Interview with Situationist artist Robert Montgomery in Dazed and Confused

12 Jan

Anything visual that actually manages to stand out and touch me in the ubiqutous white noise landscape of mind numbing advertising is always a huge, welcome relief.  I’d seen this piece by artist Robert Montgomery in Old Street before but because it was totally anonymous, I’d never found out about the artist until I came across this interview in Dazed and Confused.

Robert Montgomery’s pieces follow the Situationist tradition of detournement, which is basically the hijacking of advertising space to replace it with poetry.  Through its anonymous presence in a public space, Montgomery’s art is a very personal challenge to the barriage of ads that usually fill up mental space with restelessness, insecurity, and the desire for things we wouldn’t otherwise get into debt for, or an ideal body type it would be necessary to stop eating/go under the knife for.  A simple phrase or thought can be enough to challenge a psychological landscape that is otherwise so easy to take for granted.

The interviewer John-Paul Pryor puts it succinctly when he says Montgomery’s works provides a “reflective space in which a public so used to being psychologically bludgeoned into a consumerist daze can find some respite from the relentless static of the modern world.” Sometimes it’s just relaxing to be reminded that someone relentlessly trying to sell you something wherever you look is not the way it has to be.  An artist making the effort to do this, for free, is somehow touching. Continue reading

Amelia’s Magazine: “Did PC Mark ‘Flash’ Kennedy ensure my arrest as one of the Ratcliffe 114 ?”

11 Jan

Just a quick one, about the trial of the six environmental activists accused of planning to shut down Britain’s second biggest power station, Ratcliffe-on-Soar.  As was widely reported today, the trial fell through because evidence for the prosecution came from an undercover police officer who had been working with the activists. There seemed to be an unwillingness to disclose any further details about his involvement, which would have been necessary for a fair trial.

Via a random tweet I found out Amelia Gregory, who I interned for at Amelia’s Magazine last year, was one of the 114 people who were pre-emptively arrested in the police raid on the school where the group (including Mark Kennedy) had gathered ahead of the action on 13th April 2009.  This is thought to have been one of the biggest pre-emptive arrests in UK history.

Her piece in Amelia’s Magazine is a personal account of the arrest, the events leading up to it, and her impressions of Mark Kennedy.  It’s definitely worth a read as a personal supplement to the numerous news stories and their latest developments.  It has some great illustrations too (especially the one by Victoria Archer).

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

Lyrix Organix MSF fundraiser feat. Michael Kiwanuka, E.Amato, Vid Warren and the Leano- Review & photos

24 Nov

All photos:  Zofia Walczak

Oh my word.  I didn’t expect to be quite so blown away by the talent of the artists and the vibe of the night at the rootsy hiphop/soul/spoken word Lyrix Organix gig in the Old Queen’s Head in Islington last night.  One artist in particular stole my heart and warrants a review all to himself… but more about him later, it wouldn’t be right to use up all my gushing superlatives straight away. Continue reading

Elections in Haiti, new photos by Walter Astrada

22 Nov

Photographer Walter Astrada, who we interviewed in October, is in Haiti documenting the run up to the elections.

Take a look at his brilliant reportage for Getty Images so far:

Sexual consent survey is a new chance to debate attitudes and law

17 Nov

The Evening Standard today published an article titled ‘Boris Johnson: my shock over young people who cross the line from consent to rape’.

The piece refers to a survey commissioned by the Havens, a service for survivors of sexual assault and rape in London, where 1012 people aged 18-50 were asked on their opinions on consensual sex and sexual assault.  From what I gather the results were published last February, but this renewed press interest coincides with the Havens’ new ‘Where is your line?’ campaign. Continue reading

Climate Chaos in the South – documentary review

17 Nov

Photo courtesy of Wereldmediatheek vzw, http://www.climatechaos.be

So we all know we’re meant to switch lights off, support wind power, reduce our carbon footprints, and be more environmentally aware in general.  But we’re not doing this to get thank you cards from polar bears or climate scientists.  So what are the actual human consequences of our effect on the climate and who is being affected the most right now? Climate Chaos in the South is a new documentary by Belgian filmmaker Geert De Belder, about the humanitarian impact of a problem that is too often made out to be an abstract scientific issue.

There are no polar bears or melting ice caps in sight, and there are no statistics and figures to impress us/confuse us and take attention away from the decidedly human story.  Climate Chaos in the South is essentially a 53-minute long collection of interviews with people from Burkina Faso, Togo, Ecuador and Bangladesh, describing how climate change has drastically altered their lives. 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