August - September 2015
Summer Reading: Capitalistic greed and fraud has led to vicious inequality in society that is the crisis of our times. The Labour Party leadership contest mainly consists of an argument about how to organise and distribute money in developed democracy. Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity is no surprise or mystery to those of us who are aghast at the way Western politicians as an elite well paid class has made only cosmetic gestures to address economic hardships inflicted on even the middle class. How to challenge the economic ideology of ‘austerity’? We could, says Thomas Piketty, read 'Inequality: What Can Be Done?' By Anthony Atkinson**, which is “exhilarating. Witty, elegant, profound,  it brings us the finest blend of what political economy and British progressivism have to offer.”*
Painting: Aside from works on paper I am working on four oils on canvas: ‘K.E.R.S’ 122 x 153cm for the Arena series, ‘The Price We Pay For Oil, Flag 2’ 153 x 122cm for the National Flag series, ‘Self with Delphinium’ 92 x 80cm and ‘Chrysanthemum Vase’ 60 x 70cm.
*A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society by Thomas Piketty, The New York Review of Books, June 25 – July 8 2015.
** Inequality: What Can Be Done? By Anthony B. Atkinson, Harvard University Press.
June - July 2015
Painting. Aside from works on paper I am working on four oils on canvas: ‘K.E.R.S’ 122 x 153cm for the Arena series, ‘The Price We Pay For Oil, Flag 2’ 153 x 122cm for the National Flag series, ‘Self with Delphinium’ 92 x 80cm and ‘Chrysanthemum Vase’ 60 x 70cm.
Exhibition and book: my photographs of The Jam playing in Soho market (1976) are included in ‘The Jam: About The Young Idea’ exhibition at Somerset House 26th June – 31 August, and ‘Growing up with… The Jam’, a beautifully presented coffee table book edited by exhibition producers Nicky Weller and Russell Reader.
Newspaper: RADICAL PEOPLE. Sometimes it can seem that very few people are politically engaged. We are brainwashed by corporate media, in whose interest it is to maintain a rightwing status quo, to believe that we are ‘apathetic’. Reba Maybury is particularly aggravated by the sense that ‘capitalistic ideas brush over us in some way’, negating any attempts people make to change the world. As a feminist with a degree in Fashion History, Maybury appreciates how a person’s life of style and individual behaviour is definitively political: the personal is political. Her active engagement with politics (to coincide with the May election) was to create and edit a newspaper dedicated to the ‘apathetic and board’, featuring people who she believes are living lives that ‘are the root of how we all envision the cutting edge or avant-garde today’. Look out for Reba Maybury's Radical People newspaper and relish great photographs by Iain McKell, graphics by Jamie Reid and radical stories from Judy Blame, Christine Binnie, Chadd Curry, Caroline Coon, David Thomas, Colin Abrahall, Honey Bane, Bruno Wizard, Princess Julia, Jeffrey Hinton, Steve Ignorant, Tuppy Owens, Janis Hetherington, Alex Binnie, Lesley Woods, Melinda Gebbie, ROY INC, Paul Murphy, Peter Tatchell, Ron Athey, Lana Pellay, Zillah Minx and Sid Truelove, Paul Denman and Franko B.
May - June 2015
‘TV News is dead. Young Progressives are roaring online!’
CENK OYGUR, CEO of The Young Turks, C-Span, Sunday, 26th April 2015.
HOW LUCKY WE ARE to live in a society where, even if we cannot be bothered to vote, everything that makes our lives at least bearable and at most luxurious continues to work and deliver! I have been praising and sneering at politicians who are putting themselves through the arduous, tragicomical process of getting elected by a popular vote that will enable them to administer Great Britain for the next parliamentary term. Politicians seem to know that I will not bother to vote unless I am ‘offered’ some benefit and, although they cannot say ‘vote for me and I’ll immediately cut your taxes and give you a wad of one hundred pounds notes’, they do know what I want. People like me tell politicians what we want every day. Our want list is long. Among the things I want are: my rubbish collected twice a week and well maintained drains, a doctor free at the point of need, a reliable police service for security and protection, stimulating art galleries, sustainable fish to eat, aid to less fortunate people overseas, public funding of elections, cheap or free at the point of use public transport, social housing and social care, safe workplaces, affordable child care… I want and demand that politicians organise and provide all this boundless welfare civility but they know that I know how reluctant I am to give a percentage of my income into the treasury tax pot to pay for it. Below is the text of a CUNST ART Thorn* that I made in part to remind myself of my duty to pay tax as a contribution to the smooth running of the life I love to lead. I will always vote for politicians most likely to collect and redistribute taxes to maintain the institutions that allow us all, poor and rich, to thrive and prosper.
‘PUBLIC SQUALOR - PRIVATE AFFLUENCE
Pay Taxes – Support Our Welfare State
The pleasure afforded by private consumption and/or the creation of privileged worlds within worlds, are obviously disturbed by the existence of the homeless, poor and the hungry both locally and globally. Those excluded from the pleasures of all trivial pursuits including shopping and the ideological messages generated by consumer culture, may not always have a voice, but their presence is visible even to those who hide in affluent ghetto fortresses. Enclosure means incarceration even for those who do not understand the stories of the dispossessed.
Public squalor is more than ‘matter out of place’ – public squalor offers a spectacle of everything that is wrong with society that does not understand why civic responsibility and market forces are rarely compatible ideologies. Dirt may be the bricks and mortar of daily life in a world that doesn’t care, but the need for social organisation of those elements considered to be ‘trash’ also marks the limits of private consumption and affluence. For that reason public squalor is perhaps the most symbolic communication of the age since, among other things, it evades lifestyle marketing and demands some state address to social welfare.
The way the commodity form has today attained the total occupation of social life means we may no longer speak of social welfare and social responsibility without reference to the individual so-called Sovereign ‘consumer’. Yet the big issues of the day are not only those that concern personal consumption, famine, the homeless or ecological concerns about the regulation and control of the world’s resources, but also concern the way individuals understand themselves as citizens with responsibility to others. Now, as always, the personal really is political.’
*the text of CUNST ART THORN No: 21 1997. This Thorn – ‘a landslide election special 1997’ – consisted of a package containing a sticker, an image flyer, a post card, and a leaflet with text written by Lorraine Gamman, sent to all and sundry.
April - May 2015
Howard Marks and Political Change.
Several weeks ago I was once again in an atmosphere that lifted my spirits. Howard Marks was on stage* talking and making us laugh about his anti-establishment life story. Outside the venue it was freezing cold and somewhere and everywhere police were picking on the most oppressed people and the poor, and using the remnants of drug prohibition law to turn them into criminals to imprison or, in some countries, putting them on death row ready for execution. Yet, inside the theatre we were laughing and cheering. In the warm crush created by Mr Nice fans, the sweet smell of cannabis from a thousand joints rose in the air as one big fat yah boo to politicians who maintain the cruel idiocy of drug prohibition. The police did not raid the venue. No one was arrested. On went the show.
Then I heard Howard say he was sorry that he had ‘failed to legalise pot’. I thought perhaps that I’d heard Howard say this some years ago. But this is 2015! And, far from failing to legalise pot, Howard has been in the forefront of legalising it! Although the law remains in place, and although the police use the law with discretion that means the poor and ‘ethnic minorities’ are most subject to its iniquity, everything has changed now.
It is more than fifty years since 1967 and the hippy movement, in the shape of Steve Abrams sponsored by the Beatles, put an advertisement in The Times stating that ‘the law against marijuana is immoral in principal and unworkable in practice’. Political and cultural campaigners have been through some horribly depressing times. For me the worst moment was in 2002. After years of taking evidence, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Labour minister Chris Mullin, published their report on drugs. They said that although ‘sensible and thoughtful people’ put the anti-prohibition argument they rejected ending prohibition. Chris Mullin, I believe, was responsible for a loss of political courage and leadership. He decided to sweep the drug problem out of Labour’s way by smugly suggesting that ‘a future generation might take a different view’. For all those in voluntary organisations on prohibition’s front line who were helping thousands of young people and families with lives ruined by prohibition law, this was a very bitter disappointment. Unless you have done it yourself, you cannot know the amount of time and the enormous energy it takes to draw politicians’ attention to evidence that disproves the orthodoxy of the time. How could another generation of campaigners, I wondered, recover from the shock of yet another government rejecting sensible and humane anti-prohibition proposals?
And then I went to a Mr Nice gig. There was Howard Marks smoking a huge spliff, regaling his spliff-smoking audience with some of the derring do exploits - including being imprisoned in America - as a non-violent drug dealer who supplied adults with recreational marihuana, that also has medical uses. After several minutes I was laughing my head off! My hopes were raised and my optimism was renewed. I am sure all campaigners have felt the same way. When our spirits are exhausted and down and we need to feel re-energised by humour, we go to a Mr Nice gig.
In the midst of prohibition, it has always been a source of joy to know that Howard is among us entertaining the anti-prohibition troops on the front line. Howard is there in theatres on tour and at demonstrations and at conferences and even forming a political party to stand as an anti-prohibition MP for parliament! Putting aside for one moment the downside of a life protesting against the establishment and the difficulty this causes for close family, what Howard’s courage and wit has meant to those who are doing the hard political slog goes beyond words.
Well, the words that express it best read like this: Howard Marks has legalised pot! Far from failing, Howard has succeeded. All through the dark years when it looked like nothing would change, slowly but surely everything was changing. Our persistence – Howard’s persistence - has won. It is the War on Drugs that has failed. It is the anti-prohibition argument that has won. International ruling establishments including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, at a slow pace in public to save face, are behind the scenes busily dismantling prohibition and modelling different legal methods to bring all drugs with in the law.
Howard is the iconic symbol of this successful anti-prohibition struggle. With a bit of luck Howard could have the chance and time to rewrite his script along the lines of: ‘How I Succeeded In Legalising Pot’. Oh, I know that Howard can be very modest and diffident, so he would probably want substitute ‘we’ for ‘I’, but this is very much his story and he should own it.
*Howard Marks & Friends at the Forum, 27th February 2015. The concert was to help raise funds to see Howard and his dependents through his cancer treatment, set up a Mr Nice Foundation and complete the definitive Howard Marks documentary.
DEMOCRACY IS DIFFICULT
WORK AT IT
The essence of voting in democracy is to mediate arguments about different ways to organise society. This means that many times when individuals vote we do not get what we voted for. We have lost the argument. It is difficult to win arguments with words. But words diminish violence. It is easy to win arguments with violence. But violence is not civil. If we want to live in civil, life enhancing societies then it is necessary to learn how to win arguments with words and then to vote for politicians whose words explain coherent, fair and just policy and law. In my lifetime, since I first started voting in my early twenties, the party I have voted for has only ‘won’ three times! But I still vote. I vote to honour the people who created our democracy. My right to vote is one of the rights I most cherish, not least because of the courageous women and men who died for my right to vote. Obviously my arguments about how to organise society are not the majority view. I accept this. And I hope that by voting and thus preserving democracy that one day the arguments that I agree with – like bringing all drugs within the law to end drug prohibition – will be coherently expressed by politicians who are popular. Meanwhile, I continue to be engaged in the democratic process that gives me one of the most life enhancing cultural, social and civil environments on earth in which to love, work and live. I argue with politicians. I engage with them because politicians in a democracy stand between us, you and I, and tyranny. And, incidentally, comedians can only exist in democracy. So, vote, even if it is just for a laugh!
January - February 2015
Happy New Year!
November - December 2014
“Young people are sent to prison for being in possession of a little pot but banks launder billions of pounds of drug money and they are immune.” Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, Democrat, potential 2016 USA presidential candidate (July 2014).
Cannabis and Politics: it is not an exaggeration to say that the next 12 months are going to be the most crucial for cannabis regulation since the drug was prohibited in the 1920’s.
Although politicians, both publicly and privately, accept the anti-prohibition argument that the War on Drugs is a failed, inhumane and expensive mistake, they have judged that legalizing cannabis - by bringing drug production and distribution within the law in systems of licensing and controls - has no voter traction. This ‘no votes in legalising cannabis’ orthodoxy is about to change radically, not least because social media used by young adults for whom recreational drug use is normal has changed the balance of political power. It is a radical change when, in Britain, an authoritarian reactionary Murdock tabloid like The Sun polls its readers and then runs an editorial stating: ‘Whether or not drugs laws should be relaxed, this is now clear. A vast majority – 71 per cent – thinks the War On Drugs has failed. That means we can’t just carry on with the status quo. Some say we don’t properly enforce the laws. Others say their whole basis is misconceived. Something has to change.’*
Although in the UK Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to hold the prohibition line with No Change pronouncements like ‘our drugs policy is working’, more attuned politicians are suddenly realising that there are votes to be had in backing the legalization of cannabis. Nick Clegg has made a radical change. He is positioning Liberal Democrats behind a ‘health based approach to drugs’. This is not legalization per se but it is progress and at least has the appeal of ending criminalization for drug possession. Release reports that up to 80,000 people a year in England and Wales are cautioned and criminalized for possession of illegal drugs. Most are ‘young, black and poor’**. If Liberal Democrat politicians seriously propose a decriminalization ‘harm reduction’ drugs policy in their 2015 election manifesto it might help redeem them in the minds of voters they lost for breaking the pledge on tuition fees.
Labour is still ‘Hard on Drugs’. The Greens are tepidly ‘trying to be as uncontroversial as possible’ exemplifying why they are either losing votes or failing to make an impact significant enough to get them included in pre election TV debates with ‘the main parties’. Of course, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, who thrives on controversy, believes the ‘time has come’ for legalization.
But, really, whatever British politicians do or say is insignificant compared to the radical change in orientation that is occurring among political elites in USA. Amerika started the War On Drugs. And America is now, slowly but surely, leading the way to end prohibition. Pollsters have been tracking how 2014 midterm election candidates and those running for election in 2015/6 are engaging with the recreational cannabis legalization experiments that are, so far, deemed to be a success in Colorado and Washington. Voters in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia may pass legalization proposals soon. It is predicted that other states will follow.
Failing and unpopular Democrat politicians are beginning to realize that if they want to appeal to a younger, less traditionally conservative public at large than the Republican electorate then they can expect enormous voting results by supporting the cannabis legalization movement.
* 30th October 2014 ** Release. Drugs – It’s Time For Better Laws (2013)
Painting: as well as works on paper and a still life, I am working on a painting called ‘A Flag For Syria’ (for my National Flag series).
