Political Activism in Paint

lh 2

Image from diaspora-artists.net

When I first encountered Lubaina Himid’s paintings and installation pieces, I didn’t understand how such vibrant, vital work could have emerged from such a colourless place as Preston, a city in Lancashire close to where I grew up, and the place where Lubaina lives, paints and teaches. The streets of this place are visibly afflicted by the symptoms of Conservative Britain: chronic unemployment, abandoned infrastructure, and a serious lack of anything much to do. 

Lubaina’s house is a reprieve – she invited me in through her yellow door on a damp August afternoon, and made tea that we drank in her studio. The conversation was wide-ranging and at some points slightly combative. A month after the piece was published, Lubaina became the first black woman to win the Turner Prize

Lubaina Himid won’t read this article. As she will tell me later, the debates that happen in the headlines often represent the aspects she finds least important in her own practice. It is precisely her lack of interest in superficial debate that instils her work with a sense of energetic focus that she has held to steadfastly across four decades.

This interview was published by the excellent Corridor8, here.


On Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell Between Winston Churchill and TE Lawrence

Following the release of a documentary on her life and writings, I was desperate to write a piece on Gertrude Bell – archaeologist, linguist, traveller and politician. Despite her deeply problematic role within British colonial rule, I find it difficult not to be impressed by her strength of character, her style, her relentless intellect, and her fearless personal ambition. 

In July 1926, the funeral of an Englishwoman was held in Baghdad. Attendees included Faisal I, the king of Iraq, who was said to have observed the carriage of her coffin from his private balcony, to the cemetery that now lies unkempt and overgrown in a city scarred by a century of conflict.

Variously described as Queen of the Desert, Kingmaker, Nation Builder, and by one drastically misinformed man as “a little wisp of a human being, said to be a woman” (a remark made circa 1916 by General Sir George MacMunn, the inspector general of communications in Mesopotamia) Gertrude Bell is most regularly associated with the establishment of the nation of Iraq, known previously as Mesopotamia.

The full article continues here.

Acting Out

I was asked to write a survey of feminist performance art for Canvas magazine. The movement is strongly tied to the geo-political context of feminism in Europe and America during the 1960s and 70s, so I wanted to relocate the discussion within a global context, and particularly to consider artists from the Arab world.