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.

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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.’

 

 

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Courage.

It used to be that people who climbed mountains, went into space or saved lives were the bravest amongst us. It used to be that you had to do something extraordinary to be considered brave. Nowadays bravery is found in the small things, the small every day acts of normality. We ordinary people are the bravest amongst us as we dare to live. We dare to go the cinema or bar after work, we have the audacity to want to see a concert or grab some culture. The nerve of us, travelling by public transport and working in high risk buildings such as schools and offices.

Each night as we lay our heads down and run through the litany of near death experiences (otherwise known as daily routine) we sometimes forget how lucky we are to be alive. We cheated death once more today. We were not the victim of a terrorist, extremist plan and tomorrow we will rise and fight again.

We are buttoned into our small lives. We are forced to deal with problem after problem, very few of which we created ourselves.

We bear the brunt of bankers stealing money and not going to jail. We deal with cuts to housing benefits and child support, while politicians abuse the expenses system. We lose generations of people because governments go to war for oil. We watch those in power turn a blind eye to rapes or paedophile scandals all because the perpetrator is a ‘celebrity’. We work for less than a living wage and realize that we’ll have to work until we drop dead because there is no such thing as a decent pension any more.

We suffer all these things. But worse than that, it has become so routine that we don’t even realize we are suffering. In fact we are told we are not suffering. The media shoves a message down our throats, telling us how lucky we are and we swallow it. We swallow lies about refugees or immigrants who are simultaneously stealing our jobs and lounging around on benefits. We swallow hour after hour of bullshit paid for by a small group of people running the show.

I, for one, am tired of the bullshit. I am tired of feeling weary every time I look at a news bulletin or scroll down my Facebook feed. I am tired of people dying to serve some bigger twisted political game. I tired of being told that I can mourn for Paris but I can’t mourn for people in Beirut, or Iraq or Afghanistan. I am tired of hearing about children killed in acts of war, or little babies washed ashore because they needed to escape their war torn country. I am tired of being told which victim my heart can break for, because, to be honest, my heart breaks for them all. I am tired of people forgetting how human we all are, in spite of the monstrous acts we commit as a society.

I struggle for a way to process the grief and still be able to function. In this age of social media, the way we show solidarity with these events are hashtags and profile picture changes. I am not changing my Facebook profile picture to match the colours of the French flag, not because I don’t feel their pain but because I feel that I’d need to change it daily to keep up with the flow of horrific deaths that occur.

I struggle to remind myself to be brave, to step outside the door and live with some semblance of normality. To travel to far-flung places and not get eaten up by other people’s stereotypes and judgmental attitude.

I struggle to greet the world with a smile and an open heart, some days I fail and some days I don’t, but every day I try. I surround myself with a tribe of people who feel the same way. We come from different countries, religions, skin tones and political backgrounds but essentially we recognise the bravery in each other. We support each other in the small acts of courage, hoping that one day, we can stop being brave about small things and tackle the bigger things.

Killing people, has never, in the history of the world, solved a problem. It sends ripples of hate into the common consciousness and has a knock on effect of more killing, more bloodshed, more loss. These acts of hatred and cowardice will never be productive because I know I am not alone in my bravery. I see it in others. I see it on the news, I see people helping and opening their homes and hearts to people who have been hurt, regardless of their religious moniker or the shade of their skin. If you are one of these brave souls, then I am grateful for your presence. I recognise how tough your job is and I applaud you whole-heartedly for doing it. If you are not one of these souls, I hope you meet one some day soon.

Good luck to us all. We are each fighting a battle, we are doing the best we can. Let’s celebrate the small victories each day.

xoxo