September - October 2014
‘Damn it!’ I swore to myself. ‘If only we could have Peter Doherty without the heroin…’ I closed the last clean white page of ‘From Albion to Shangri-La: Journals 2008-2013’ edited by Nina Antonia* and I felt dirty. To have been so entertained by the ‘unexpurgated personal journals and tour diaries documenting the turbulent life and misadventures’ that Doherty describes distressed me. Although Doherty’s style is jaunty, the pain and brutality of his drug addiction screams out from between the lines. Although Antonia has presented Doherty’s text with compassionate clarity his squalid blood stained existence hit my conscience like the stink from a mortuary. Is any of the art created by the man Antonia describes as ‘a free voice, the last son of an imaginary Bohemia, reading poetry in the long grass, painting in Paris, writing songs of finely wrought poignancy long after midnight’ worth the process the artist himself describes as ‘last night’s agony’ of finding a pustulating fraction of skin in which to poke a dirty needle? Perhaps, is my equivocal answer. Misery is innate to our human condition. Most of us strive to live with our anxieties without being killed by them. It is the sufficiently life-enhancing quality of Doherty’s art that makes the misery surrounding its creation both an inspiration and a warning.
*Thin Man Press, London, 2014
Painting: as well as works on paper, before the end of the year I hope to complete two oil on canvas paintings: ‘Bassett Road: On everywhere street he slips unnoticed into…’ (for The Brothel Series) and ‘A Flag For Syria’ (for The National Flag Series).
July - August 2014
Summer Reading: ‘Strong Women For Art: in conversation with Anna Lenz’ edited by Anna Lenz with photography by Roswitha Pross (Hirmer 2013). When Anna Lenz came to London from Germany to launch her book at the James Mayor Gallery she wore red, her signature colour. As she explained how she came to write her book she filled the gallery with warmth, her story moving some of her audience to tears. The story Lenz tells is one of pain and grief, pleasure and happiness, of the ‘behind the scenes’ micro process of how art is made within the family and also the macro story of how, when culture and family is devastated by war they can be restored. As the wife of a passionate art collector, Lenz began to notice the ‘great strength’ of the women, often artists themselves, who maintained ‘social contacts during periods when the artist wants to concentrate solely on his work; they take care of the family when for the artist there is nothing more urgent than his work’. This superb book describes the making of an art movement, known as the ZERO movement that contributed to ushering in ‘a new dawn, a fresh beginning in Europe at the end of the 1950’s’. ‘Why Pamper Life’s Complexities? Essays on The Smiths’ edited by Sean Campbell and Colin Coulter (Manchester University Press 2010). In the mid 1980’s I was aware of The Smiths but, for various reasons, I was not a fan. Consuming this book about ‘arguably the most important British band since The Beatles’ will inform me about what I have missed as well as exemplifying how popular music is sucked into academia, examined and then refracted back out into popular culture by university educated professionals. Is it possible that David Cameron’s ‘beggars belief’ admiration for Morrissey helped him push the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 into law? ‘Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana’ by Michael Backes (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers 2014). This is ancient knowledge expertly refined by science for our modern times. What I like especially is the cautious information provided for parents: that, 'adolescent cannabis use can negatively impact school work, sleep quality and decision making'. Although it does not focus on cannabis use for adult pleasure, the book is an essential compendium of information about how to use cannabis to alleviate a broad spectrum of human ailments. Here's hoping that there will be many revised editions as international cannabis prohibition for both adult pleasure and medical use ends.
Painting: as well as works on paper, before the end of the year I hope to complete two oil on canvas paintings: ‘Bassett Road: On everywhere street he slips unnoticed into…’ (for The Brothel Series) and ‘A Flag For Syria’ (for The National Flag Series).
May - June 2014
June 26th Global Day of Action - Support Don't Punish
Date & Time: June 26th, 10.30am
Location: Parliament Square, Westminster, London, SW1P 3BD
The “Support. Don’t Punish,” campaign is organising it’s second ever Global Day of Action on Thursday, June 26, in over 70 cities across the world. We’re aiming to build on last year’s success by holding an “action” in London to further raise awareness of the harms caused by the war on drugs, and appeal to the UK government to treat drug use as a health, not a criminal issue.
June 26 is, in addition, the United Nations’ “International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking,” one that is used by many governments to celebrate the war on drugs – even holding public executions of drug offenders in some cases as a sign of their commitment. This is our opportunity to reclaim the messaging on this day.
This year, in conjunction with “Support. Don’t Punish,” we will be using the day to draw people’s attention to the need for drug policy reform in the UK, and to the 2016 UN Global Debate on Drug Policy and how they can get involved in helping push for a change of the failed global drug control system. More information on this will be provided in the lead up to June 26.
People are invited to join us from 10:30am in Parliament Square, and attendees will be provided with campaign t-shirts to wear. The action will start at 11am. For more information contact RELEASE http://www.release.org.uk/
A Riot of Our Own: a Symposium on The Clash*
University of Ulster, Belfast Campus, Northern Ireland
June 20 – 21, 2014
Dr Colin Coulter, who is organising this symposium, has noticed an interesting fact in academia: “The enormous cultural influence that The Clash have exercised over the last four decades has found reflection in many spheres but not, strangely, in that of popular music studies”. Further: “While academics have devoted considerable attention to a great many other, arguably less important, bands, they have had remarkably little to say about The Clash.”
To me this “little to say” about The Clash so far points to problems that academics, writing from a leftist position, have within their economic theories.
Rather than understanding fanzine publisher Mark Perry’s sold out and punk died accusations against The Clash as one adolescent’s anguished cry of loss when local heroes in ‘our own’ private party cause a countercultural explosion to become very publicly owned by an international audience – as happens in all local countercultural movements that go international like beatnik, hippie, punk, hip hop and rave – it has been more convenient for many academics to accept the sold-out label and then side-step The Clash or construct airy discourses around, as Colin Coulter has remarked to me, “whether the existence of pop within the commodity form and the corporate world draws its political force.”
To write seriously about The Clash means confronting fraught leftist attitudes to popularity, commerce, leadership, profit, professionalism, pleasure, competition, charisma, elites, excellence, business, beauty, exceptional talent and wealth creation. Where is the practical leftist template to assist teenagers whose exceptional artistry makes them so popular that they are propelled, whether they like it or not, into the top tax bracket? Given their popular international appeal, what would The Clash not selling out look like? The intrinsic greatness of The Clash’s musical performance meant that the only way for them not to be popular was to stop playing music. We can read Joe Stummer’s psychological despair and creative ‘silences’ for periods of his life as a way he struggled with and attempted to solve his iconic-success verses ordinary-man and communist verses capitalist dilemmas. Leftist theories were of little help to Strummer since, as Groucho Marx once quipped: “The only superstars allowed in leftist theory are leftist theorists.”
In fact, soon after their first public performance, The Clash, as a corporate entity of prime producers and as bosses, provided employment for an immediate circle of up to thirty people and by extension, jobs for a great many more. As The Clash’s popularity grew I witnessed how determined they were as rock stars to stay in contact with their ‘ordinary’ fans, the masses, the proletariat. They practiced fair trade and wealth distribution in whatever way we define ‘wealth’. Name another world famous band in the history of popular music that did more for local bands and local community groups in the towns and cities they toured through!
For me it is the popularity of The Clash that is their political force. When there are progressive ideals within counterculture that could benefit society, then those ideals must and will become mainstream.
Of course, part of the enduring allure of The Clash is in the pathos of their musical and political ambition. The Clash are popular heroes because they failed in a tragic, Japanese ‘Nobility of Failure’ sense: that no one can be counted a hero unless they fail because success means they have not pitted themselves against absurdly superior odds.
Being on the front line of real life action, not sheltering in ivory towers means that in The Clash’s political story there are imperfections, faults, contradictions, ironies, hate and love and paradoxes galore. But none of this would be up for debate was it not for the classic scope of The Clash’s brilliant music. My keynote address to the symposium will be a story from my own experience, my subject angle, of how I was able to recognise The Clash’s exceptional popular music talent and artistry – and how a fashionable lack of respect for inspirational heights of artistry today, especially in corporate media, can thwart young people’s creative abilities.
As well as selected new papers to redress the “curious silence” in academia about The Clash, the symposium will include keynote addresses from Professor David Hesmondhalgh and Dr Jason Toynbee, Adrian Boot discussing his iconic The Clash in Belfast photographs and Chris Salewicz reading from his Joe Strummer biography ‘Redemption Song’.
*For more information go to http://ariotofourown.wordpress.com.
Painting: as well as works on paper, this year I hope to complete two more oil paintings for The Brothel Series. The working titles of these urban landscape narrative paintings are ‘Ladbroke Grove at Grand Union Canal: In Breach Of Her ASBO…' and ‘Anywhere Street: Unnoticed He Enters…'
March - April 2014
Some facts about the Paedophile Information Exchange, The National Council of Civil Liberties (now Liberty), Patricia Hewitt and her “abolition of the crime of incest” campaign. And, how, in 1996, Hewitt threatened Caroline Coon and CUNST ART, and silenced journalists who wanted to write about her views on incest with legal action via her solicitor Geoffrey Bindman.
When, in 1982, the Guardian’s brilliant Women’s page editor Frances Cairncross CBE commissioned me to write a long article about the ‘prevalence and effects’ of incest called ‘The unspeakable secret of childhood’, I worked hard to get it right. My article was informed not only by my own childhood but also my experience as co-founding director of RELEASE. We were a ‘drop in’ centre for many distressed young people as well as a civil rights organisation campaigning to end drug prohibition. For the young heroin addicts who came to us we set up evening group therapy sessions to address the underlying causes of their addiction. It had become obvious to me that heroin addiction was a way many young people self-medicated against the traumatic pain of violence and abuse within their families, including sexual abuse. I wrote about how “many incest victims try to kill themselves. Most characterised their ability to live any kind of normal life as ‘lucky’”. Pitting myself, unfashionably, against paedophilia apologists I wrote that: ‘Well-meaning leniency towards incest offenders is not an enlightened approach. Imprisonment must always be available as a punishment. Child molestation of all kinds must remain a serious criminal offence”.
Furthermore, in what was a bravely ground breaking article, I took The National Council of Civil Liberties to task. I demanded that “the police, social workers and other caring agencies, including The National Council of Civil Liberties, must stop justifying incest or dithering about what to do. Their first unequivocal aim should be to protect the child.”
On the day of publication, Wednesday July 7 1982, Frances Cairncross rang to tell me that she was going to publish a letter of complaint about my article from Patricia Hewitt, General Secretary of National Council of Civil Liberties. Cairncross promised me space to reply to Hewitt’s complaint. Below are the texts of these letters. And further on I tell the story of Hewitt’s attempt, in 1996, to take legal action against me and CUNST ART for publicising her campaign to ‘abolish the crime of incest’.
Text of National Council of Civil Liberties General Secretary Patricia Hewitt’s letter to The Editor of the Guardian, published on the letters page under the heading ‘Incest: prosecution is no help to the child’, Monday July 19 1982.
If Caroline Coon had read our evidence on sexual law reform to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, or discussed it with us, she would not have made the astonishing assertion that ‘we must stop justifying incest or dithering about what to do’ (Guardian Women, 7th July).
Where incestuous relationships occur with a young child, then the entire objective of the law and social policy should be to protect the child from further harm, as effectively as possible. That aim will not be achieved by the policy Caroline Coon appears to be urging – of encouraging prosecution of the father, grandfather or other relatives involved. The involvement of the police, the necessarily intimate questioning of the child, court proceedings, the possible imprisonment of the adult or the taking of the child into care – are all like likely to compound, and not to reduce the harm done to the child. It is precisely for that reason that adults who become aware that a child is being sexually abused within the family are so reluctant to call in the authorities. Treatment and care programmes involving the whole family – of the kind initiated, for instance, in California – are far more useful to the child as well as her relatives, than police courts can ever be.
But the crime of incest does not only concern adult-child relationships. Consenting sexual relationships between adult brother and sister, or other close relatives, are also condemned by the law. While we would argue that society has a duty to protect children from sexual abuse, we would also argue that society has no right to interfere in the consenting relationships of its adult members. It is only a few years ago that an adult brother and sister were prosecuted and convicted of incest – and spared imprisonment only after promising to end their relationship. It is to prevent the recurrence of such prosecutions that we proposed the abolition of the crime of incest.
Caroline Coon replied - part of which the Guardian published in Open Space under the heading ‘Whatever you call it, incest is wrong’ - on July 26th 1982:
“With respect, I repeat, the N.C.C.L should stop justifying incest – because that is what they are doing when they propose ‘the abolition of the crime of incest’. Whether we call incest ‘sexual abuse of authority’ or however we broaden its legal definition, incest must remain a crime, if only because caring agencies out to help victims and offenders need the back-up of police and courts if they are to be effective. The law and involvement with the police is not in itself likely to cause more harm to children than the crime. But of course, how the courts and the police and the caring agencies proceed when crimes involve children is long over due for reform. (Although, the case conference procedure for Non-Accidental Injury is working humanely within the law as it stands.) When children are the victims of crime it is not absolutely necessary for them to appear in court at all. There is no need to traumatise children with repeated cross-examination by hosts of strangers. Anyone in doubt about this could read ‘Protecting the Child of Sex Crimes Committed by Adults’ by Vincent de Frances, (Denver: American Humane Association 1968) or, ‘Guide Lines for Criminal Justice Personnel’ by Lucy Berlinger and Doris Stevens (Harbourview Sexual Assault Centre, Seattle, Washington, 1977) or, ‘Interviewing Young Victims’ in Burgess et al., ‘Sexual Assault of Children and Adolescents’ or, the chapter on ‘Criminal Justice’ in Judith Herman’s ‘Father-Daughter Incest’ (Harvard University Press, 1981). Nor can we be happy with the N.C.C.L’s concept of what is a ‘consenting adult’ especially where sexual relationships between close relatives are concerned, when coercion can never be ruled out.”
To my knowledge neither Patricia Hewitt nor anyone else from the N.C.C.L ever attempted to resile from their campaigning ‘lobbying’ advice to government or apologise to the public. All the while children suffered sexual abuse and there was what I consider to be an Establishment cover-up of the ‘abuse scandals’ that did get attention. When, in 1996, Patricia Hewitt decided to run for Parliament and to assume responsibility for New Labour’s "Family Policy” I decided to make her the subject of a CUNST ART ‘Thorn’, one of my ongoing art–errorist feminist art/performance provocations. Below are the texts of these ‘Thorns’ and texts of the threat-to-sue legal action letter Hewitt instructed Geoffrey Bindman to write me, and my reply. At the same time letters Bindman sent to journalists/editors similar to the one sent to me silenced the press about N.C.C.L’s campaign to ‘abolish the crime of incest’.
CUNST ART THORN No 8 1996:
‘INCEST. “NEW” LABOUR FAMILY POLICY?
