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The politics of protest: The emergence of an ‘alternative’ breed of protester

19 Apr

26 March saw several thousands of people from all backgrounds protest on the streets of London. Organised by The Trades Union Congress (TUC), many came from near and far to voice their disdain over the government’s manhandling of UK public services.  With protesters ranging from students to pensioners, 26 March exhibited the kind of unity last seen in the anti-Iraq war march of 2003. People from all kinds of professional and political persuasions stood shoulder to shoulder to voice their anger and to, ‘March for the Alternative’.

Deemed as an all-round success, no one can deny that the events in the day were mostly peaceful and paid tribute to the stella organisation skills of the TUC. However as the day moved on, a more aggressive form of ‘protest’ developed. We’ve all read about the backlash and many heard of the ammonia filled light bulbs that were thrown at the police.

As shocking as this was, this violent undertone of protest is unfortunately nothing new. There will always be a violent aspect to larger protests whether from a minority  group of ‘protesters’ or the aggressive actions of the police, Ian Tomlinson being a fitting example among many others.  People looking to cause trouble will always gate crash other people’s causes and use it as a platform to justify their own violent behaviour.

However can the same be said for the minority involved in the Black Bloc movement, a masked group who vandalised symbolic property throughout the march?  Their anonymous interview in the Guardian was telling. Far from the yobs and misfits the government would have us label them; they spoke articulately about their cause and motivations and were able to voice this to the mainstream media without sacrificing their anonymity.  And for the group to do something seemingly spontaneous (although this is a bit too hard to believe) and still out-fox the police indicates that this required more than a black hoodie but actual brain power.

As misguided was these actions were, they brought the demonstration and the nature protest to the top of the agenda. Granted, with up to an estimated 500 000 people protesting for such a topical and important cause; it was always going to attract media attention. But rightly or wrongly, to what extent would this have happened without the actions of these alternative movements such as the Black Bloc?  Although for the most part the media was clear that the main demonstration was a success, the debate that lingered was over the nature of the violent protests. What does this say about our society when it is violence and damage that attracts more headlines?  Do you remember the fire-fighter’s protest last September or the recent protests in Germany against nuclear power? These were peaceful protests that didn’t stay in the media spotlight for long, presumably because respectful people protesting in the streets en mass and then going home isn’t sexy media fodder.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to don my balaclava (and in this weather?!) and hoist a paintball gun on my back. I saw the damage done to those shops and the fear these actions inflict on others who have nothing to do with the government. Despite the Black Bloc’s intention to, ‘send a message’ I couldn’t help wonder who they actually thought they were hurting.  Something tells me that Phil Green isn’t about to roll up his sleeves and start scrubbing the paint off the walls of Topshop. It’s the underpaid worker that has to deal with it which only maintains the vertical structures we live in where the ‘poor’ cleans up after the mess of the rich. Continue reading

Racialicious: Black Monsters/White Corpses: Kanye’s Racialized Gender Politics

23 Jan

Kanye West has had his fair share of planned and unplanned controversy. His latest misdemeanour comes from the leaked video teaser of his song, ‘Monster’ from his latest album, My Dark Twisted Beautiful Fantasy.

The teaser, from HipHopConnection.com, is only 40 seconds long but still gives a pretty vivid impression of the general tone of the video. In it are dead women, stripped down to their underwear, hanging by chains around their necks. There are also women who appear to be either dead or drugged sprawled out on the sofa.

Courtesy of www.adiosbarbie.comI am all for freedom of expression as much as the next creative but what kind of message is being sent out in a video where Kanye makes sexual advances to dead and drugged women propped up on a bed? If this was done by anyone else in any other capacity, would we be as forgiving or as passive? Why is it somehow OK if you’re a rapper and have a gold tooth? Kanye’s derogatory views about women are well noted in his songs but as Kanye holds the decapitated head of a woman in this video, I can’t help but think this is chillingly dark new territory which does nothing but create gratuitous controversy.

Latoya Peterson writes a brilliant and insightful piece about this and how the video links in to racialised gender politics. Although it’s clear that Kanye’s video comes from a long stream of misogynistic music videos built on derogatory values, Peterson picks up on another interesting point. All of the dead women in the video are white whereas the black women in the video tend to fulfil fearsome, beast like roles in which they mimic werewolves and eat live flesh. This disturbing video not only unearths the time old depiction of black women as one-dimensional and barbaric but is also unapologetic in its sexualisation of violence. Continue reading

John Pilger’s ‘The War You Don’t See’ – Where does the truth begin and the spin end?

