pockets and a hat

The twitter hashtag #WOMENSART brought to my attention the poem Dangerous Coats by Sharon Owens linked to a surveillance photograph of suffragette Olive Beamish from 1914. In this linocut I don’t capture her facial likeness but I have explored textures of the coat with large pockets.

Here are a range of sketches I undertook.

From Wikipedia I learned of the Cat and Mouse Act passed by the Liberal government, legislation designed to thwart the suffragettes on hunger strike in prison.

In her poem Sharon Owens equates “sedition”, at that time, with commonsense, fairness, kindness, equality. Faced with a law-breaking, lying, callous, killing government, we may all need pockets to promote these values.

at a distance

In this linocut, based on a still from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, the heroine Maria is bringing children to witness the gardens of the rich. Maria is adored by the oppressed workers. The hero, in pursuit of love for Maria, descends into the hell inhabited by the workers and, though love, becomes the mediator between the propertied and the proletariat.

Fritz Lang’s film was criticised at the time for its naivety. Cutting the block, I listened to the audio version of China Mielville’s October, a fast paced narrative of the two revolutions, a decade before the film, that first forced the abdication of Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romonav, the “bovine” Emperor of All Russia, and then replaced the provisional government with that of the Bolsheviks. Through this, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, “Lenin”, having returned to Petrograd to acclaim, is now in hiding in Finland while the counter-revolutionary plot by General Kornilov is foiled by the city’s workers and soldiers. Lenin guides the revolution, demanding rule by the soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ committees), an end to economic injustice and purity of purpose. He rails that the Bolsheviks must support a bourgeoise revolution as a pre-condition to a proletarian one, but not collaborate with that bourgeoise government. He tacks and shifts his ground, fine tuning his writings in response to events, ever sensitive to the subtle twists in political mood, seeking the precise historical moment when to act decisively for a workers’ state. But in exile, he receives news late, writes always behind the times and his tardy essays are used selectively by others to justify their contrary actions. I am minded of that other spiritual guide to a revolution that eventually acquired an empire, Paul, on the road and in exile, working on hearsay and old news, writing letters to admonish his first century adherents and converts.

Dystop

Along with many others, I oppose the destruction of infrastructure and targeted killing of civilians in Gaza and want political action towards a free Palestine by the UK. Britain is a nation with influence, and both historical and current responsibility.

One argument, lost in the others, is that the highly visible selective murder of a trapped people is a shop window, watched with great interest by other governments. What one democracy does with impunity, so might others. Not just solidarity should motivate us, but self-interest.

My son’s theme for his final GCSE art exam was “light and dark”. From there one can extrapolate from tone and colour to moral rectitude and corruption, no doubt as the teacher had intended. He used as a source the master of light, JMW Turner: including this depiction of the 1781 massacre on the slave ship Zong that came to light when the owners tried to claim insurance on their cargo. One spiritual and practical outcome of the centuries-long struggles for self-emancipation by enslaved and colonised peoples is that these helped shape labour movements and democracy in the colonising countries (see for example Priyamvada Gopal: Insurgent Empire). We who now call ourselves free have a debt to those who struggled against oppression before us. Art does not pay that debt, but perhaps shapes our thoughts so we act in other ways.

My son took his theme from the 1927 dystopian silent film Metropolis, for its gloriously grainy black and white images. After he has finished and handed his work in, I have started to use this as source for planned lino prints. In Fritz Lang’s film, there is a strange plot twist in which the workers’ spiritual leader is captured and made the template for a robot that leads the downtrodden in revolutionary destruction. Here is the lino ready for cutting, with the initial charcoal sketch and tracing. Drawing, tracing and refining onto the lino reshapes my thoughts.

As an aside, here are the sketches and traces for the prints posted last week.

Ditch

I sketch from a little wooden bridge across a brook running through a wood.  I am using H and 2B charcoal pencils, dabbing the paper with water to intensify tone and allow the image to emerge from rapid light lines.  Three years ago, in the spring of 2017, I drew this same scene in conte crayons on tinted paper.  Interestingly, that blog post linked back in succession to two further posts each with my random political reflections at the time of drawing. This sequence of drawings mark for me a pathway of descent.

Tonight,  on the brink of a lockdown that marks the utter failure of government public health policies, we are invited to doublethink, to hold its lies as truth, its greed as charity, its self-interest as science, its disregard for law as high principle, constrained as we are by newspeak, their simplified language that binds the media and opposition in chains, closing down thought and dissent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

rant

I am stunned by the utter chaos and shambles of the current Tory government in the UK.  It goes beyond partisan politics, beyond incompetence, beyond corruption.