Cheshire, Clwyd, Islington, Orkney, Cleveland, Merseyside… Every year thousands of children are sexually abused by their parents, or those in loco parentis. Abuse of children is rampant in this country. The scale is appalling.
WHY? Because of Establishment tolerance, ignorance and denial.
Who are the people determining “new” Labour family policy?
One is Patricia Hewitt. She is proposing “a better legal frame work for parenthood in which relationships between parents and children should be paramount”.
What does she mean? On July 7th 1982 [published 19th July 1982], in a letter to the Guardian as director of the National Council of Civil Liberties, Patricia Hewitt wrote to explain why her organisation, in a report to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, proposed the abolition of the crime of incest: “The involvement of the police, the necessarily intimate questioning of the child, court proceedings, the possible imprisonment of the adult or the taking of the child into care –  are all like likely to compound, and not to reduce the harm done to the child.  But the crime of incest does not only concern adult-child relationships. Consenting sexual relationships between adult brother and sister, or other close relatives, are also condemned by the law. While we would argue that society has a duty to protect children from sexual abuse, we would also argue that society has no right to interfere in the consenting relationships of its adult members. It is only a few years ago that an adult brother and sister were prosecuted and convicted of incest – . It is to prevent the recurrence of such prosecutions that we proposed the abolition of the crime of incest.”
Abolition of the crime of incest. Smug confusion about consent and coercion. Refusal to insist that courts and the law are justly user-friendly for children. For many years these attitudes have characterised an Establishment of adults who apparently have significant influence on “new’ Labour family policy. These attitudes and these adults are wrong.
CUNST ART 1996. A series of fly posters.’
‘INCEST. “NEW” LABOUR FAMILY POLICE? Thorn No 8, Part 2.
“We propose the abolition of the crime of incest.”
Patricia Hewitt, to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, 1982.
There is a cruel mismatch between political policy on the family and real family life. Politicians exhort us to piety, duty and responsibility in an old-style family (which has traditionally been a dangerous place for women and children) while having a corrupt idea of what real family life is to-day. The real family has changed, for the better, into an extended family. To-day most of us have step-fathers and step-mothers, half-sisters and half-brothers. Therefore, rather than abolish the crime of incest and legal prohibitions against sexual relationships within the extended family, it is more important than ever to tighten the legal boundaries which protect us from sexual abuse, coercion and pressure. We need a legal model where children and adults closely related or those in the extended family are legally prohibited from having sexual relations whether above or below the legal age of consent – the legal prohibitions would include those in loco parentis, current lovers, same sex partners, teachers, doctors, priests. Tightly drawn sexual boundaries around the extended family are an essential corollary to the sexual freedoms we all benefit from to-day outside the family. The law should be taught to adults and children as an integral part of sex education.
Politicians preach about “family values” but are no help whatever to families and children embarrassed, horrified and shocked, and then too afraid of the law, public exposure and obloquy to report abuse. E.g. Fred and Rosemary West, Thomas Hamilton, Howard Hughes…
When abuse is reported rarely is anything done. The most common excuse for not prosecuting sexual abuse of children and teenagers – a crime that does more damage to individuals and society that almost any other – is “not enough evidence” or “the trauma of court proceedings”. If we all found sexual abuse and paedophilia intolerable, we would use well established ways of making the legal process user-friendly for victims.
Only when Establishment politicians end their tolerance, ignorance and denial of incest, sexual abuse and paedophilia will we have a society that truly values children and the family.
CUNST ART 1996. ‘Thorns’. A series of fly posters. Tel: 0171 792 8805’
‘CUNST ART THORN NO 8. Part 3. SEPTEMBER 1996. For your interest.
On 16th August solicitors for Patricia Hewitt, Bindman and Partners, wrote to artist Caroline Coon, believing her to be the author of the CUNST ART fly poster “INCEST ‘New’ Labour Family Policy Part 1 and Part 2", to inform her that unless “within 14 days” she “apologise in terms to be agreed with us and to indemnify our client in respect of her legal costs”, she would have legal proceedings taken against her.
Caroline Coon replied to Bindman and Partners on 27th August: “It is absolutely not CUNST ART’S intent to personally 'deeply distress' your client Patricia Hewitt. We understand that she hopes to be elected a Member of Parliament. We wish to point to her political opinions, as stated in her letter to the Guardian of 7th July 1982 [published 19th July 1982], which are tolerant of paedophilia and paedophiles, are fatal to the welfare of children, fatal to family values and the family.”
CUNST ART. TEL 0171 792 8805’
Here are the full texts of this exchange of letters:
Geoffrey Bindman of Bindman & Partners letter to Caroline Coon sent to her on the instructions of Patricia Hewitt, 16th August 1996.
We act for Patricia Hewitt with reference to a leaflet entitled “INCEST ‘New’ Labour Family Policy?” of which we understand you are the author and which has been circulated by you as one of a series of fly posters.
We are not aware of the full extent of the distribution of this leaflet but we know for example that it has been sent to the Guardian newspaper.
The leaflet is grossly defamatory of our client because it accuses her in effect of condoning incest and sexual abuse of children.
The leaflet repeats an allegation made by you in an article in the Guardian on 7th July 1982 claiming that our client had justified incest in the evidence the National Council of Civil Liberties to the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
In her reply of the same date [published 19th July 1982] to the Guardian, which you quote, our client wholly refuted that allegation but parts of the letter setting out that refutation do not feature in your leaflet.
Our client is deeply distressed by the repetition of your original allegation and the circulation of this defamatory leaflet (or poster).
She has instructed us to take whatever steps are necessary to secure the withdrawal of the leaflet and an apology from you for giving further currency to a wholly false and damaging allegation.
Our client is prepared to take proceedings if necessary and she reserves all her legal rights. However, if we hear from you within 14 days that you are prepared to apologise in terms to be agreed with us and to indemnify our clients in respect of her legal costs, she may well be persuaded to waive any claim to damages.
We await hearing from you. Yours faithfully Geoffrey Bindman [as a squiggle]’
Caroline Coon replied to Geoffrey Bindman in a letter dated 27th August 1996:
Thank you for your letter of 16th August 1996.
In the tradition of political art, the twenty CUNST ART fly posters on the theme of permissions and prohibitions called THORNS, including "Clitorectomy”, “Stop Turner Prise Sexism”, “Pleasure, Pleasure”, “Tony Blair Smokes Pot”, “The Queen Is A Hypocrite”, “The British Republic”, “E TakE CarE”, and “INCEST. ‘New’ Labour Family Policy”, as private funds allow, have been fly posted and distributed and will in due course be exhibited in an art gallery.
It is absolutely not CUNST ART’S intent to personally “deeply distress” your client Patricia Hewitt. We understand she hopes to be elected a Member of Parliament. We wish to point to her political opinions, as stated in her letter to the Guardian of 7th July 1982 [published 19th July 1982], opinions which are tolerant of paedophilia and paedophiles, are fatal to the welfare of children, fatal to family values and the family.
Yours sincerely, Caroline Coon CUNST ART.’
I heard nothing more from Patricia Hewit or her solicitor, Geoffrey Bindman (who is and has always been very nice and civil to me whenever we meet). However, several journalists who planned to write short pieces telephoned me to say that their newspaper’s had also received ‘threaten to sue’ letters from Hewitt’s solicitor so their articles had been spiked. A journalist from the Evening Standard, apologising for not being able to write her article, told me that she had spoken to Patricia Hewitt and that Hewitt had “changed her mind”. Between 1978 and 1982 Harriet Harman was employed as legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty).
From the 1960's onwards I have had fierce arguments with those who have asserted that paedophilia is at most 'an unfortunate illness, a medical problem' and should not be subject to the criminal law. I have ALWAYS stated that sex with children (anyone under the age of 18) must be a criminal offence punished by imprisonment. I have always been proud to have stood against some very powerful 'liberal' lawyers and those who supported or ‘sympathised’ with the Paedophile Information Exchange. Luckily my longstanding, firm and steadfast view, on the need to criminally prosecute child sexual abusers with imprisonment for the crime of child sexual abuse, has prevailed.
* Daily Mail Headline, ‘How Much Longer Can Paedophilia Apologists Stay Silent?’ Monday, February 24th 2014
THE RELEASE STATEMENT, 28 February 2014
It has been bought to our attention that the Paedophile Information Exchange (‘PIE’) used Release at our previous address in Elgin Avenue as a ‘care of address’, for a brief period in the late-1970s. The co-founder of Release, Caroline Coon, nor any of its current staff were involved with the organisation at that time and we are all shocked and deeply upset that there was, or could have been, any connection between our work and the repugnant activities and despicable views promoted by PIE.
Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of the charity, stated: ‘I wish to apologise, in particular to anyone who may have been directly affected by the activities of PIE, that this abhorrent organisation was in any way linked to Release’.
Caroline Coon: ‘As co-founder of Release and Director from 1967 to 1972 I am very distressed to hear that in the late-1970’s Release had even the most tenuous connection to PI.E. Christian Wolmar has given an exemplary account of what happened: “When I started [at Release] in 1976” he explained in the Independent (Thursday 27 February), "PIE was using its address, the respectable sounding 1 Elgin Avenue, London W 9. There were plenty of offices available, but by allying itself with the Home Office-funded Release and an auspicious address gave PIE respectability. When I asked other members of the collective about it, they were very vague, and so we invited a speaker from PIE to a meeting. He gave us the benefit of his views, which were not only that there should be no age of consent, but that by banning underage sex adults were actually being cruel to children by denying them their sexuality and excluding them from an enjoyable experience. The poste restante arrangement was ended forthwith.”
Niamh Eastwood started work at Release in 2002 and she became Executive Director in 2012. I stand by Niamh and her categorical, forthright apology for what happened in the past. Release was founded on principles that completely reject arguments put forward by PIE. Under the direction of Niamh, and a remarkable group of Trustees, Release thrives and continues to do work that I support and admire.
For the story of my run-in with the N.C.C.L and Patricia Hewitt in 1982 and how she tried to sue me for condemning her position on ‘incest’ in 1996, please read the above account.'
Design: THE RELEASE BUST CARD.
The Release Bust Card was the first ‘know your rights’ bust card in the world. It was designed, created and first distributed from Caroline Coon’s studio in July 1967. With legal advice help from lawyer Raphael ‘Dean’ Sergeant, the Bust Card was ready for distribution FREE in time for the first Legalise Pot Rally in Hyde Park. Rufus Harris (co-founder of Release) and Caroline Coon thought of the card as a ‘really practical’ response the 1960’s moral panic emergency that meant young people were disappearing off the streets not knowing their rights as police used drugs laws to harass and intimidate the emerging anti-establishment hippie movement. The cards were instantly popular and were reprinted – eventually with the Release ‘peace dove’ logo designed by Caroline Coon – and they have been up-dated as Stop and Search procedures and drug law has changed to be continuously distributed from the RELEASE office to the present day…
The Release Bust Card is one of the objects that Dr Gavin Grindon, a visiting research fellow at the Victoria and Albert museum, is to include in the exhibition he is co-curating for the V&A called DISOBEDIENT OBJECTS – ‘an exhibition about out-designing authority that shows how politically active objects can change the world. It will demonstrate how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity and collective creativity that defy standard definitions of art and design.’ Disobedient Objects at the V&A from 26 July 2914 to 1 February 2015.
Painting: as well as works on paper, this year I hope to complete two more oil paintings - urban landscape narrative paintings - for The Brothel Series. The working titles are ‘Ladbroke Grove at Grand Union Canal: In Breach Of Her ASBO…' and ‘Anywhere Street: Unnoticed He Enters…'
Happy New Year!
October - November 2013
Photography: For the last two years the brilliant photographer of youth culture, Paul Hartnett, has been gathering the best of British street and club photography for a collection that will be exhibited and toured internationally. Along with photographers like Erica Echenberg, Annette Weatherman, Shelia Rock, Barry Plumber and Ray Stevenson, I am working with Hartnett, and his master printer Bob Wiskin, to add several of my punk images to this project.
Talk. ‘Youth and Musical Artistry: Against the Corporate Voice’. Professor Jacqueline Springer, who makes wonderful against-the-grain media interventions in popular culture, has invited me to be a guest speaker on her ‘British Music and the Media’ course at Syracuse University (London Programme) on 25th November.
Painting: see below
August - September 2013
Painting (oil on canvas): in progress a narrative urban landscape for The Brothel Series, a painting for the National Flag Series as well as a painting about weightlessness as a state of ecstasy and how memory turns into reverie and dreaming. This painting – ‘The English Lake’ – is a mark of remembrance, the transformation of physical sensation into pictorial representation, innocent and direct, a spiritual act in awe of life and sense of place, replete with my personal iconography: sunlight shafting through water, water lilies, stems and buds, roots anchored in mud, leeches … And also, my desire to inflect landscape and nature with national or geographic symbolism: cerulean blue for the Caribbean, raw sienna for the English lake. Swimming in English lakes as a child evolved as an adult into a love of diving into tropical deep oceans.
Works on Paper (watercolour and collage): a new series of ‘Poster Poems’, abstract designs with text by, so far, Christopher Logue, Vivien Goldman, Louis Simpson and Nina Antonia.
‘From Sexist Exclusion to Feminist Inclusion: the Art of Pauline Boty’ (a version of my talk for the opening of the Wolverhampton exhibition) is at The Woman’s Room http://goo.gl/u56weM
James Mayor and 'The Nature of Women' exhibition.*
James Mayor is in the dark inner sanctum of his gallery surrounded by the essentials of his art dealing trade. He is wearing his jacket because, although he is talking to me, the gallery is busy and at any moment he must be formal and ready to schmooze a potential art buyer. I listen to him and I study him as if I would portray him in the way Dix or Bonnard painted businessmen or art dealers before their paintings or behind desks laden with correspondence. I note the very English porcelain colour of Mayor’s complection and how light reflects into his hazel eyes and how he often brushes a quiff of hair off his forehead with a gesture that continues down to smooth the expensive silk tie that adds a flash of prime colour to the carefully constrained soberness of his appearance.
Mayor pauses, and he leans forward to take a painting from Christine Hourdé, his assistant. He places it beside other works he is showing me. I gasp as I recognise the small square pink and grey abstract as an Agnes Martin! It is the moment when this wonderful exhibition falls into place for me.
With Martin as his starting point, Mayor has grouped together artists who have known each other through friendships or a similar, meticulous approach to their fascination with nature and who he has known and admired for many years. In ‘The Nature Of Women’ works by Agnes Martin, Aurelie Nemours, Anne Appleby, Marischa Burckhardt, Lisa Corinne Davis and Sylvia Heider hang side by side like ‘rare masterly beauties’. They fill the gallery spaces with an apparent minimalist calm but their exquisite condensation of form and tone explodes with meaning.
