Lost mural of the 'People's Republic of South Yorkshire' given new home in Sheffield

A striking mural capturing the defiant mood at the height of the so-called 'People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’ has found a new home in Sheffield, having nearly been lost for good.

By Robert Cumber
Saturday, 29 June, 2019, 15:23

‘With Burning Patience’, standing nearly six metres wide and two metres tall, boldly depicts the struggles of the working classes throughout the decades and points to a brighter future in Sheffield.

It was the work of Chilean brothers Sergio and Daniel Bustamante, who laboured for nearly two years over their unique gift to the city which had taken them in when Augusto Pinochet seized control of their birth country in the 1973 coup.

Having nearly ended up in a skip, the political masterpiece now hangs in the entrance to the Millennium Gallery, where it is seen by hundreds of visitors a day.

The artwork was originally unveiled on Labour Day in 1987 at Sheffield Co-ordinating Centre Against Unemployment (SCCAU) on West Street, with politicians and the media out in force to mark the occasion.

To its many admirers, it stood as a symbol of hope as the city’s ruling Labour Group rallied against what they saw as an assault on the welfare state by Margaret Thatcher – leading to the region being jokingly dubbed the ‘People's Republic of South Yorkshire’.

The huge artwork was painted by Chilean brothers who took sanctuary in Sheffield after fleeing Augusto Pinochet's regime

But with Thatcher deposed and New Labour sweeping to power, the mural fell out of favour with the powers that be, who perhaps felt it was no longer in touch with the prevailing political mood, and it was hidden behind a false wall.

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When the SCCAU closed, there were fears it would be destroyed or end up far from the city to which it was bequeathed. That was until Deborah Egan stepped in and gave it a temporary home at Dina Arts Centre on Cambridge Street, which she runs, after being tipped off by Susan Atkins, a former director of the unemployment centre.

Deborah Egan, who runs Dina Arts Centre on Cambridge Street, gave it a temporary home and saved it from being destroyed after being tipped off by Susan Atkins, a former director of SCCAU.

She said: “It’s an amazing painting with a very important and emotive message. It’s a product of the People’s Republic of Yorkshire and an important part of our history, which was painted for the people of Sheffield by two Chilean emigres who wanted to give something back to the city which had cared for them and their families.

“When I heard there was a chance it could be lost for good I knew I had to do something, and I’m delighted it’s gone from nearly ending up in a skip to hanging on the wall of the Millennium Gallery, where it is getting the reverence it deserves.”

The mural, named after the inspiring words which run along the top of the artwork, was recently unveiled in its new home at the Millennium Gallery.

Sergio Contreras, a fellow Chilean exile, who came to Sheffield in 1973, spent years searching for the mural and has become a spokesperson for the artists.

He said: “It was painted as a symbol to honour the unemployed, the homeless, the voiceless and hard-working people of Sheffield.

“I think it’s more relevant than ever, because if you look at the levels of unemployment and homelessness in Sheffield today there’s even more poverty in the city than when it was painted in the 80s.”