Elected to “get Brexit done”, this Tory government passed a Withdrawal Bill in January bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny and now say this is not the Brexit they intended, but it’s become an international treaty which is law so they announce in Parliament that they will knowingly break the law to rewrite it unilaterally, so the most senior lawyers in the civil service have resigned as they are duty-bound to do, meanwhile this Tory government champions Britannia ruling the waves by threatening small inflatables carrying handfuls of frightened asylum-seekers with the might of the Royal Navy, meanwhile this Tory government voted overwhelmingly against putting into law measures to prevent another horrific Grenfell Tower fire, meanwhile this Tory government plans to criminalise peaceful activists trying to place climate change central to public policy, meanwhile this Tory government, building on ten years of deliberate unpreparedness for a predictable pandemic thus killing more than forty thousand people, now, after six months and in the face of an obvious and predictable rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections as we enter autumn, this Tory government still cannot offer a effective Track and Trace system despite spending billions, cannot source protective gear in the UK and have made no preparations for schools to reopen other than mantras and wishful thinking so in a few weeks and with more deaths those same schools will shut with no plans for how to educate children except spitting out recriminations and instead this Tory government shouts at young people, whom they had previously hectored that it was their patriotic duty to go out to eat and drink and go to work in offices not work at home and buy sandwiches and repopulate trains, now they tell those young people, “don’t kill yer gran”…

 

 

I could go on.

The advisors have not been free to speak

A couple of weeks ago I joined a zoom meeting of Scientists for Labour a group affiliated to the Labour Party.  The speaker was physicist and veteran science policy adviser Sir David King.  He served Labour and Conservative governments.  Under the Blair government he ran a large foresight programme for major events such as a pandemic.  He now chairs the Independent SAGE, which appears to comprise the experts one might have expected a government to have consulted in managing a pandemic.  The meeting is publicly available.  While he talked I tried to sketch (not very well) and made a few notes.

Here he talks about the fact that the UK had been a world leader in preparedness for such a pandemic, setting out how to manage such an event in 2006.

“the biggest foresight program I ran  was on the infectious diseases … our report … said that it was highly likely that a pandemic of the kind that has just occurred would occur … it might emerge from a wild animal … it would spread around the world very rapidly … within 3 months … it would have a genetic make up that we would have no defences against … we set out what should be done, the WHO was represented on the group … and it is kind of surprising and amazingly annoying that the country that produced this report … and the WHO responded very well … that we are the country that sits behind every country in terms of our operation.  Sixty five thousand excess deaths to date …”

 “it is difficult to believe a word of what the government is saying”.

“complete mishandling of this pandemic of appalling proportions”.

“… this looks like criminal behaviour …”

“A vast number of people have died unnecessarily …”

 

Meditation

 

 

This is Packwood House, built by a 16th century family of yoeman farmers (including the second generation lawyer) who accumulated land and built this house through their own labour, likely the unrecognised labour of the household’s women, and the labour of other hired workers (for example, it was extended by Roger Hurlbutt, a notable master carpenter, in 1670).  In the eighteenth century that family laid out the huge yew topiary representing the twelve apostles and their master. That lineage having foundered, the much modified Elizabethan house was transformed into a twentieth century artwork by Graham Baron Ash, who incorporated architectural structures from old buildings facing demolition and historical objects harvested from salesrooms.  These included a bed slept in by a queen the eve before giving battle and a chimney piece that might once have warmed Shakespeare’s arse. This Ash was fourth generation of a line of business men, two generations prospering through four surviving sons, moving from grocery into manufacturing from zinc. Their company, Ash and Lacey, still operates today: it reported in 2018 a gender pay gap of 15.9% commenting this is lower than the national average.  Most zinc is mined.  I cannot tell where the Ash family’s zinc originated, perhaps from northern India during the Empire, nor the labour conditions by which the metal was extracted.

 

 

social distance

Our foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, would not take the knee except to his wife or the queen, sees it as a symbol of subjugation, thinks it comes from Game of Thrones.

We took the knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in the main road.  The traffic stopped and waited in silence.  It hurts to put weight on one knee that long.  It was an honour to do so: celebrating our common humanity, recognising and opposing White power and violence, being part of a 250 year-long history extending from the iconography of Josiah Wedgwood to the actions of Colin Kaepernick and others on the streets and sport-fields.