‘I put these artists together as a group’ Mayor explains, ‘slightly out of anger. These are real artists who struggled or are struggling, artists who are not on The List. People don’t buy them. The dealers job’ he continues, ‘is to show their own taste and then educate people. Too often it’s the tail that wags the dog. But I don’t like to give in to that.’
As more works are brought into the sanctum, Mayor talks with delighted sincerity. Of Martin he says: ‘new movements in art can stop painters in their tracks. The 1960’s caused a hiatus for many artists. They stopped painting. Which is what happened to Martin. But in 1974 Sam Green, a great friend of mine, went to see her in her remote retreat. He took her canvas and paint and he refused to leave until she started painting again.’ Nemours and Appleby, with their focus on chromatics distilled in nature: ‘fitted into the aesthetic of the show’. Davis’ work: ‘takes a long time to make. When you look you get completely involved, you want to look harder, your eye moves around completely intrigued’. Burckhardt has been a friend since the 1970’s: ‘she was a friend and collector of Agnes Martin and at first she wouldn’t let me see her own work’. Heider: ‘is seldom exhibited. I find her work very, very beautiful.’
In showing these works together, Mayor enhances our understanding of the artists as individuals as well as demonstrating how discerning art patrons could specialise in collecting such a sublime abstract genre. Compared to much of the loud, big ‘on The List’ art preferred by billionaire oligarchs, the paintings in ‘The Nature of Women’ make an emotional and intellectual impact that belies their size. And, crucially, since art dealing and the monetary value of art is not incidental to an artist’s struggle to survive, I would bet on Mayor’s long-term judgement that these works will appreciate in future more than anything temporarily on The List and fashionable.
As James Mayor takes me to the door of the gallery that his father started in 1925, I try to imagine what he must be feeling now that the rooms he has kept open so elegantly through financial booms and busts will soon be closed. Shut. Gone. Offshore property companies are ‘redeveloping’ Cork Street with no guarantee of affordable space for art galleries. If I cannot bare the thought that this is Mayor’s last exhibition on Cork Street then, for him, it must be devastating. As a student in the 1960’s the free art show on Cork Street was part of my education. Art students and tourists have always mingled with the most connected art buyers. We all do the Art Walk, the cruise north from Christies and St James, through Bond Street and past Sotheby’s and up as far as St George Street. For art dealers who must rely on international art markets, this West End location is sacred ground. For the selling of art in London, no place is better, nowhere else will do. ‘I want to stay here’ says Mayor. There is a moment’s silence before he adds, with a fleeting smile, ‘Watch This Space…’
*‘The Nature of Women: Agnes Martin, Aurelie Nemours, Anne Appleby, Marischa Burckhardt, Lisa Corinne Davis and Sylvia Heider’. The Mayor Gallery, 22a Cork Street, London W1S 3NA. 5 June – 26 July.
When Pauline Boty died in 1966 her husband Clive Goodwin gave me her paints and paintbrushes – they have been by my side in my studio ever since. Goodwin’s gift to me, a token of confidence and continuance, endowed me with a special obligation to do justice to the art of Pauline Boty and to all those who have insisted that she be included in the Pop Art canon, and made me especially careful with the words I chose to open the exhibition ‘Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman’ at Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 1 June to 16 November.*
The Public Woman and JOAN SMITH.
"The illegal and abusive behavior at the BBC in the 1960's and 1970's was disgusting - it was behavior that feminism put an end to, and feminism was sneered at.” So said Lord Patten, Chair of the BBC Trust, on the Andrew Marr Show (Sunday 5th May 2013). This public acknowledgement of the political power of feminism from the very top of a conservative male establishment has come at a telling moment: the long march to gender equality is being refreshed by a new generation of women with international reach, often under the banner of Pussy Power.
Joan Smith, author and activist, is part of the vanguard feminist front responsible for putting an end to the sexism that aids male entitlement to criminal behaviour. Like many feminists accustomed to being sneered at she has nevertheless stood by her intellectual philosophy and principles. Refusing to shut-up, refusing to bow before female and male siren voices that have accused feminists of ‘going too far’, of ‘man hating’, of being redundant in a so called post-feminist age, Smith has always been a hopeful, encouraging voice. Out and about with her I have witnessed women rush up to shake her hand and say ’thank you’. Smith’s book ‘Misogynies’, first published in 1989, is one of the feminist classics that have saved women’s lives.
‘When I began writing that book’ says Smith, ‘I thought – I hoped – that woman hating was a historical phenomenon. I was documenting attitudes that had been around for thousands of years. Misogyny was ubiquitous but it had flourished in unequal societies and I didn’t think it was inevitable. I believed that the development of more equal societies, an aspiration that many men supported, would change all that. Adults would be able to create new relationships, based on respect and mutual pleasure, and I still think that’s happened to some extent. What’s also happened, however, is a backlash against gender equality of staggering viciousness.’
In her new book ‘The Public Woman’**, Joan Smith examines this backlash from various perspectives, not least vagina phobia where general fear and hatred of Woman is displaced and projected onto her tender sex organ on a scale from female genital mutilation (FGM) to ‘casual’ swear words like ‘cunt’.
In the chapter ‘Vagina Cantata’ Smith writes: ‘Pussy’ is a slang term for the vagina. It is less loaded, and therefore more widely used, than the word ‘cunt’. In American English, ‘pussy’ is a sort of halfway house, clearly referencing the vagina but acceptable right across popular culture. It came into use as a name for cats in the early 17th century, was quickly applied affectionately to women and to this day retains elements of endearment entirely missing from ‘cunt’. Because of its frequent use as an insult to denigrate men and women, ‘cunt’ is problematic even for feminists who have spent decades trying to reclaim it. It’s worth the struggle: one of the most annoying effects of using ‘cunt’ pejoratively is to reduce still further the already limited choice of non-anatomical words to describe a very important part of the female body. As long ago as 1966, the Pop artist Caroline Coon titled one of her paintings ‘My Beautiful Cunt’, while half a century later a columnist on the Times, Caitlin Moran, championed the word in her autobiography How To Be A Woman.
‘Used about a woman, ‘cunt’ is a nasty example of metonymy, reducing her to the status of an ambulant sex organ; about a man, it’s a castration fantasy invoking all the negative connotations of being female.  Its use between rival sportsmen has become so commonplace that an entire court case involving two highly paid footballers, the England and Chelsea captain John Terry and the Queen’s Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand, turned on whether one had described the other as a ‘black cunt’.  Tellingly, the controversy focused on Terry’s alleged use of the work ‘black’, as though ‘cunt’ was a regrettable but familiar form of discourse between professional players. But confusion about the word’s acceptability was confirmed in rather more surprising circumstances, an act by the stand-up comedian Stewart Lee in which he took a Sun columnist, Richard Littlejohn, to task for misogyny. During a sensational murder case, Littlejohn railed against broadcasters who used the phrase ‘women who work as prostitutes’, claiming it was an example of ‘political correctness gone mad’. Lee rightly responded that the word ‘prostitute’ used on its own is pejorative – it’s not just another job description like ‘dentist’ – and likely to distress relatives of the murdered women. But Lee’s own sensitivity to sexist language failed him in the final of the sketch, when he tried to conjure the worst insult he could think of to describe Littlejohn. With depressing inevitability, the comedian called the columnist a ‘cunt’.
‘It is profoundly shocking’ writes Smith ‘that the most taboo word in the English language, the worst thing one human being can call another, is a synonym for one of the principal female sex organs.’
Smith traces the worldwide phenomenon of vagina-phobic name calling to the acting out of misogyny in FGM to the new wave of feminist, pussy power protest. ‘Throughout history, women’s sexual organs have been denigrated, mutilated and treated as a cause of shame; they have been endowed with fantastic powers, symbolic functions and even teeth, vagina dentata. The Russian feminists who founded Pussy Riot knew this history and chose the name of their band deliberately; there is a direct line of descent from the British punk band The Slits through the American Riot Grrrl movement.  Pussy Riot’s aim is nothing less than to transform the vagina from a passive space without firm boundaries into a site of rebellion.  This is pussy politics in its most vivid form: thanks to Pussy Riot, we are living in the age of the vagina cantata.’
Joan Smith is herself very much a public woman - she has just been asked to co-chair the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls panel. Like all public women Smith works in the eye of the perpetual storm that is male anxiety, the male crisis that is fundamental to patriarchy. Drawing on the work of women philosophers and intellectual activists like Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir and Olympia de Gouges (who was publicly executed by French revolutionaries for writing ‘the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen’ in 1791, a violent obliteration that revolutionary women are facing today in the bloody reactionary aftermath of the Arab Spring), Smith concludes her book with a new call for world leaders to address the specific oppression of women and girls. Smith is right to state that human rights theory, written in male gendered language, has so far failed the female half of the world’s population and failed to end gender apartheid. Below are her amendments:
DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN
1. Women are born free and equal to men. All human beings have the same rights; they have a responsibility to ensure that those rights are enjoyed by everyone, regardless of gender.
11. Women and girls have the same right to bodily integrity as men and boys. No one should be expected to tolerate physical or sexual abuse, sexual harassment or any form of genital mutilation.
111. Women have a right to safe contraception and abortion. They should be able to live with any children they bear until the child reaches the age of 16, except in cases of abuse.
1V. Girls are entitled to the same level of education as boys. Literacy is essential to enable women to participate in civil and political society.
V. No one, whether male or female, should be married under the age of 16; in some circumstances, 18 may be preferable. Adults have an absolute right to choose partners of either sex or live alone.
V1. Women and girls have an unconditional right to use and enjoy public space, for both social and political purposes. They have the right to exercise, take part in sport and observe it on the same terms as men.
V11. The law should not dictate how adults dress, except in circumstance where safety or identification requires it. Children cannot give informed consent and should not be required to adopt religious forms of dress.
V111. Women have a right to equal working conditions and pay, and to transparency in pay structures so that it can be enforced.
1X. Women should enjoy the same property and inheritance rights as men.
X. Abuse on grounds of gender is as abhorrent as racism.
X1. Law should be secular and apply equally to men, women and children. Separation of church and state is essential to protect human beings from discrimination on grounds of belief or absence of it.
X11. The state has a moral obligation to ensure that women and girls are free to enjoy these rights, and to guarantee them when they are denied.
**'The Public Woman' by Joan Smith, The Westbourne Press (2013).
*‘Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman’ at Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 1 June to 16 November. Touring thereafter, to be confirmed.
April - May 2013
One of the delights of being my age (68) is the interaction to be had with young scholars who come to my studio. They often embody the positive progress that has occurred in my life--time but I learn of new impediments that are blighting theirs. This exchange must always have been the currency between age and youth but it feels fresh and remarkable to be explaining how life was before this or that technological advance.
Recently, Anna Braun was in London to research the PhD thesis she is writing at Humboldt University in Berlin: ‘Connections: Pop-interferences between art and music in London during the 1950’s – 1970s’. I was able to suggest that the invention of ‘unbreakable’ vinyl records and portable record players – the wonderful Dancette - from the early 1950’s meant that rather than the restricted fare broadcast by the BBC, young ‘poor’ artists could have music of their own choice playing in their studios. Thus by the 1960’s jazz, soul and pop records, often imported from USA, were the sound-tracts in studios as star performers became the subject of art. The first time I heard Otis Redding (‘Otis Blue’) and Wilson Pickett (‘In The Midnight Hour’) was at my tutor Derek Boshier’s Ladbroke Grove studio in 1965. I was pleased to be able to show Ms Braun the innovative Pauline Boty painting ‘My Colouring Book’ (1963). Boty dry transferred Letraset verses from the eponymous Ebb and Kander hit song, recorded by Barbara Streisand and Sandy Stewart in 1962, onto her painting making it a Pop Art icon to heartbreak: ‘These are the eyes that watched him as he walked away, Colour them grey. These are the arms that held him and touched him and lost him somehow, Colour them empty now’. From the 1950’s, advances in technologies like the ubiquitous record player enhanced access to pleasure and helped to spread popular culture and democratise art.
A Pauline Boty collage I own is included in ‘Pauline Boty (1938 – 66): Pop Artist and Woman’ at Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 1 June to 16 November*. I bought the collage in 1999 from James Mayor who allowed me to pay by instalments plus two chalk drawings from my ‘SheHe Pet’ series. The Boty collage is catalogued as ‘Untitled’ but I call it ‘Light My Fire’ since Boty loved such pop song titles and because the collage centres around a black and white etching fragment of two women kissing juxtaposed with an image of yellow tipped matches. No one could tell me from what painting the ‘kissing’ image was taken. My best guess was a slightly shifted fragment of the two women in Gustave Courbet’s ‘Le Sommiel’ (1866). Then, last September, visiting the Walker Gallery in Liverpool with Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan, we came across Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice’ (1871) and I realised that the women kissing in Boty’s collage are Rossetti’s Angle and Beatrice.
The Wolverhampton exhibition, curated by Boty expert Dr Sue Tate and Dr Connie Wan, is the first public exhibition to survey the artist’s career as a whole. With drawings, stained glass, collage, theatre designs as well as increasingly famous proto–feminist paintings like ‘It’s a Man’s World 1’ and ‘It’s a Man’s World 11’ we will be able to appreciate how ‘Boty used Pop’s visual language to give form to the pleasures of autonomous female sexuality which she considered inseparable from women’s social and political liberation.’
* touring thereafter, to be confirmed.
February – March 2013
A photo I took of Patti Smith in 1977 is to be used by The Metropolitan Museum of Art for their exhibition 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' (New York May 9 to August 2013). In the photo Smith is at home wearing a hand-stencilled man’s shirt, a gender blurring style that became the iconic revolutionary social signature of that era.
My Cunst Art THORN ‘Defend My Right To Insult And Offend’ (No 55) is to be included in ‘Let’s Start A Pussy Riot’, a book to be jointly published by both The Guardian and Rough Trade Records, with all profits going directly to Pussy Riot.
For this month’s Psychologies - ‘the magazine for those who want to know more and grow more’ - I am interviewed by Emma Cook for a feature called ‘What I see In The Mirror’. A mirror has always been a tool of the artist’s trade. No artist’s self-portrait is ever produced without the aid of a mirror and, as I explained to Emma, when I look in the mirror I see the self that I scrutinise for who I am stripped of my social mask. Doing this interview reminded me of the superb exhibition ‘Mirror Mirror: self-portraits by women artists’ at the National Portrait Gallery (London 2001). In an essay for the exhibition catalogue Dr Frances Borzello wrote: 'In recent years there has been an expansion in what a self-portrait can present and women can take much credit for this. The feminist revolution gave women permission to value their own lives and feelings and ideals as highly as men did theirs, and though the results often caused outrage, particularly when taboo subjects such as menstruation appeared in women artist’s work, they were impossible to ignore. This new subject matter, the artistic arm of the feminist slogan that the personal is political, has led to the most exciting development in self-portraiture today: the extended self-portrait, an elaborate idea expressed through the self.’ Jenny Lewis took the photograph of me for the feature looking in my studio mirror, and we had fun getting it right with inspiration from ‘mirror self portraits’ created by artists like Claud Cahun and Helen Chadwick.
