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Headington Shark sculptor on anniversary and street performance


Aug 8, 2022

AN artist who created one of Oxford’s landmarks said he was ‘amazed’ by a street performance organised to raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear weapons.

John Buckley built the iconic Headington Shark, a 25ft fibreglass sculpture in New High Street depicting a shark embedded head-first in the roof of a house, in 1986 after being commissioned by Bill Heine, a local radio presenter.

Since then, the shark has become one of the symbols of Oxford and the most famous resident of Headington.

Mr Buckley, 77, returned to the house yesterday (August 6) to mark the 36th anniversary of his sculpture and watch a performance organised by Cafe Reason Butoh Dance Theatre, an Oxford-based experimental group.

The performance aimed at highlighting the destruction caused by atomic bombs, coinciding with both the shark’s anniversary and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Oxford Mail: Sculptor John Buckley in front of the shark, in HeadingtonSculptor John Buckley in front of the shark, in Headington

The shark itself was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki, which came days after Hiroshima was targeted by the United States.

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It was put up as a protest against the bombing as well as making a statement against nuclear weapons, as the shark represents a metaphor for falling bombs.

The performers, who painted their faces white and wore white suits to represent nuclear PPE, wanted to raise awareness on “how the violence and barbarity of war and feelings of bewilderment, fear, and helplessness still affect us all”, also drawing a connection with the current conflict in Ukraine.

They started their parade from Stile Road and walked along London Road, stopping in different locations before turning left on New High Street to finish their performance in front of the shark. Passers-by also followed the parade and gathered to watch the dancers.

After the performance, Mr Buckley told the Oxford Mail: “It was amazing. These kind of performances are what art is about – we want to push people’s buttons and we are living in very worrying times.

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“If my sculpture can inspire this sort of thing, I just love it – these people performing here today are raising awareness in the right way.

“I remember when we installed the shark – it was an amazing morning. People were watching and no one knew how and why it came to be here.

“The next day, it was in newspapers and magazines all around the world. We spent months building it in my studio and no one knew where it was going, we kept it secret for a long time.”

The Headington Shark was added to the Oxford Heritage Asset Register in March, despite objections from owner Magnus Hanson-Heine.

Dr Hanson-Heine inherited the house from his late father, who installed the shark without planning permission, sparking a planning row with Oxford City Council.

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This story was written by Anna Colivicchi, she joined the team this year and covers health stories for the Oxfordshire papers.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Anna.colivicchi@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @AnnaColivicchi