Monday, 25 August 2014
THE CALL OF THE TRIBAL
I listened to an early Newsnight debate on the Scottish referendum on independence.
“Well that's that!” I thought. “Heart wins over head! The Yes vote wins! Stands to unreason.”
I felt - and feel - sympathetic.
“Its about the warm call of going home – to the family, the village – the tribe!” I told myself. “They'll go with it.”
At school in Africa my best friends were proud working class Scots 6,000 miles from Scotland. Jazz was their preferred music. Football their game. Distance enchanted their view of home.
The reality of Scottish independence will probably be less attractive when it's not a distant dream.
At the country club near my home in the bush we danced Eightsome Reels, Stripped the Willow and sang 'Auld lang syne.' and shouted 'Och aye!' We the English were in transition to the life of lairds and landowners with black peasants. When we went to the Mother Country we had to visit the Highlands. England's heart was not folksy enough for homesick colonials.
Colonial whites knew about tribalism in Africa. We used it to our advantage. We stoked the enmity between the Ndebele and the Shona. An enemy divided is an enemy defeated. We chose the most warlike tribe – the Zulu in South Africa – we could respect them – and put them in charge of 'lesser' tribes.
In history however, we were taught that the real achievement of civilised people was to join together, make treaties and alliances. We celebrated every union and agreement that meant peace even when it gave power to the top dogs.
Ah well! Alex Salmond has been fighting for independence for Scotland for decades and he will likely win.
What a shame!
He has thrown the discordant apple of choice into the heart of Scotland and split it almost exactly in half. Every nation needs its tribes and Scotland will soon have the dominant YES tribe and the discomfited NO tribe. Will they learn to love each other?
Will Scotland discover that it isn't run or owned by the Scots in any case but like Britain, is a franchise of global corporations? Salmond's independence is an anachronism that doesn't answer the problems of today's world. Salmond unfortunately is a man of fixed ideas. Will he have served the Scots well? I doubt it.
If Salmond loses perhaps he'll go into self-exile in Darien?
The Scots talk a 'braveheart' about being socialists who despise Sassenach conservative toffs but their socialism is also chauvinism and somewhat conservative too.
What happened to the international socialist dream of a better life for all humanity?
The fact that the English won't have the support of Scottish Labour will be a misfortune for England and Scotland. England might rejoice if Northern Ireland split. The Catholics could go with Eire and the Calvinists become a Scottish dependency. If the Scots were to commit the Crimea of invading the North-East of England and inveigling our last deprived working class community into a 'union' with them England would be much the poorer!
Suppose the worst. What if England breaks up into tribes. The Tower of Hamlets is fortified. The Glastonbury Wall of sound cuts off South-West England. Norfolk floods its land to keep out the Essex hordes. Oxford and Cambridge turn the Isis and the Cam into moats and go it alone.
Imagine with horror that the one stereotype of an Englishman held up for us to love might be a Farage of John Bull - all mouth and no brain.
Scotland, don't leave us!
Save us from ourselves.
We need you!
Thursday, 7 August 2014
APARTHEID, SOUTH AFRICA, PALESTINE, HAMAS AND MY PAINTING.
I made this painting in April 1994 as a participant in the Mbile International Artists Workshop in Zambia.
It was the same time as the first democratic elections in South Africa which was where my heart was.
This is the largest of 3 paintings I called the 'South African series'. One was called 'Exile', one called 'Freedom Fighters' and this one I called 'Apartheid'.
The painting represents the evils of apartheid as I saw it and experienced it in the 1960s.
The blood-stained and damaged landscape is fenced with barbed wire and empty of people except for those who wait without hope by the roadside.
The panels on the left and right are about prisons. Those that incarcerate prisoners as well as those that imprison people's minds and bodies with fear, bigotry, censorship, racial and sexual discrimination.
Along the top are symbols of power and war. Among them are modern bombs and ancient spears, raised fists, crowns, masks of fear and superstition. As well as the white Nationalists, I chose these symbols to represent leaders of the Bantustans who used tribalism and ignorance to oppress their own people.
At the bottom of the painting are coffins symbolising those who died to end apartheid. They include Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists and others.
My painting could almost be about Palestine if I made some changes.
The fenced and bloody landscape would have to be full of suffering people. The prisons would still be there. I would however, include Hamas in the top panel as an oppressor of the people, along the Netanyahu government and along with all religious fundamentalists. At the bottom there would still be the same coffins – Muslim, Christian and Jewish and atheist. They would not be those of Freedom Fighters or heroes. The coffins would be of the victims of terrorism and fundamentalism – all those who have died in the last 4 weeks. I would include suicide bombers as victims but not heroes. The French children and Rabbi, the old lady Mrs Bloch, killed by Idi Amin at Entebbe. the King David hotel victims, the Palestinians – I could go back forever.
Instead I will say STOP NOW!
I would not choose to make a painting about Palestine as I am not a Palestinian. I might make a painting about how I would feel about Palestine and Israel.
I made an installation about the war in the Balkans in the 1990's. I showed an English tea table covered with a fabric on which were printed images from British newspapers of the ethnic cleansing. The tea cups and teapot were filled with blood. Next to them rested a copy of the War poems of Wilfred Owen and a daily paper. Ii is called 'Grantchester ten-to-three' after the poem by Rupert Brooke.
If I was to make a painting today about Palestine this is what I would have to try to show and express - one of my children is half-Muslim, the others are half-Jewish and that makes them all vulnerable to hate and race crimes and death threats. How can I protect them?
I ask you what you think I should put into my art today?
The ANC gave all South Africans a Freedom Charter – social justice without racism or sexism – rights for everybody regardless of religion and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Hamas has not and will not give the Palestinians a Freedom Charter.
It expects that they will prefer to die and not to live.
Whatever you feel about Israel and Palestine, please unite against anti-Semitism and racism of any sort.