Happy New Year!
Thorn No 55: 'DEFEND my right to INSULT and OFFEND' inspired by Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Pussy Riot.
‘We honor and support those women and men who use words, however insulting and offensive, to bring about inclusive, pluralistic societies. In our interconnected world when people deploy words they reduce the need for violent revolution and civil war. Risking one’s own life and freedom by protesting against the horror of totalitarianism – with civil disobedience, words and music – is the ultimate price we pay for an enlightened, democratic posterity. All freedoms from tyranny enjoyed today are due to the bravery of those who insult and offend tyrants.’
Jimmy Savile and Amnesia about the way young women (and many others) have protested and campaigned against sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape:
Defenders of men like Savile and Dave Lee Travis have tried to mitigate criminal behavior with a dismissive ‘It was a different world in the 1970’s’. Well, indeed it was a different world – for men. In those days women were warned never be alone with a man or you risk being raped. The change today is that after fifty years of successful protest and campaigning it is now possible to warn men that if you rape, sexually assault and harass women you risk being sent to prison.
Drugs, Prohibition and Banks: In all my years of campaigning to bring prohibited recreational drugs for adults within the law – especially when I was co-founder and Director of Release from 1967 to 1971 – I have been surprised by how little contact I have had with Mr Big drug dealers. Although they would have to pay tax I thought this monetary contribution to civil society would be a fair exchange for freedom from the threat of prison. I thought that millionaire drug dealers would support anti-prohibition organizations like Release. As far as I know they never did, and they do not. What I failed to account for was a) that Mr Big dealers, with the cash to bribe police, rarely get caught and b) Mr Big dealers do not need financial legitimacy because laundering money through legitimate banks is easy. Or it was easy.
This summer HSBC was busted and fined £18 million for ‘infringing regulations aimed at preventing money-laundering’ of drug money through Mexico, the largest fine in the history of banking. The bank has set aside another $700m in anticipation of further fines. Now that Mr Big drug dealers are finding it ever more difficult to launder and spend their profits it is possible that they will, at last, come over to our side. Paying tax is a fair price to pay for making the recreational drug business regulated within the law. Mr Big drug dealers should support all those continuing to campaign to end the failed, inhumane ‘war on drugs’. Don’t miss Eugene Jarecki’s coruscating anti-prohibition documentary ‘The House I Live In’. Watch what happens when the now legalised use of recreational marihuana in Colorado and Washington states proves to be a cost benefit success!
October - November 2012
Exhibitions: Artists who work independently outside establishment institutions are the vital, energising ingredients of the British art scene. Today, wherever we are multi-cultural, inclusive and permissive it is often because of influences emanating from the ‘scenes and spaces’ created by Heroic Pop artists grouped around Derek Jarman, Zandra Rhodes, Andrew Logan, Duggie Fields, Luciana Martinez and their colleagues and friends.
In Liverpool*: Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan have consecutive solo shows under the title ‘Welcome to My World’. Both shows are rare opportunities to see why, despite perpetual authoritarian pushback, these two artists continue to challenge orthodox social constructs with works that have had a leading influence on counterculture for the last fifty years. When talking about the vibrancy of British culture, Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan are nonnegotiable.
In London**: in stark contrast to Fields’ and Logan’s luscious colour, blazing jewellery and alluringly democratic commodities is an exhibition almost devoid of art objects that relies on dour monochrome, text and talk ‘about’ art. In fact, as ‘The Individual and the Organisation’ reveals, the artists who Barbara Steveni gathered into the Artist Placement Group (APG) and ‘placed’ with ‘open’ briefs in large industrial corporations and government departments were not required to produce either tangible results or art objects. The idea was to ‘re-invent the means of making and disseminating art’, a typically destructive avant-garde ploy exemplified in this fascinating exhibition by a For Sale poster advertising the hoped for demise of the Hayward Gallery. Nevertheless, although APG’s influence is intangible, it is not possible to understand Conceptualism in Britain without taking into account the way Steveni, and others in her group, theorised and methodologised people’s relation to art and social organisation.
*At The Liverpool Gallery, 41 Stanhope St, L8 5RE: Duggie Fields - until 20th October, Andrew Logan – 26th October to 21st November 2012. **At Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane E1 7LS: The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966-79 to 16th December 2012.
August - September 2012
Painting: Aside from watercolour on paper and collage, I am working on another oil on canvas painting for my Arena series called ‘Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage…’ The meaning of this series of paintings, on one level at least, should be obvious – in the human arena people exert themselves in colourful displays of competition and play. More concealed are the thought processes that inform my personal iconography.
Walking into a sports arena always raises my heartbeat and heightens my sensory perception. In floodlit arenas ordinary life, either primitive or civilised, seems at once minutely concentrated and enormously enlarged. My ‘sporting’ paintings push this metaphor of life in the direction of my political desire to dismantle gendered difference and integrate humanity in a system of gender equality.
The humans in my Arena paintings defy racial, national or cultural stereotypes of masculine and feminine. They are Shehe or Heshe gender mutations, intersex and hermaphroditic. I picture what I believe people really are in body and mind, freed from ideologies and status quo demands, free to be representative of humanity in integrated, inclusive societies.*
Enlightened advances in society are a product of political and cultural struggle. Images exert enormous influence on our view of the world and one of the functions of art is to illustrate or give visual narratives to revolution and social change. Within the pictorial tradition it is possible to register changes in human experience, to question and contest culture - works of art can spread consciousness of new realities.
The fever of physical beauty and mental prowess at London’s 2012 Olympics is an inspiring companion as I work, an exact reminder that politics is sport. Saudi Arabia, in a concession to world protests about their policy of gender apartheid, is ‘allowing’ two women into their national team on condition that they wear the ‘moderate’ Islamic headscarf (hijab). Most people will cease to consider this form of clothing-imprisonment misogynist the minute Muslim sportsmen ‘choose’ or are instructed to wear it.
More positively, it was uplifting to see Caster Semenya chosen for the restitution honour of carrying the South African flag and leading her national team into the Olympic arena. Semenya won the 800m gold medal at the 2009 World Championships. Immediately other women, perhaps jealous of her physical and mental strength, complained that she was ‘not a woman’. Semenya’s appearance violated patriarchal heterosexual norms of ‘femininity’, rules which are often enforced by women – she was ostracised, shamed, and subjected to genetic and hormonal gender testing that eventually led to her being ‘permitted to compete with other women’. Apparently what sportswomen must do to prove/sign that they are not ‘masculine’ and ‘ugly’ is wear lipstick! This ‘feminine’ regulation inhibits all women’s competitive exertion into excellence and thwarts our struggle to be the equal of men. For example, as soon as sixteen-year-old Ye Shiwen (China) swam faster in the last 50m of the 400m medley than her counterpart in the men’s race, she was accused of dope-cheating. These worldwide equalising gender issues are heightened in the sports arena and help to inform enlightened progress in our everyday lives.
Over the years what the Paralympics movement has achieved has profoundly influenced how we perceive ‘the normal’ in human form. In Paralympics sports arenas science and technology fuses with flesh to create images of superbeings. In everyday life, powered wheelchairs have become as normal as Techno baby buggies, there are warning studs on pavements that edge street crossings and Braille is embossed on packets of aspirin. We are learning to integrate physical difference and embrace diversity into our worldscape, often to be awed by what this can tell us about human capability.
Humans in my Arena paintings sport nudity, tattoos, body-clinging lycra, team colours, body paint, prosthetics, muscle-strapping bandages and sweat bands – they spring from my imagination and aesthetic sensibility educated by art works as diverse as The Venus of Willendorf, Praxiteles’ sculpture of ‘Hermes with the infant Dionysos’, Mark Quinn’s statue of ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’, Dürer, Hannah Höch, Kay Sage and Chéri Samba. I use legendary sources to call forth ambivalence, future possibility and what surrealists have called ‘the unification of opposites’.
* My student painting 'Marathon' (1966/7) - bought by Micheal White and exhibited in David A. Mellor's 'The Sixties Art Scene in London', Barbican Art Gallery, 1993 - was inspired by the marathon race as metaphor for women's struggle through life and also the pioneering political protest of Kathy Switzer. In the 1960's women were banned from participating in most sports. To crash the Men Only ban on women in the USA Boston Marathon of 1967, Switzer disguised herself as a man by wearing a hooded sweatshirt and entered the race as 'K. Switzer'. Despite assaults, attacks and obstruction, she completed the race in good time.
June - July 2012
In Praise of Protest:
Another heart-stopping news flash about drug prohibition: an English woman is busted for cocaine smuggling in Indonesia where the penalty is death by firing squad. And why do Indonesian politicians get away with implementing laws of such iniquitous inhumanity? Because brutal power brokers in Europe and USA refuse to end the War On Drugs.
Fact: all of us who have protested over the years that prohibition is ‘immoral in principle and unworkable in practice’ have won the argument. There could be an international effort to repeal the three United Nations drug conventions that sustain capital punishment and prohibition. But, Western politicians feign worry that legalising drugs would be unpopular with their electorates. Wrong!
One of the reasons many politicians are despised is because of their hypocrisy in relation to adult use of recreational drugs. What our politicians do in private is, if not well known, then well guessed. Politicians as big as President Obama and as small as David Cameron have had to admit that they used recreational drugs ‘before they were elected’. And yet they refuse to budge on prohibition, which they know is a cancer at the heart of democracy.
Ah, democracy! What has sustained me over the years has been my legal right not only to organise protest but also to go along to protests that others have organised. Since after work I have occasionally enjoyed a line of coke and a nice puff of pot I’ve considered it my duty as a citizen in a democracy to protest laws that imprison or execute people who provide me with my pleasure. Ever since I was one of those who helped Steve Abhams organise the first ‘Legalise Pot Rally’ in July 1967, going to anti-prohibition protests has been one way of channelling my anger against political madness.
Last month hundreds of people turned out to support the Cardiff Global Cannabis March. The mix of generations and points of view from pleasure users, medical users and non-users was life enhancing. Here were people who have stuck to their principles over the years – who have been proved victoriously right about the futile, state destroying policy of prohibition – inspiring a new generation of protesters.
The list of speakers included Howard Marks, Des Humphrey, Jason Reed, Sanj Chowdhary, Greg De Hoedt, Clark French and Levent Akbulut. These stalwart and witty campaigners, along with an incredible plural conglomerate of students, stoners, hippies and straights, some pathetic and timid, some bold and brave, some we agree with and some we don’t, from Release, Transform, Seedsman, Smokey Bears Picnics, UKCIA, Alchamy – any number of people and groups should be mentioned here – have in multifarious ways, tirelessly and persistently made the legalisation case. Alun Buffry’s book ‘Out Of Joint – 20 Year’s of Campaigning for Cannabis’ (Kindle Edition) is a heroic description of what character and guts it takes to keep it up. Over the years to see Alun and his collegues, in sunshine or pouring rain, loft the ‘NO VICTIM NO CRIME’ cannabis leaf banner up against the Houses of Parliament has been an iconic reminder of what we stand for.
Recently, the delicious sight of ex-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks having a hissy fit offset my horror of hearing about Lindsay Sandiford’s plight in Indonesia. Charged with ‘Perversion Of Justice’ Brooks could hardly contain her anger as she “deplored this weak and unjust decision after further unprecedented posturing” by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Here’s the story: For some time Brooks persecuted drug users, colluded with police in drugs raids, pushed the War On Drugs and subtly threatened liberal politicians with exposure of their private lives. Now that her way of operating has been judged criminal she is arrogantly outraged. Not that blame falls only on her shoulders. She is but one trained mouthpiece of Rupert Murdoch, an authoritarian oligarch who has been greasing his pockets with the profits of crime for years.
Now that Murdoch’s media empire has been busted and the brute power he was assumed to wield over politicians has evaporated, we must hope that leaders in Europe and USA will feel freer to make their private doubts about the War On Drugs public. Politicians can and must condemn the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. To encourage them we must keep up the pressure with our protests. Our protests, combined with a policy cost benefit analysis, will end prohibition.
Protest functions not only as a warning to politicians who depend on our votes but also as an essential reassurance to protesters. In protesting, demonstrating and marching we connect with like-minded people, hear other people’s points of views, catch up with old friends, make alliances, plan and find the patience and sustenance to continue championing our just cause. Show me a person who states that protest is pointless and I’ll show you a fool and a knave.
Yoko Ono: The Whole World Is My Mother-in-Law*:
Tidying through my papers some days ago I found, at last, an interview I did with Yoko Ono at home in New York in 1974. She was/is an idol of mine - as an art student in the 1960's she was more significant and famous to me than The Beatles. It shocked me when she was turned into a hate figure. At the height of the anti-Yoko zeitgeist I thought that if I could interview her I could tell her side of the story. Cosmopolitan, where my writing was often published, seemed the ideal place.
Yoko was superb - over an evening she answered my probing questions with care and incredible candor. Unusually, because I admired her so much and because she'd been so unguarded, I sent her the interview to ensure she would not regret what she had said when she read it in cold print. Yoko rang me to say that she and John, to whom she'd introduced me when he returned home from the studio, were very happy with the text.
The editor of Cosmopolitan wanted me to be more critical of Yoko, especially regarding the 'fact' that Yoko 'had deserted her daughter'. I refused to add this into the interview, not least because I had never been asked to make such a comment about any of the divorced men I interviewed. My Yoko interview didn't run in Cosmopolitan and I put it aside. I was gutted to have, I thought, let Yoko down.
Finding the interview and reading it again after 38 years - well, Yoko's honesty as an artist and as a woman is as fascinating as it is moving and astonishing. Read it at Rocks Back Pages http://goo.gl/CVneM
*Yoko Ono – To The Light at the Serpentine Gallery, 19 June – 9 September. A major exhibition of Ono’s work, her first in a London public institution for more than a decade.
April - May 2012
30 by 30: 30 Women Photographers and the Woman Photographers Who Inspired Them.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Professional Women Photographers’ Archives Director Catherine Kirkpatrick interviewed 30 contemporary women photographers about how they were inspired by another woman photographer. The woman photographers range from photojournalists to fashion and portrait photographers aged from 26 to 99. For anyone interested in learning how crucial example and inspiration are in the creative process this series is essential reading*.
Catherine Kirkpatrick: Which woman photographer inspired you the most and why? Was it her life, her art or both?
Caroline Coon: The woman photographer I’d like to spotlight from a cluster of creative women who inspired me in my early twenties is IDA KAR. Photography was central to my life as a fine art student in the mid 1960’s because it was widely feared that this mechanical, fast image making would be the death of painting. Since I was a painter I hoped painting would survive but never the less I was fascinated by photography especially when I discovered that heroes like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec used photography as a sketch aid to their painting almost from the moment the camera was invented.
As a teenager at art school, with few women students and not one women tutor, I felt very isolated. I needed examples of creative women to identify with. Then, one day walking through Soho with an older male artist friend of mine, he said to me: ‘That’s Ida Kar’s studio!’ My ignorance made me blush, but the name stuck in my mind and my heart leapt when shortly thereafter I saw Ida Kar as name credit in a magazine against a portrait of Bridget Rilley. Here was the photographer as artist making a woman artist the subject of her work. Perfect!
CK: When did you become aware of her and what did she enable you to do?
CC: At art school in the 1960’s none of the creative women who had been exemplary in various avant garde movements were ‘taught’. In fact women were erased from the canon once these movements were written up by what we now call white male gatekeepers. Discovering women like Ida Kar gave me my psychological backbone. I thought it was outrageous that no tutor, not in any department, had told us students about, say, Madame Yevonde or Tina Modotti or Dorothea Lange. I searched out information about these women, aided by the feminist movement’s revelation of all the ‘buried’ creative woman of the past who knocked down the sexist lie that there had never been nor could there ever be great women artists.Women like Ida Kar were crucial to me, not so much in their creative styles as the way they lived and that despite obstruction and rejection, they were determined to be professional artists creating remarkable bodies of work. Whenever my confidence has failed me it has been the example of women like Ida Kar who have given me the strength to survive and continue.
CK: You note that there were very few women photographers in the 60s and 70s. Can you tell a bit about what it was like breaking into the “old boys” club?
CC: No, No, No, correction! It is not me but others who talk about there being ‘few female’ photographers. I am always at pains to point out that considering the socio-political restrictions that women existed under in the past it is heroic how very many women photographers there were! Just because these woman are not ‘taught’ or generally known doesn’t mean they did not/do not exist.
And no, I did not ‘break into the “old boys” club’. Firstly, in honor of all women in the past who have struggled politically to give me all the legal rights that I now enjoy, I have always called myself a feminist. The notice Feminists Not Allowed is nailed above the door of the ‘old boys club’. Secondly, standing outside and working outside a boys club is a useful strategy because in the long run such exclusionary clubs become redundant!
CK: How is it different today for women photographers? Are the barriers more subtle?
CC: One of the great triumphs for women over the last fifty years has been the right to earn money and be professional. As a teenager (with an upper class background) it was drummed into me that it was ‘not lady like’ for women to work or earn money and even if I did, I would have to give it all up when I got married. Perhaps this is why, when I was thirteen, I confided to my diary that I would never get married!
I’ve learned many lessons from professional men - especially what it takes to maintain a position in the work place. If there are barriers for women today, and there are, then they are mainly psychological. A lot depends on how prepared a woman is to be competitive, ambitions, determined, self-serving, selfish, pushy and egotistic. Despite all the professional advances women have made today, sometimes women still find it difficult to feel as equally entitled as men to fight for work and recognition.
CK: Do you feel that women photographers bring a special and different perspective to their work?
CC: No, I do not subscribe to the theory that ‘women photographers’ bring a special and different perspective to their work. ‘Women’ is not a genre! Women are individuals and just as likely as men to be hard and forensic - look at Letizia Battaglia’s photographs of the Mafia or Lee Miller’s war photographs. Men are just as likely as women to be soft and empathic – look at Ken Heyman’s photographs of nursing mothers or Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography of flowers.
At times and in places when woman were not/are not allowed into the public space then we should not be surprised that their subjects are ‘domestic’.
Over the years when I have been outside sketching or photographing I have become practiced in a careful riposte to men who take it upon themselves to come up to me and say: You shouldn’t be out here alone – aren’t you afraid of being raped?
IDA KAR was born in Russia in 1908, educated in Egypt, and then traveled to Paris where she began photography. She married Edmond Belali and together they began a photo studio in Cairo. It was there that she met surrealist artist and poet, Victor Musgrave. They married in 1944, and in 1945 moved to London, where Kar began advertising as a theatrical photographer. Musgrave managed, and later owned a space called Gallery One. Together they became part of London’s post-war art scene.
Kar photographed many famous literary and art world personalities of the time, as well as people she encountered on the London streets. Her landmark exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1960 was the first one-person photography show to be held in a major London gallery. It marked the highpoint of her fame, and sparked debate in Britain over what exactly could be considered as photographic art.
In the late 1950′s, Kar traveled abroad, including trips to Armenia, East Germany and Cuba. She also photographed the famous of Britain, though by the late 60′s, her business had begun to wane. She died in 1974 in her Bayswater bedsit. In 1999 the National Portrait Gallery purchased Kar’s archive, and in 2011, presented a major exhibit of her work.
*In 1975, responding to the urgent need for women to become politically aware and to support each other in the work place, a group of woman photographers in New York formed Professional Women Photographers (PWP). Over the last 37 years the number of woman photographers has grown to be almost equal to men. To-day PWP is an active group of over 200 photographers. A Key aspect of their work is to keep us aware of women’s innovative and creative role in the history of photography.
February - March 2012
‘She Bop A Lula: Celebrating Some of the Most Successful and Creative Female Singers’. The Strand Gallery, 7 March – 1 April*.
“I was inspired to curate this exhibition by ‘She Bop’, Lucy O’Brien’s book” Dede Millar told me when she came to my studio to select a print from my photo archive. When O’Brien’s book was first published in 1995 (an updated edition will be published later this year) it became a world wide best seller. From her insider perspective of working in a male dominated music industry O’Brien tells the story of women as creators and innovators in the history of soul, pop and rock music. The She Bop A Lula exhibition reprises this history as a ‘visual celebration’ with photographs, all taken by women photographers, that include candid and intimate backstage scenes, sensitive and stylised portraits through to the excitement and raw power of live performance. Singers featured include Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, Nina Simone, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Ari Up, PJ Harvey, Sinead O'Connor, Annie Lennox, Madonna, Jessie J, Beyonce and Adele.
“Doing the research for this exhibition made me realize that there have been many more women photographers than received wisdom presumes,” said Millar, who was a director of Redferns Music Picture Library. Aside from Jill Furmanovski, Beryl Bryden, Tabatha Fireman, Sally Munton, Erica Echenberg and Dawn Wilsher, Millar is especially thrilled to be including images taken by Doreen Spooner, the great Fleet Street photographer whose credit against photos at a time when very few women photographers were employed by national newspapers used to fill me with awe.
A portrait of Ari Up, the fifteen-year-old lead singer of The Slits, is the photograph Dede Millar has chosen of mine for the exhibition. I took this shot of Ari Up beside a wall outside Cardiff’s Post House Hotel. It was June 1977. Punk rock was causing mayhem across the land but to the consternation of male musicians who thought they owned the monopoly on Shock it was punk women who really caused the most outrage. Teenagers like Ari Up created a look with an attitude that broke all the lady-like, polite feminine rules then rigorously applied to women in public.
Ari Up was tall and slender with long wild hair and a strong, beautiful face that was given a dangerous edge by an amused malicious mouth. She dressed in a purposefully contradictory manner – body hugging black leggings, a ripped mohair jumper covered by an oversized second-hand Burberry mackintosh that suggested the sleazy character of a dirty old man ready to flash naked genitals. Over her leggings she pulled a pair of cheap nylon knickers that bore the legend ‘1952-1977 ER Silver Jubilee’. Thus attired on the street she was attacked, jeered, spat at (often by blue rinsed old ladies) and loudly condemned.
At one point as I was taking the portrait Ari Up demonstrated the way she messed up her hair. And she burst out laughing. It was a moment of sheer exhilaration at the thought of being able to cause so much scandal with something so trivial as grooming.
The Exhibition is supporting Breakthrough, the UK's leading Breast Cancer Charity, which undertakes vital research into a disease that affects 1 in 8 women. All the women photographers in the Exhibition have generously donated their work for free and 100% of sales will go to Breakthrough. All prints will be available to purchase at £200 with signed prints by some of the singers including the late Amy Winehouse, donated by Jill Furmanovsky, on offer at auction.
Dede Millar’s co-curators are Julie Graham (who ran Retna Picture Agency for 16 years) and the photographer and music PR executive Erica Echenberg.
* She Bop A Lula opens at the Strand Gallery, 32 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6BP (0207 839 4942) 7 March til 1 April 2012, everyday 11am – 7pm (6pm Sunday). Admission is free. Nearest tubes Charing Cross/Embankment.
Happy New Year!
The Art of Poetry: Sylvia Plath and Eduarda ‘Dadamanio’ Manio at The Mayor Gallery‘*
'The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here’ wrote Sylvia Plath as the opening line of her poem ‘Tulips’. This sentiment of acute contrast is a signature of Plath’s work. Reading her poems is to feel mentally stretched to the limits of meaning, to the place where perfection hurts before it shatters. ‘Perfection is terrible’ said Plath even as she searched for it repeatedly.
Looking at the 43 drawings in this exhibition is to see an artist at work, not necessarily making works of art – her poems are her finished works of art – but making the observations that will be essential to the poems. The drawings are preparatory, part of a process, although they become art because of the honesty and conviction of their execution. Plath’s drawing line is exact, detailed; it examines the architecture of living things. From this evidence we know that Plath looked and drew for hours. She sat before her notebook-sized pages first outlining her subject in pencil and then using black ink pen. To get the exactness of objects seared into her mind, perhaps before she felt able to transform her observations into words, she did not spare herself. Her line is never glib or superficial for effect. She is clear, precise and poised, revelling in form. Although she draws landscapes mostly she examines the texture of things, the soft insides of horse chestnut husks, the shine of shoe leather, the twirls of hair on the coat of a bull.
These monochrome drawings reveal one of the ways Plath familiarised herself with detail the more surely to pare it back in order to create the word abstractions of her poetry which so often bursts with colour.
In the catalogue essay ‘Dadamanio: an International Italian’ Serge Lemoine writes: ‘We are all familiar with Italian artists such as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri or Piero Manzoni; fewer people today have heard of Dadamanio.’ As one of the ‘fewer people’ I was delighted to be introduced to this artist who died in 2004 age 74.
Dadamanio is a perfect artist to share exhibition space with Plath. Plath used her unconscious to satisfy what she believed is our ‘eternal desire to solve the enigma’ of identity. In 1978 Dadamanio explained that: ‘The unconscious rational has been a species of “blank sheet” in my operating process’.
Like Plath’s figurative drawings Dadamanio’s early works were figurative but influenced by and in the vanguard of 1950’s and 1960’s Italian abstraction she developed monochrome works that Lemoine describes as ‘bleak as they are brutal’.
Exhibited are 15 works from the Volumi series, made between 1958 and 1960. Like Plath, Dadamanio examines contrast but whereas Plath finesses human feeling Dadamanio conjures with inanimate matter, with volume and emptiness. Her materials, redolent of arte povera, are wood, canvas and plastic sheeting which she stretches, cuts and pierces.
The more minimal art is the more aesthetic judgement matters. The stark impact of Dadamanio’s work depends on her immaculate sense of composition, form, surface, craft and technique. The oval shapes she cuts into her painted white or black canvases to reveal whatever surface is beneath are precisely calculated on how much material can be removed to maintain the stability of what remains. One millimetre more or less and the pieces would collapse, literally and figuratively. Thus we are confronted with deceptively simple compositions that teeter at the extreme of what is possible within the frame. Their emotional impact is both calmly meditative and edgy.
In the room between Plath’s black and white figurative drawings and Dadamanio’s black and white abstracts are several pieces from Dadamanio’s Volume a moduli sfasati (volume adjustment and staggered forms) series. They introduce delicious gelato ice cream colours into this elegantly exhilarating exhibition. Superficially the pieces seem made with machine like precision but all the lines of perforations are hand cut and fractionally out of line in keeping with the ‘out of phase’ explorations in tone and shadow that could stand as the human metaphor at the poetic heart of both Dadamanio’s and Plath’s work.
* Until December 17th - The Mayor Gallery, 22a Cork Street, London, W1S 3NA
October - November 2011
‘Do you have an email address?’ Barney Hoskyns asked me in 2001 as a postscript in biro to a letter printed on paper. No, I didn’t. I’d only just acquired my first computer – a second-hand Apple Mac Performa 630 - but I wasn’t on-line. When I wanted to use the web I went to my local library. Hoskyns, however, not only had email addresses he was creating a website that needed a technically cutting edge content management system.
While working as a rock writer in America during the 1990’s Hoskyns had a dot.com revolution era perfect idea: an ‘online library of rock writing using content from the best music writers of the past 30 years’. Rocks Back Pages (RBP)* was the elucidating name he settled on.
With co founders Mark Pringle and Martin Colyer and seed investments from Dave Stewart and friends of financial director Tony Keys, www.rocksbackpages.com had a ‘soft launch’ of its test site in October 2000. But Hoskyns still had to overcome his first big hurdle: getting a critical mass of writers on board.
One of the earliest pieces archived in Rocks Back Pages is Norman Jopling’s May 1963 Record Mirror review of The Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club: ‘The fans quickly lose their inhibitions and contort themselves to truly exciting music. The fact is that, unlike all other R&B groups worthy of the name, The Rolling Stones have a definitive visual appeal. They aren’t like the jazzmen who were doing trad a few months ago and who had converted their act to keep up with the times. They are genuine R&B fanatics themselves and they sing and play in a way that one would have expected more from a coloured US group than a bunch of wild, exciting white boys who have fans screaming and listening to them.’
August – September 2011
Painting: ‘The Fight For Democracy, Tahrir Square, January 2011’, oil on canvas, 122 x 153cm.
Since I began this history painting, which will be finished by autumn, the Arab Spring revolution has been making progress. When new authorities and transitional committees precede too slowly courageous people mass onto the streets again. My painting will be one of the millions of images witnessing, celebrating and memorialising a historical process that proves the supposition that tyranny is always doomed.
Like many of the Arab Spring demonstrators, one of the figures in my painting is holding a rose to symbolise the desire for peaceful political change. As Hannah Arendt observed* ‘Since the end of human action, as distinct from the end products of fabrication, can never be reliably predicted, the means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals’. To protect their political goals as much as possible from the taint of death and destruction North African revolutionaries are asking for democracy with principals of non-violence. Armchair commentators gratuitously complain that ending tyranny is ‘taking too long’ and that ‘Gaddafi is still there!’ But rebels from Tunisia to Syria are taking their time in an effort to save lives and prevent a blood bath.
I agree with Peter Burke** when he says ‘Where writers can hide their attitudes behind an impersonal description, artists are forced by the medium in which they work to take up a clear position, representing individuals from other cultures as either like or unlike themselves’. My ‘Fight For Democracy’ painting, I hope, will show how I identify with, and how alike I am, to all those who, whatever our nationality or culture, believe that human beings flourish best in systems of open, liberal democracy.
*Hannah Arendt ‘On Violence’, p4 (Harcourt 1969). ** Peter Burke ‘Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence’ p124 (Reaction Books 2001).
Conference: Thursday 15th – Friday 16th September 2011 at London Metropolitan University, Holloway Road, London, N7 8DB, GB.
A cross-disciplinary symposium*** on: Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change. Style-based subcultures, scenes and tribes – along with their music genres – have pulsated through the history of social, economic and political change. This symposium aims to bring together recent studies, insignts and methodological approaches in this rich, interdisciplinary field. Speakers include: Richard Barnes, Pauline Black, Caroline Coon, Prof. Dick Hebdige and Prof. David Hesmondhalgh.
***Steering Committee: Jon Garland, Keith Gildart, Paul Hodkinson, Bill Osgerby, Lucy Robinson, John Street, Peter Webb and Matthew Worley.
June - July 2011
Caroline Coon's SLUT TALK for SLUT WALK London,
Trafalgar Square, Saturday, June 11th 2011*
When Sluts can walk free from rape, then all women can walk free!
"As a feminist and an artist I have been protesting against rape for a long time.
When Elizabeth Head was asked by Melanie Phillips: ‘Who is more likely to get raped, a woman in a tweed suit or a woman in a mini skirt?’ Elizabeth replied, ‘This is not about what women wear, this is about how men behave’.
We would soon put a stop to this victim blaming if women went around shoving bottles up men's arses and then pleading in court that they were aroused and provoked by his Builders Crack!
Nor are we demonising 'sexualisation' because 'sexualisation' is a dangerous diversion, too. We know that most women and children are sexually abused and raped in their own homes by parents or friends. What we are talking about is male attitudes to women.
Good sexual manners are about taking moral responsibility for your own sexual behaviour. Good sexual behaviour is ensuring that we do not create unwanted children, that we do not spread diseases, that we understand the concept of consent and that we never use force, threats or violence to have sex. We want men to help us create a sexual culture where we all understand that NO means No. Whether you are a woman or a man, No means No.
So, stop calling women who enjoy sex bad names in order to diminish us and make us powerless to defend ourselves from rape. Do not divide us into deserving and undeserving, women who deserve to be raped and women who don’t.
Slut talks were given by Slut Walk London co-organisers Elizabeth Head, Caitlin Hayward-Tapp and Anastasia Richardson as well as Vicky Simister (UK Anti-Harassment Campaign), Cristel Amiss (Black Women’s Rape Action Project), Chitra Nagarajan (Gender Action for Peace and Security), Lisa Longstaff (Women Against Rape), Niki (English Collective of Prostitutes) Sheila Farmer (identifies as a ‘sex worker being prosecuted for working together with other women for safety), Sanum Ghafoor (Activist), Laurie Penny (columnist for the New Statesman), Kitty Richardson (Rape Crisis).
*Slut Walk London, June 11th. Gather at Hard Rock Cafe (top of Picadilly) at 1.00pm then slutwalk to Trafalgar Square for rally and speeches. “A protest against sexual violence, and more specifically against blaming victims for crimes committed against her or him.”
‘Caroline, I don’t know why you’re bothered about rape – only ugly girls get raped’, declared the BBC’s most revered presenter, Robert Robinson.
Robinson had invited me to provide a topic for discussion and guest, the only women, on his ‘Stop The Week’ programme. I chose the House of Lords ruling: It is not rape if a man believes a women consents to sex even thought she said ‘No’ which, that week in 1976, was headline news. My response to Robinson’s misogynist assumption and multi-layered ignorance was a stunned and enraged silence. Through out the programme I refused to speak.
Back then not many women had instantly ready verbal retaliations to rape myths. We had to learn, and we did. In 1976, outraged by a billboard of a woman in chains with bruises on her legs and face, and a caption reading ‘I’m black and I’m blue from the Rolling Stones and I love it,’ American feminists staged demonstrations that forced Warner Brothers to remove the advertisement. In response to the rapes, muggings and sexual harassment of women at all times but especially at night, the slogan Take Back The Night was used as a theme to stop the tide of violence against women.
Because feminist politics mostly refuses to fight violence with violence language is our defence. Today millions of women, including activists and academics, are armed with the language response needed to talk about rape and confront rape myth. In parallel to human rights political action that is seeing a generation of tyrannical butchers brought to the International Criminal Court, an informed feminist uprising against rape myth propaganda is seeing a host of sexist men examined not only before the Court of Public Opinion but in law courts, too.
When in April this year a Canadian police officer gave students the ‘safety tip’ that if they didn’t want to be raped then they shouldn’t ‘dress like sluts’ the outrage was instant. Women are politically informed, verbally dextrous, witty and internationally connected as never before. Take Back The Night marches have mutated into world wide Slut Walks. Julian Assange is challenged for allegedly refusing to wear a condom. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s callous deceit and public humiliation of his wife is properly exposed. And when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested for rape, journalist Nancy Gibbs was immediately ready with a Time magazine cover story explaining ‘What makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs’.
This newly erudite spotlight on patriarchal entitlement has caught many men napping. There is a perhaps feigned male inability talk about rape from the victim’s point of view - a refusal to discuss rape not as aberrant criminality but as a staple of the dominant-submission sexual norm allowed men in patriarchal socio-political culture.
A common on-line male response to images of Slut Walk demonstrators is that they are ‘too ugly’ to rape. When Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke, talked about ‘proper rape’ Alan Duncan MP pleaded that since rape was a ‘very sensitive’ issue men find it ‘very difficult to talk about’. David Aaronovitch said that Clarke was only ‘mildly misspeaking’. A leftist French journalist, Jean-Francoise Kahn, said that he was ‘practically certain’ that Dominique Strauss-Kahn did not attempt rape but only ‘an impudence … the skirt lifting of a domestic’.
On 20th May Dr Helen Reddington brought the exacting din of this real world debate on rape into the academy. At a one-day conference on ‘Music, Politics and Agency’ at University of East London she gave her paper ‘The sound of woman musicians in the punk era’.
Between Barry Shank and his elegant ‘The political agency of music’ which talked to music’s ‘potential to reshape relations of difference’ and David Hesmondhalgh and his spirited ‘Music and human flourishing’ which talked of music’s ‘superior power to engage emotion’, Reddington focused on the ‘double-subversion’, the sound and position of women in punk.Reddington has been investigating the social and commercial reasons why women musicians of the 1970’s are ‘lost’ from official male histories of the period. Her research is on a continuum of work done by feminists like Tilly Olsen who in 1965 wrote about ‘Silences’ around women’s creativity and how personal circumstance, gender, economic class and colour determine whether creativity will be canonised. In 1976 Adrienne Rich wrote about the ‘staggering exclusions’ of women and today art historian Kalliopi Minioudaki writes about the ‘typical marginalisation by a masculinist discourse’ of women Pop artists. An example of ‘typical marginalisation’ is in Dorian Lynskey’s book on the history of protest song, ‘33 Revolutions per Minute’ (2010). Lynskey feels able to excuse his exclusion of feminist personal politics as protest song from his history by asserting, actually in a margin footnote, that “It’s a shame that Yoko’s feminist songs weren’t better, because the burgeoning women’s movement was ill-served by protest music.  the movement’s only anthem was Helen Reddy’s Broadway-style 1972 hit ‘I Am Woman’.”
Poly Styrene’s ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’ (1977) answers Lynskey’s sexist deafness and Reddington used the song as a pivot for her paper.
She noted how Styrene’s mix of teenage despair, irony and audacity is delivered in the kind of shout that rejects what Valerie Walkerdine (1997) calls ‘civilised femininity’. It is this raucous, often atonal, consciously uncivilised ‘shocking’ punk sound that when issued from the female mouth caused many male ears to close.
Reddington dissected not only the abstract sound of the protesting female punk voice but also what meanings are attached to the sound when it is delivered into the political context.
By using primary sources rather than theoretical ones Reddington pointed to the fact that women she writes about are mostly still alive; they are not female signs or ciphers but individuals who have to live in reality. And the reality, the position, they/we/women musicians had to live IN in the 1970’s was a male dominated music industry. Where as male rock ‘n’ roll’s rebel ‘shock’ gambit was celebrated as radical - when it was usually not much more than orthodox male patriarchal rite of passage – punk women’s revolutionary challenge to the status quo was soon trivialised and written out of the cannon.
But was there more to the silencing of women punk musicians than sexist critical deafness? Was there more than sexist lack of celebration driving this cohort of women out of the music industry? Was it more than feminine unwillingness to compete? Reddington thinks so. It was at this point in her paper that Reddington exposed a truth, an actuality too often buried under political theory. She stepped outside speculative jargon and the self-silencing forced on women. She confronted us with political reality. Her research, she told us, reveals that ‘astronomical proportions’ of women musicians she interviewed were raped. Common sexual violence was the reality of the patriarchal political context in which women punk musicians work/ed.
No one is placing violence against women entirely at the feet of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is a context within a context. But the music industry relishes the derogatory branding of women. In lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ to The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, to Hip-Hop’s ‘ho’s’ and ‘bitch’s’, the ‘women keep out’ sexual insults are standard. Popular song lyrics do shape and provoke misogyny. Lyrics are vectors of moral thinking, they are significant to social interaction. Sexist lyrics when delivered into a political context, a context that either amplifies the politics or disrupts them, can reinforce women’s lack of power and agency.
From the high macho reaches of the music industry adult males have patterned teenage male behaviour, the sanctioning of 'fantasy' violence against women and the normative demands of patriarchy that insists on women’s submission. Despite today’s critical mass of female superstars in popular music, words like ‘groupie’ and ‘slut’ are repeatedly used to diminish women down to a despised entity that allows men to feel justified in punishing us with verbal and violent sexual assaults including rape.
Helen Reddington’s revelatory research into the often violent marginalisation of women punk musicians in the 1970’s asks and answers these questions: Whose sound is silenced and why? Whose politics is privileged, and why?
I hadn’t returned home from the conference for more than a few minutes when the telephone rang. It was my friend and law academic, Amber Marks, asking whether I was going on the Slut Walk? She wondered what should we wear? A transparent burka? We listed the kind of clothes that are said to provoke lust and provide men with an excuse/defence to rape: mini-skirts, school uniform, nun’s habit, nurse’s uniform, push-up bras, high heals, airhostess’s… Damn it, I said, this is not about clothes, why don’t we go naked?!
When Slut Walk London organiser Elizabeth Head was asked by a more than usually gruesome and offensive Melanie Phillips (Moral Maze, 18th May): ‘Who is more likely to get raped, a woman in a tweed suit or a woman in a mini skirt?’ Head replied, ‘This is not about what women wear, it is about how men behave’.
In the 1970’s one second-wave feminist camp told women not to be sexy – the way to 'control' male behaviour and protect women from rape was to wear tough, cover-up clothes. Obviously, as rape statistics prove, this cover-up defence tactic failed. We have learned that condemning women’s sexy clothes is a facile displacement that avoids the issue. What are needed are assaults on male attitudes to women not an assault on the clothes women wear.
The argument that patriarchy ‘objectifies’ women and turns women into ‘sex objects’ is true but objectification is not the issue. The issue is: why do men give themselves permission to harass, rape or kill 'sex objects'? The issue is: the bodily integrity and the freedom from rape of all human object-beings, female or male, however 'sexy' or ‘ugly’ we are deemed to be and whatever we are wearing.
Today, Slutwalking third wave feminists, from grassroots to academia, are demonstrating all over the Mr Ken’s of this world – and the popular political protest songs blaring from iPods, MP3’s and other sound systems will be? How about, for a start, Nancy Sinatra ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ (1966, No 1 in UK and USA charts), Aretha Franklin ‘Respect’ (1967, No 1 USA), Patti Smith ‘Gloria’ (UK 1976), Debbie Harry ‘X Offender’ (Blondie 1976), Salt-N-Pepa ‘Tramp’ (1986), Beyonce ‘Girls (Who Run the World)!’ (2011)…
Caroline Coon has been invited by organiser Elizabeth Head to be a guest speaker at Slut Walk London, June 11th, 1.00pm. Gather at Hard Rock Cafe (top of Picadilly) at 1.00pm then slutwalk to Trafalgar Square for rally and speeches. “A protest against sexual violence, and more specifically against blaming victims for crimes committed against her or him.”
Amber Marks gives her paper ‘Expert Evidence of Drug Traces’ at the Criminal Justice Centre Conference, London House, Goodenough College, London on 9th June 2011 at 1.30pm.
Joan Smith chairs: ‘A Conductive Context? Misogyny, Inequality and Violence’, a one-day conference at London South Bank University on 22nd June 2011 at 10.00am.
May – June 2011
Jarvis Cocker invited Caroline Coon to be the guest for his BBC 6 Music Sunday Servic on Labour Day, May 1st , 16.00 – 18.00.
Rachel Preece interviewed Caroline Coon about the photography exhibition ‘Street Fighting: Fifty Years of Youth Protest’* for Electronic Beats:
Rachel Preece: the Street Fighting Man exhibition ‘demonstrates the power of rock and roll as a focus for rebellion, and the status of rock singers as mouthpieces for radicalism’ - the photos date from 1968, a time when politics and rock 'n' roll were closely entwined - do you think that music still plays a role in politics today, or have we lost that a little?
Caroline Coon: No, I don't think we have lost the rock 'n' roll and politics connection. Before Rock 'n' roll there was acoustic popular music and folk song that was generally 'music of the people'. When The People rather than The Rulers express themselves in music it is often to protest against the status quo and oppression. Which is to say that really, there was never a time when politics, music and rock 'n' roll were not closely entwined. Because there is so much music about today, music that is specifically political can get lost in the mix, but there are great 21c political protests songs like Black Eyed Peas' 'Where is The Love?' (2003) and Green Day's 'American Idiot' (2004).
Sometimes we, in the West, tend to forget that in many countries simply playing music that is not religious means that you could be killed - the wahabi taliban ban music - or to play any kind of rock 'n' roll could land you in prison. Today we should remember that there are thousands of brave young people in countries like China, Iran and Afghanistan who are facing harsh punishment for daring to compose and sing rock 'n' roll songs.
