surrounded by a million lightbulbs. The illuminations do nothing for me other than remind me of my loathing of traffic.
We might still be in lockdown but Julian Opie’s Shaida keeps on walking. A young woman, hair in a ponytail, shines out from an LED screen on Broadwick Street. Using the kind of technology used for the illuminations, but mounted on a plinth in central London, it gives her a certain ‘monumentality’.

24/7 she is in perpetual motion. She keeps a steady pace, almost a march. She’s purposeful but unrushed. She knows where she’s going, and she won’t countenance any distractions. There is a hint of defiance. A persistent, headstrong, stubbornness.

I’ve always admired Shaida and whenever Zoe and the children drag me to the trendy shops I slip away for a moment of calm contemplation. It’s the beauty and simplicity of the human figure – a universal theme from the ancient Greeks to today’s Steven White. But it’s also the wonder of her own particularity. Who is she? What is she thinking? Where is she going?

She seems very peaceful and self-contained and the hypnotic repetition of her stride brings a calming effect to the whole street. She might just be trying to make her way through the crowds of shoppers, but the lack of context turns her into an everyman/everywoman figure. She’s Adam and Eve. She’s not just strolling to the shops – she’s on the run or on pilgrimage or on a heroic quest. She’s bringing news from the battlefront or a message from the gods.

I hope that even though the country is locked down, Shaida’s power button hasn’t been touched. I find a peace from assuming that she continues walking in deserted streets and past the temples of commerce that our shopping centres have become.

Julio Opie’s magnificent work has a new resonance: Shaida is the keyworker who won’t leave her post. She’s the neighbour collecting food for the elderly couple next door. She’s the brave nurse gowning up in her scrubs at the Vic. Because it’s the people that society forgot who have become the heroes – the ones that keep walking.

More than anything though Shaida is a symbol of hope. She still walking towards Carnaby St without a care in the world – like we all used to. She doesn’t know the meaning of pandemic or asymptomatic or social distancing. She doesn’t shout in alarm when someone encroaches into her two-metre bubble. She just walks – freely, unselfconsciously. One day soon, we too will have that luxury, once this virus is beaten.

Psalm 119: 2
You’re blessed when you follow His directions, doing your best to find Him.


See Shaida in motion at:


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