15 Jan

Journalist John Pilger’s film, The War You Don’t See, is a fearless exploration of the media’s role in war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dating back from the First World War, Pilger examines the relationship between the government and the media and the origins of propaganda and government spin.

Much like the First and Second World Wars, on some level we’ve still  been conditioned to associate war with heroism and a fight for a ‘greater good’ and the war in Iraq was no exception to this. Behind the tired rhetoric of threats of weapons of mass destruction was very  little actual evidence and a growing and disproportionate number of Iraqi war casualties.  Pilger questions why the  media, particularly in the UK and America, allowed itself to be manipulated by the government and become the mouth piece for its dishonest agenda.

It’s sickening food for thought when you think about the extent to which the news we read is filtered and how the ‘selected’  few  set the agenda while the rest of us either create or fall victim to the spin. Also without a public framework of accountability, it’s shocking to consider the level of political immunity that exists which sends the message that as long as you’re in a suit and have an Etonian background, you can pretty much get away with anything (Tony Blair, anyone?) Continue reading

Interview with artist and Passion for Freedom winner Roberta Coni

12 Dec

The annual Passion for Freedom Art competition took place last month in which a group of international artists were asked to address the subject of religion and human rights.

The exhibition comes directly from The One Law for All campaign against the Sharia Law in Britain. The Sharia law is an Islamic law based on a combination of sources, including the Quran and the Sunna.

Courtesy of onelawforall.org.uk

According to a report by One Law for All, in the Sharia law’s penal code, women can be stoned to death for sex outside of marriage, homosexuality is punishable by death and improper veiling is punishable with fines and imprisonment. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s and while a man can have four wives and can easily divorce, a woman must give justification for requesting a divorce, some of which are extremely difficult to prove.

In a law that values retribution as an appropriate form of justice, One Law for All fiercely campaigns against its implementation in the UK.  Civitas estimates that there are at least 85 Sharia courts in Britain that implement and enforce the Sharia law, mainly covering issues such as divorce. Considering the severe disadvantage women are at in the first place, (and the many that are unaware of their rights under British law) that proceedings are not recorded and that there is no legal accountability, it’s clear that activism and action is needed by the government who have so far been sluggish to react.

Fuelled by this need for action and legal equality, the artwork for the Passion for Freedom competition aims to reflect this injustice and covers issues ranging from child ‘marriage’ to women’s oppression.

After the exhibition, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the winning artists, Roberta Coni, about her views on the Sharia law and her winning piece, Erasing Herself.

What was the motivation for taking part in the Passion for Freedom exhibition?

I believe that art is often considered only for its decorative aspect, so this seemed to me the perfect opportunity to denounce this mentality and bring attention to this tragic issue to people who are unaware.

My painting “Erasing herself” is a portrait of an old woman to which I removed, with a brush stroke, the features and her identity, as the Sharia dictatorship does. Personality, freedom and individual choices, are buried under a heavy silence and submission, thus denying all freedom and original identity of the woman. Where Sharia law is state law, a woman is, in terms of rights, a pariah.

What are your views on the Sharia law and has it been implemented in Italy?

Sharia is a religious code for living, found in the Quran and the Sunna, that covers all aspects of life. The woman’s role is always inferior to male relatives. Women are subjected to a limited life- their identity and individual freedom doesn’t exist, that should be a human right for any individual. Continue reading

Kate Middleton: future princess or public doll?

11 Dec

Life has a funny habit of throwing around ironic parallels and it should just so happen that 30 years down the line, I’m listening to The Smiths, we are in a Conservative-led government, still suffering from aftershocks of a recession, and we are looking at another royal wedding.

I may not know much, but I know that pretty much from now until April on every slow news day we are going to be paraded with images and tales of how ‘Kate met Will’. And as we enter these austere times of shaky uncertainty, it’s going to become a convenient focal point used to gloss over real issues such as the slow progress after the floods in Pakistan, Philip Green’s alleged billion pound tax avoidance or the barbaric police aggression that the government seems to be ignoring in light of the student demonstrations.

