Art will be the life and death of us…

I stood in front of Guernica last week, at the Museo Reina Sofia, amongst crowds of people. I couldn’t speak, yet I was surprised by how many visitors were murmuring and mumbling while looking at this piece of art. I was trying to unpin the many layers in the painting and speaking seemed like too much hard work on top of that. Every space my eye turned to was another new splash of something, another way of expressing the awfulness of war, another small line or shadow or was it my imagination? I stood there and felt nothing but despair and pain, knowing that the government in the UK has just voted to bomb Syria and that we have learned nothing in the years since Picasso conceived the worlds most powerful anti-war protest painting. I was going to post the image here but I honestly think it wouldn’t do it justice. It’s got to be seen in real life, upclose, where you can almost smell the brushstrokes and the sweat from the painter.

In September, we mourned the death of little Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee who washed up on the shores of Turkey, at the age of three. Only a few months ago, the nation cried and sobbed over his tiny body, face down in the surf; his red and blue outfit at odds with the sandy shores and blue skies, normally associated with cheap package holidays. We saw pictures of the policeman carrying him to his final resting place. Never again, we said. No one should suffer like that, we said. And now, a just months later, we are bombing little Aylan’s country. We are forcing more families with young children to flee, in search of a better life. We are creating more migrants, which we also complain about. Let’s not even talk about how many innocent people we are killing.

We are a generation lead by schoolyard bullies who know nothing about the finesse of painting, poetry or protest. Where is our generation’s Picasso? Is Banksy our only one? His latest piece features Steve Jobs, with a bag slung over his shoulder and a first generation Apple computer in the other hand. This is a clear shout out to the America that is populated by sons and daughters of immigrants, in protest to Trumps latest anti-migrant spewings.




I also saw an exhibition in the CentroCentro space that was art from refugee children who have been traumatised either physically or mentally by the war. I refuse to believe that any politician who had seen works of art such as this could possibly send troops to war. Their “Little Hopes” of love, of peace, of happy every after, their simplistic view of adapting after life had dealt them the cruel blow of loss of limbs or family members, their faith that some time there would be a life that they could be proud of, took the breath from me. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried while looking at their paintings and seeing the wishes they had for themselves and for the world.

You should check out the work that the organisation do at Global Humanitaria. You can buy paintings, donate or volunteer and I think it’s really worthwhile.

We have a duty to ‘artfully’ protest acts of war. It is our responsibility as poets, painters, actors and writers to channel our rage and frustration onto the page and stage and leave our mark for future generations. To know that there are children now therapeutically using art to work through the trauma means that we need to create pieces of art, so that others may access the therapy they need. We need to continue to do this so that years from now, people can look back and try and find the protest in amongst the facts of war. Through the internet now it is easier to document and promote work and we should take advantage of the opportunity presented to us. It is also our job to raise the next generation of artistic protesters. We need generations filled with ‘warrior poets’, and ‘warrior painters’ rather than just ‘warriors.’



Lights Out NI

As a child of Northern Ireland I am used to rolling my eyes in disbelief as our elected representatives make decisions which better….. nobody. I am used to not understanding how such hate filled statements can roll out of the mouths of those who supposedly represent us and our better interests. Nothing changes, nothing gets better and it seems like we’re always on the losing side. I feel like, my whole life, we’ve been sittin’ on the naughty step, continually punished for something we haven’t done. And now, to sprinkle lemon juice in the wound, the government wants to remove funding from some of most vital cultural events…without even a thought, without even a consultation process. The rug is gone, taking with it the hardwood floor and all the furnishings.

The arts in Northern Ireland is the one breath of fresh air in the midst of our historical angst. It is the one place where people can band together and recognise kindred spirits without even thinking about our perceived religious or political identity. It is the vibrant lifeline of a city, of a country, that needs to break out of the mould of what we once were and realise who we are going to be.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs looks like this:


It tells us that as part of reaching the ‘Self Actualisation’ stage which involves recognising talent and creative pursuits, we need to work through these other levels. Here’s where my problem with the cuts comes in.
The government consistently takes things away from us. They cut services to benefits and hospital resources, meaning that the lower physiological and safety levels are hard to achieve. They tell us who we can or cannot marry or date meaning that the love and belonging stage is unachievable and now they cut our access to creative culture, which means we will not be able to achieve the top two levels of esteem and self actualisation. The government and our elected ones are continually chipping away at everything that we should be working for to become well-rounded human beings. Is it any wonder that they find it so easy to throw the same small-minded barbs at one another? We are essentially struggling underneath the weight of this triangle. We are so low there isn’t even a level for us yet.
These things make me very upset and frustrated and I also worry about those who are coming behind us, who will, if we don’t get our finger out, never have access to the arts and culture. We must stand together and do something to stop this idiocy from going any further.

Other people have written far better than I on the subject and I encourage you to check out the following posts:

Adam Turkington (@AdamTurks) Culture Night Director

Scott Edgar (@thesneakybandit)

Conor Shields (‪@ConorJShields‪)Community Arts Partnership

You should also follow the debate on Twitter using the hashtag #lightsoutni

And on Facebook:

You should also write to your MP: