Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Explore how art movements have inspired political activism
What’s the link between art and activism?
This course introduces ideas and practices of resistance, and the relationship between art and politics.
- the socially engaged practices of artists, and how art movements have inspired ordinary people
- art manifestos, and how to develop your own manifesto
- how creative practices connect with social and political issues
And you’ll have the chance to contribute an image of resistance to a photo mosaic that will be presented as part of Tate Exchange at Tate Modern.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
COPENHAGEN — The statue of the woman is nearly 23 feet tall. Her head is wrapped and she stares straight ahead while sitting barefoot, but regally, in a wide-backed chair, clutching a torch in one hand and a tool used to cut sugar cane in the other.
In Denmark, where most of the public statues represent white men, two artists on Saturday unveiled the striking statue in tribute to a 19th-century rebel queen who had led a fiery revolt against Danish colonial rule in the Caribbean.
They said it was Denmark’s first public monument to a black woman.
The sculpture was inspired by Mary Thomas, known as one of “the three queens.” Thomas, along with two other female leaders, unleashed an uprising in 1878 called the “Fireburn.” Fifty plantations and most of the town of Frederiksted in St. Croix were burned, in what has been called the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history.
“This project is about challenging Denmark’s collective memory and changing it,” the Virgin Islands artist La Vaughn Belle, one of two principal forces behind the statue, said in a statement.
The unveiling comes at the end of a centennial year commemorating the sale by Denmark of three islands to the United States on March 3, 1917: St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. The price: $25 million.Though Denmark prohibited trans-Atlantic slave trafficking in 1792, it did not rush to enforce the ban. The rule took effect 11 years later, and slavery continued until 1848.
“They wanted to fill the stocks first” and ensure enough slaves would remain to keep plantations running, said Niels Brimnes, an associate professor at Aarhus University and a leading expert on colonialism in Denmark.
Three decades after slavery formally ended on what today are known as the United States Virgin Islands, conditions for the former slaves had not improved significantly.
That continued injustice fomented the uprising on St. Croix.
Mary Thomas was tried for her role in the rebellion and ferried across the Atlantic to a women’s prison in Copenhagen. The statue created in tribute to her, called “I Am Queen Mary,” sits in front of what was once a warehouse for Caribbean sugar and rum, just more than a mile from where she was jailed.
The only other tribute to Denmark’s colonies or those who were colonized is a statue of a generic figure from Greenland.
The Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers, who teamed up with Ms. Belle to create the “Queen Mary” monument, said, “Ninety-eight percent of the statues in Denmark are representing white males.”
The torch and the cane bill held in the statue’s hands symbolize the resistance strategies by those who were colonized, the artists said in a statement. Her seated pose “recalls the iconic 1967 photograph of Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party.”
And the plinth on which her chair rests incorporates “coral cut from the ocean by enslaved Africans gathered from ruins of the foundations of historic buildings on St. Croix.”
Henrik Holm, senior research curator at Denmark’s National Gallery of Art, said in a statement: “It takes a statue like this to make forgetting less easy. It takes a monument like this to fight against the silence, neglect, repression and hatred.”
He added: “Never before has a sculpture like this been erected on Danish soil. Now, Denmark is offered a sculpture that addresses the past. But it is also an artwork for the future.”
The preferred self-image of this country of 5.5 million is that of a nation at the forefront of democratization and a savior of Jews during World War II.
And even though the Vikings raped and pillaged their way around the shores of Britain and Ireland, the Viking Age is generally a source of national pride and amusement in Denmark.
Over the centuries, Danes have not undergone a national reckoning about the thousands of Africans forced onto Danish ships to work the plantations in Danish colonies in the Caribbean, historians say.
“It may have to do with the narrative of Denmark as a colonial power saying, ‘We weren’t as bad as others,’” Professor Brimnes said. “But we were just as bad as the others. I can’t identify a particular, humane Danish colonialism.”
In a speech last year, the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, expressed regret for his country’s part in the slave trade — but he stopped short of an apology.
“Many of Copenhagen’s beautiful old houses were erected with money made on the toil and exploitation on the other side of the planet,” he said.
“It’s not a proud part of Denmark’s history. It’s shameful and luckily of the past.”
France’s César awards, he used the opportunity to plead for the rights of French sex workers, drug users and migrants. The star of 120 Beats per Minute, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, upon winning a César for most promising actor, spoke out on the subject of abortion rights in his home country of Argentina. This is all to say that the film, released in the UK last week, has politics coursing through its veins. In a time of great political division, its clarion call for protest and its questions about queer identity are perhaps more urgent than ever.hen director Robin Campillo won the prize for best film last month at
The film tells the story of a group of Parisian activists in the 1990s who form the French arm of the protest group ACT UP. Consisting of HIV and Aidssufferers and assorted queer folk, the collective takes radical action to remind society of the savage Aids epidemic that predominantly affected gay men, and to campaign for better laws and access to medication. The film underlines divisions between group members who are unsure about whether to be more radically queer and in-yer-face, or whether that belligerence undermines their efforts for recognition. What is unmistakable, however, is a vigour and excitement about the idea of protesting: there is a nostalgia for the concept of marching together, for the camaraderie of hatching plans. The film proposes homosexuality as a vibrant and questioning counterpoint to polite society; its protagonists are young, aware and angry. It could not be more burningly topical.
In late March, a young woman stood up in Washington DC and called out the names of her peers who had died in a school shooting, before descending into a long and powerful silence, as she stood at the lectern for the amount of time that it had taken for her classmates to be gunned down. Emma Gonzalez, the bisexual Cuban-American woman spearheading the March For Our Lives movement, has talked about the way her LGBTQ activism and her work against gun violence are related: it seems clear that her outsiderness is key to her stance. In being outspoken, Gonzalez has been attacked by Republicans such as Steve King, a congressman with a history of making homophobic statements.
Members of ACT UP and Gays Against Guns could also be found protesting at the anti-gun marches in the US. Today’s generation of young people demanding change, including Black Lives Matter protesters fighting state violence, is of a piece with 120 Beats per Minute’s activists – right down to their witty, irreverent responses to the establishment. The film’s generational clash between out gay activists and a homophobic society finds an easy parallel in a dispossessed generation of millennials fighting ideological battles today.
Equally, the film asks where queer people can go next. It comes at a time when queer cinema has become less niche and less confrontational: from God’s Own Country to Call Me By Your Name, to Love, Simon, the new gay theme is one of acceptance of homosexual people by their straight families. Coupled with the return of the appalling minstrelsy of Queer Eye, we are seeing a more emollient culture, one aimed at happy and accepted gay people who are sick of anguished depictions of suffering victims. But we need to rekindle some of our abrasiveness. 120 Beats per Minute doesn’t plead for heterosexual patronage, because straightness is not a part of that world. Its register, while combative, is joyous and celebratory, giving us something with fire in its belly, and which calls for queers to rediscover our radicalism and fight not for integration so much as acceptance of our difference.
There is still much to fight for. We have a Tory government riddled with homophobia, outing a young whistleblower in a statement sanctioned by Downing Street, and forming a coalition deal with the Democratic Unionist party. From Andrea Leadsom and Jacob Rees-Mogg flaunting their opposition to equal marriage to David Davies expressing transphobic views, the ruling party isn’t often shy about its disregard for the queer community.
Taking a page from 120 Beats per Minute’s generosity of spirit and universalism, all queers should make a point of standing with our trans siblings, attacked every day in our streets and press, and the Muslim community, often the object of ignorant vilification in our name. Access to the HIV medication PrEP should be made readily available on the NHS. Queer people are over-represented among Britain’s growing homeless population. And that’s just in Britain; the rest of the world deserves our attention too.
120 Beats per Minute posits queerness as open and generous – turning outwards rather than in on itself, to other marginalised communities, in empathy, solidarity and riotous communion. The righteous outrage it displays, and its passionate call to arms, will always be salutary to the LGBTQ movement, and always topical.
• Caspar Salmon is a film writer based in London