Much like in the `80s, this wedding is a government PR’s dream boat as they try to spoon-feed us these fluff stories in some kind a vain attempt to appease our dismay over ruthless government cuts. It seems as though they hope that somehow we’ll forget the times we’re living in as the government stresses the revenue this wedding will generate for the economy and wheels out gimmicks such as extra bank holidays and free places to be won for the royal wedding. Despite this annoying situation, there stands a more worrying parallel; in amongst all the stories about Kate’s ‘lowly background’ and THE ‘engagement dress’ lies the potential for the makings of the same kind of overbearing relationship Diana had with the media. Although this craze is symptomatic of the celebrity-obsessed culture that dominates our society, as the media dissects and debates ‘key’ issues like the way Kate should wear her hair and which designer should make her dresses, I can’t help but think that she’s just being paraded out like that same public doll Diana was, subject to everyone’s judgement and speculation. Continue reading

Art Exhibition: 400 women

14 Nov

400 Women is the artistic response to the brutal murders of over 400 women in the US border town of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, over the past decade. Organised by artist Tamsyn Challenger, around 200 artists were given the name or image of one of the murdered women and were asked to paint them accordingly.

The portraits vary from classical to abstract. Many of these paintings are angry and political in their intent while others simply pay tribute to the memory of these women. The paradox of these pictures; the many faces of hope and the reality of what became of them (and what didn’t), creates an overwhelming sense of sadness. However, 400 women makes no apology for this and pushes us to feel something of the aching loss that falls at the feet of these families. It almost feels wrong to overlook a portrait in this exhibition, to not give each woman the attention of which they’ve been so disrespectfully starved of.

400 Women takes place in the basement of Shoreditch Town hall and could easily be overlooked as a place for an exhibition. In this sense, the location feels fitting and adds extra resonance to the project. It’s very much a basement in its slightly cold and eerie atmosphere and in the fact that it’s a place you wouldn’t really want to be alone in. Some of the bricks are crumbling and the paint chipped, giving weight to this dilapidated feeling which ironically seems to mirror the Mexican judicial system that has failed these women. With this no frills location, there is no distraction from the glaring notion that all these women were savagely raped and killed, with many more still missing. Continue reading

Tamsyn Challenger: the inspiration behind 400 Women

14 Nov

Artist Tamsyn Challenger took some time out before the launch of her exhibition, 400 Women, to discuss the tragic inspiration behind the project and the plans for its future.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I studied art at Winchester School of Art and KIAD. My work has been exhibited in the Truman Brewery and Candid Arts in London and I’ve worked as a collaborative artist with the Magdalena Festival in Barcelona and with Triangle theatre. My first solo show ‘The Tamsynettes‘ was at Transition Gallery in Bethnal Green in March 2010.

What is the project 400 Women about?

400 Women is a project made in response to the brutal rape and murder of countless women and girls in the border region of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It’s reliant on a mass collaboration of artists painting the portraits of the missing and murdered and for me each artist participating represents the women I have given them to work with.

What was the inspiration behind 400 Women?

The idea behind the project was sparked when I met several of the mothers and family members in Mexico in 2006. One mother in particular singularly effected me. Her name is Consuelo Valenzuela, her daughter Julieta went missing in 2001. Just as I was leaving her on our final meeting, she pushed postcards of her daughter into my hands. The face looking up at me, was such a poverty of an image. It had been reproduced from a snapshot and the face was blurred. I think I just wanted to bring that face back again and that’s really what started 400 Women in my mind.

Has there been a particular case that has moved you the most?

That’s very tricky. I have so many stories in my head, memories of the mothers I met, of course, however there are a number of women and girls I’ve sent out to artists that have really stayed with me over the 5 years I’ve worked on the project; Airis Estrella who was found raped and strangled in a cement tube at the age of 7; Barbara Araceli who was originally identified with the cotton field murders in 2001 and then found misidentified by the Argentinian Forensic 5 years later. Her mother died in 2006 never knowing what had happened to her daughter.

How did you find so many artists?

They are mostly artists I like and respect. I basically just asked them if they’d like to be involved. I sent out the project proposal and most have responded positively. Of course, what happens is that you then get interest from artists who hear about the project from those already on-board but it’s primarily been invite only.

How has this project affected your own art and did you paint a woman?

Inevitably, if you hold a conceptual project like 400 Women in your mind for five years I think it will eventually spill out on to paper or in my case board. Continue reading