What is the value of such protests?  It seems remarkable that there was a rally, nearing a thousand-strong, in Solihull, a Tory voting suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham. The traffic hooted its support.  People of all ethnic backgrounds took part and gave witness.  This is reclaiming the history that belongs to us all but which is airbrushed from the curriculum and media.  At the war memorial we called on the handful of defensive men to join us, to champion the common values for which those soldiers died, fighting fascism. They refused, embracing their fearful myths and clutching themselves round the cold stone like it might hatch.

Does this raise consciousness?  Are White people on these marches just signalling virtue without challenging their relative privilege, without building a better future for all our children?  Its hard to know.  One thing I will say is this.  When you walk, you can chant “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice No Peace” and even “say his name George Floyd“, “say her name “Breonna Taylor“.  However, when you say out loud “I can’t breathe” and think, just think, really why we are saying that, then it becomes hard to breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fragments

Race linked to White and Non-White skin colour is an invention founded in exploitation and slavery in Europe and its colonies over centuries.  Empire and capitalism created divisions to justify and facilitate the extraction of value from people through actual and economic violence.  Alongside this is a history of shared humanity and resistance to these divisions.

White is a fluid concept.  To make our lives and our children’s lives more secure, we acquire camouflage to mimic or blend in with privileged people.  There is more to this than skin tone, but colour is a key marker.  So, like many others, three generations of my ancestors progressively shed their poor Polish Jewish identity to redefine what it is to be White so that it included them, claiming the trappings of being middle class and privileged.  That must have been hard, but their skin was pale and no visible tag of that journey remains in me.

Being White, I need not think about race.  I can say: I do not have a race; race is a problem for other people, race is a problem for the people we group together as Black and Minority Ethnicity, race is their problem.

As a White social liberal I can say: I treat everyone the same regardless of skin colour and expect the same back; racism is a problem for people being abusive on public transport, or the deplorable Leavers or MAGAs and their antidiluvian attitudes; racism is not my problem; racism is a problem between racists and Black and Minority Ethnicity people.

If you challenge me on this, I can be defensive: I can say I did not choose my skin colour, did not enslave anyone, did not kneel on his neck nor fire those guns.

History is dynamic. We do not make what came before us, but we selectively mythologise historical events to build our culture and identity, continually making and remaking our society.  We choose what we see and what we ignore.  Privilege means we choose many things in our daily lives that reduce or perpetuate division and exploitation.  Being White and privileged, we determine what we expect of our public servants, the politicians, the unelected officials, the police, the teachers.  We are small fish swept along in the shoal, but we are also actors.  We make choices that influence the direction of the crowd.  So in this way, White supremacy is both perpetuated and undermined.

White supremacy is a problem for White people: so it is my problem to solve and if also you are White, then also it is your problem to solve.  When we duck the challenge, we support White supremacy.

When we own and oppose White supremacy, we have to actively see what had been invisible to us, seek out the history of empire censored from the curriculum and the news, give way and listen and promote the voices of those who are White supremacy’s most immediate victims, protest, bravely challenge not just the racists but our liberal friends, donate also if we can, make changes through wise and courageous voting.

There are many links.   Here are some, for which there is an opportunity to donate.  I have included speeches of the many that moved me.

Black Lives Matter

Minnesota Freedom Fund

The Stephen Lawrence Trust

Anti-racism book list

Rapper Killer Mike speaks: “it is time to fortify our own house .. plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize”  Note the police chief in the background: she went among the crowds of protesters and listened.

Tamika Mallory speaks “Don’t talk to me about looting. You are the looters”.

General CQ Brown speaks “I am thinking about our two sons and how we had to prepare them to live in two worlds”

Dystopia

We are all doing our best, at home or in scrubs, masked, at work.

Yet there seems a vacuum in government, a deliberate loss of governance.

Four months in, locked down, our health system turned upside down, we have yet to start the actual work of managing the pandemic.

The core work of Public Health is being outsourced to amateurs, like contracting cross-channel supply to a company without boats.

Still no systematic identification of cases, testing, contact tracing, isolation of individuals.

Meanwhile our population isolation is being eased, spasmodically, to suit the news cycle.

Only now we start quarantining arrivals and at the same time, schools are to open, shops to open.

Will home-made masks and two metre distancing be enough to stop another explosion?

And in the midst of this, there is no accountability for those in charge, no rule of law.

Is this a sideshow, have they their own agenda to pursue while we are distracted?

Clever hands deceive the eye.