RP: Is the exhibition a reflection of the past, or also a call to arms for political activism?
CC: An impact of this exhibition's collection of protest and riot photographs is what it tells us about how the past informs the present. We can be told in words and writing that revolutions happened and can happen but I think, only when we see evidence in images and photographs of how change occurs do we feel confident that protest happens and matters. Government likes to say that street protest does not influence change. But, although Government usually will not immediately do what protesters demand, if people's demands are good and just then eventually the changes demanded will be made law.
For instance, although the huge demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2002/3 did not stop the war, in 2007 because of the way Tony Blair lied us into war, Gordon Brown gave up the royal prerogative traditionally exercised by the prim minister to declare war without parliamentary approval. In March this year Green Party MP Caroline Lucas proposed the Parliamentary Approval of War Act (09/03/2011) calling on Government to introduce legislation to make it mandatory that any decision to commit our troops to war should be approved by Parliament. This would not have happened but for massive street level political activism.
Photographs of street protests that change law will always inspire political activism. And today, people’s digital and camera phone photography, as evidence, will bring tyrants to the International Court of Criminal Justice.
RP: Many exhibitions focus on the music and the fashion of the sixties, without drawing reference to the activism of the late 1960s (e.g. The National Portrait Gallery's 2009 exhibition Beatles to Bowie). As someone passionate about socio-politics, is it important to educate people about the political past?
CC: Yes it is! One colorful narrative of 1960's counter culture concentrates on music and fashion and can appear trivial. But, in fact, the music and fashion of the 1960's was very political - the fashion was often UNISEX and the music was often about rebellion. Appreciate that colorful narrative but, it is also important to learn about what has been called 'The Unsung Sixties' where, behind the glamour, people worked very hard for long hours for minimal pay to remedy the ills of the times like poverty, debt, housing, sexism, racism and homophobia! People should not forget that it takes a long hard grind of dedicated work to change society for the better.
RP: You founded Release while still studying at art college, which proved to be a huge success. Could such a scheme be set up from scratch in today's society?
CC: In 1967 I knew that it was possible to set up an organisation to give advice about legal rights, especially to young people who had been busted for drugs, with a 24 hour emergency telephone service, BECAUSE one my social innovating heroes was Chad Varah. In 1953, he founded The Samaritans as the world's first crisis hotline offering non-religious support to those contemplating suicide. As a teenager I'd rung The Samaritans. In to-day's society, inspired by examples from the past, it is possible to set up schemes that address issues of the day - people do it all the time! For example, the groups setting up to advise students how to cope with iniquitous tuition fees! Or groups setting up to encourage women to break through the Men Only barrier in music production... All it needs to set up culture changing schemes is confidence and a huge dollop of passion!
RP: Of all the political songs from the past, why did you choose The Rolling Stones ‘Street Fighting Man’ as the title of the exhibition? Is it simply an obvious choice? A self-explanatory anti-Vietnam war anthem?
CC: The exhibition's curator, Christabel Armsden, chose 'Street Fighting Man' as the title, the epigraph, of the exhibition. Even though she is very much too young to have actually marched to the song, she thought it really worked to express what she wanted the exhibition show. In 1968 I actually did march in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations singing that song!
RP: Youth protests are still happening today (the tuition fee protests from late 2010 spring to mind) - do you think we need to do more to bring about social change? Is it more difficult to get results these days than in the liberal sixties?
CC: In the 'liberal sixties'!!! No, no, no!!! Although all the progressive social changes we are beginning to take for grated today started to happen, the 1960's were NOT liberal. Certainly the 1960's saw class barriers breaking down into a meritocratic society, which was liberating for many white working class men, but there was a long struggle ahead of us into the 1970's and 1980's to achieve anything like the relatively liberal society we have today. But, be warned. Do not take the liberal permissions we enjoy to day for granted! We have to struggle against authoritarianism, which seems to be the default human condition, everyday. For instance, it will not be liberal to make more legal restrictions on alcohol, the inability to chose whether to smoke tobacco in selected places in pubs is not liberal, any reduction in the legal right to abortion will not be liberal, cuts in our civilised welfare state are not liberal, sadomasochistic ‘fantasy' images of women to promote popular songs are not liberal, privileged rights for religious groups to legally discriminate are not liberal, et cetera. If we appreciate our wonderful and relatively liberal, enlightened society then we must continue to fight, with street protests when necessary, to maintain it.
RP: And finally, what is next in the pipeline for you?
CC: Just as this exhibition was about to open, young people in North Africa took to the streets. The Arab Spring is momentous - and, so long as I'm alive and healthy, I'll continue to be an artist who often takes on political subjects. Now that I've finished answering these questions, I'm going to have a cup of tea and then I'll continue the history painting I'm working on at the moment called 'The Fight for Democracy, Tahrir Square 2011' (oil on 122cm x 153cm canvas). It will take me at least five months to finish this painting.
* ‘Street Fighting Many: Fifty Years of Youth Protest’. Flash Projects, 5 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PD Thursday 28th April - Wednesday 4th June 201
March - April 2011
‘Street Fighting: Fifty Years of Youth Protest’
Flash Projects, 5 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PD Thursday 28th April - Wednesday 4th June 2011
Christabel Armsden, photography director of Flash Projects, started to curate prints for this exhibition last year. She did not know then how apt the exhibition’s epigraph would be. She chose: “Hey! I said my name is called Disturbance! I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the King, I’ll rail at all his servants”, words sung by Mick Jagger in the 1968 Rolling Stones song ‘Street Fighting Man’. The song became an anti-Vietnam war anthem. Back then, to raise my spirits, I played it when eventually I got home after being charged down by mounted police outside the USA embassy.
Last week, when Armsden came to my studio to discuss my prints, she explained: ‘I wanted to start the exhibition in 1968 and have it coinside with the national demonstrations organised by Unions and students against Government policy scheduled for 26th March 2011. But, to-day…” and her voice trailed.
To-day! To-day, youth protest images are coming to us from Tunisia to Yemen. Sometimes they are of bloody death and sometimes they show people dancing in the streets. Just as the 1960’s were a decade of protests and demonstrations aimed at overthrowing old prejudice, promoting a new liberalism and championing peace, accompanied by great music, fashion and art, so the Arab Spring revolution of the 2011’s will be a decade of protests for democracy and freedom accompanied by an outpouring of music and art. In YouTube clips from Tahrir Square I’m sure I’ve heard the assassinated freedom fighting rai singer Cheb Hasni’s hit song ‘El Visa’ raising spirits from a sound system: “You want to kill me. I’m gonna drink myself stupid and smash everything!”
One print of mine to be included in the exhibition is 'Demonstrating Outside National Front Leader Martin Webster’s House, with Steel Pulse, The Clash and The Sex Pistols (1977)’. By the late 1970’s protest against racism reached a peak. Black youths took to the streets and rioted against the stop and search (Sus) law. Many white youths joined in, memorialised by The Clash in ‘White Riot’. The police attacked demonstrations against racism while turning out in force to protect fascist marches by the National Front! Horrified by Erick Clapton’s ‘Wogs Go Home’ diatribe and David Bowie throwing a Nazi salute, Red Saunders and colleagues set up Rock Against Racism.
As part of this front against racism I decided to interview Martin Webster for Sounds. I photographed him, too (in front of a door on which he had pinned a large photography of a black youth smoking a huge spliff). But an interview didn’t seem to be enough. Since I now knew where this fascist lived I asked members of Steel Pulse, The Clash and The Sex Pistols if they would stage a protest. This is how, along with the interview, Sounds were able to make a front cover of my photograph of punk and reggae musicians flourishing placards championing ’Sounds For Integration’ and ‘Black & White Unite’ outside Webster’s house. It was great for white musicians to support the anti-racist cause but the real Street Fighting men were Steel Pulse musicians like David Hinds, Ronald McQueen and Micky Riley*. ‘We once beggars and now choosers, No intention to be losers, Striving forward with ambition, And if it takes ammunition, We rebel in Handsworth revolution' sung David Hinds in 1978 – and he continues to sing, around the world, today.
The ‘Street Fighting’ exhibition shows how the power of culture, and in particular rock and roll, can be a focus for rebellion. There are photographs of CND marches, riots in Belfast, and the Poll tax riots. And there is a remarkable series of photographs charting a riot at a Rolling Stone concert that gives prominence to the crowd. It is the power of the crowd, thousands of people, at best in peace – laughing and playing - that has always given birth to freedom.
Private View: Wednesday 27th April 6 – 9pm
PRESS ENQUIRES: Roz Arratoon 020 7033 6868 email@example.com
* Mykeall Riley is now Head of Music Production and Programme Director - Centre for Black Music Research, School of Media Art & Design at the University of Westminster.
January - February 2011
Sex, Condoms and Wikileaks.
The Clash – Memorabilia Sale at Bonhams, Knightbridge.
A piece of The Clash history has been on my desk for over thirty years, reminding me of wonderful times but also great danger. It is a chunk of iron, weighing more than 1/2 a kilo, from one of the 200 stall seats that Clash fans destroyed and threw on stage during the notorious Riot at The Clash gig at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park, London, May 1977. I was in the wings taking photos of the gig as the riot took off. An early Clash promise had been never to play venues where fans could not roam freely and dance. However, the more popular the band became, the bigger the venues, the more difficult it was to keep this promise. The management of the Rainbow theatre refused to remove the stalls seating. The Clash fans were angry at the band for breaking their promise and despite security guards trying to force the audience to say seated, the fans rose up. They destroyed the seating and piled the wreckage in front of the stage as the bland played on, somewhat enjoying the melee. Then the fans started throwing chunks of seating on to the stage. I stepped out of the wings for a better view. A second later I saw this chunk of iron wiz through the air and hit the stage just centimeters from Joe Strummer. I picked it up and was horrified to discover how heavy it was and that had it hit Joe, he would have been very badly injured. I called out to Johnny Green, and he summoned The Clash roadies and together we helped to get The Clash off stage.
To make room in my studio and in a general repair, paint and decoration of my workspace, I have included this chunk of riot iron in the group of posters, badges, T-shirts, fanzines, annotated lyrics and other pieces of The Clash and punk memorabilia that I gathered together for sale. They are in the Entertainment memorabilia sale at Bonhams, Knightsbridge, on 15th December.
October - November 2010
Concern about the proposed threats to arts funding is growing. Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, is receiving open letters, petitions and tweets from campaigners determined to stop government from slashing arts funding. The fear is that radical cuts will decimate UK’s vibrant arts culture. The National Campaign for the Arts* had been set up to gather public support: ‘Arts organisations all accept the need to reduce their budgets. But while the arts can possibly sustain a ten percent funding cut, the 25-30% cuts that the government is currently considering would result in the closure of many smaller arts organizations and would also have a crippling effect on the functioning of the country’s leading arts venues.
'The arts are a major employer, and they generate far more revenue than they cost to fund. In addition they are a major attraction for tourism in the UK. While cutting arts funding may save money in the short term, in the long run it risks undermining what has been one of the country’s most vibrant areas of growth over the past fifteen years, and destroying one of the national achievements of which we should be most proud.’
August - September 2010
On Painting: ‘Hours Of Happiness’, process and purpose*.
This summer I double over with stomach pain quite suddenly. I have been working on my painting ‘Hours Of Happiness’ for nearly five months, since January. To do are the final layers, glazes and highlights – I estimate another four weeks to completion and I know the work I will begin next. Now stabbing pain that has nothing to do with painting interrupts my concentration, a fact I have to attend to and waste time on.
It is disheartening to have to pull back out of the form of my painting into my own hurting physical form because outside my open studio windows the supreme pleasure of summer is palpable. Sunlight glints off silver birch tree leaves, the gardener mows our emerald green communal lawn, cut grass and my neighbours pink roses scent the air. And, incongruously, I feel as if I have swallowed shards of glass that rip into my intestines.
I am exasperated with myself. I recognise this pain. I know what it is. Despite the intensity it is not serious, I am sure. Being sent away from home to boarding school at the age of five made me, in bouts of acute anxiety, physically ill. Since childhood I have been stopped in my tracks by stomach pain. As a teenager, in order to be able to work and earn my living, I needed to understand why my body kept breaking down. The source of the pain, since I repeatedly recovered, was obviously not pathogenic. I came to realise that my body could act out the painful anxiety of my mind.
To ward off fearful thoughts of helplessness, desertion and disaster my brain, my will, conjuring up images of ineffable physical strength, sends barrages of kinaesthetic impulses through my nervous system and into my muscles. Gripping my paintbrush I brace myself, hard, alert, jaw tightened, brow wrinkled, back erect. And, deeper still, deep inside my body are my intestines, my guts. Yes, the pain I have is gut ache. That is all. Mental anxiety has caused tension in the muscles of my gut to build up into a sustained contraction, a painful spasm. This muscular spasm is a good measure of the effort of will my mind has been making to ward off fear and anxiety.
But I have nothing to be anxious about! I am very annoyed with myself. All is well with my life. My perfect life! At last, I am no longer afraid or insecure. This painful gut spasm must be mere body habit erupting from the most primitive part of my brain not yet accustomed to the careful calm, the luxury of unobstructed time that I have acquired with age.
I wipe my paintbrush, place it beside my easel, I get up from the chair and I step away from my painting. I lie down flat out on my white tiled studio floor.
The paradox of my childhood is that although the malign shock of being banished to boarding school is partly responsible for my nervous stress reactions it was also a providential escape into a caring community of fine artists. Madam Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat, whose husband Nickolas taught and danced with Anna Pavlova, was the Russian founder teacher of The Legat Ballet School. Madam was immaculate, usually dressed in black with pearl earrings and white lace collars; she was poised, authoritative, every inch a mature classical ballet dancer, her head held high over her gnarled feet. She was passing on to us the discipline, technique and stagecraft that had been passed down to her from that group of great artists who broke away from the conservative milieu of pre-revolutionary Russia – Tchaikovski, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Chaliapin, Petipa, Fokine, Diaghilev… Madam believed that yoga was imperative for dancers because it enables them not only to relax their muscles but also to refine their physical and mental powers of resistance and endurance. The innovation of her teaching method was to have her pupils begin their day, before breakfast, with a yoga class. At the end of the class we all lay flat on the dance studio floor while Madam walked around our prone bodies lifting up and dropping our limbs. If we had learned our deep yoga relaxation lessons well our arms and legs would hit the floor painlessly.
On the floor, floored, I recall that five-year-old child in yoga class. I empty my mind. If I can relax and reduce my mental anxiety (I know I can, I have done it a thousand times) I can cure my stomach pain.
When I began painting ‘Hours Of Happiness’ all those months ago I was framing my happiness subject in a very happy frame of mind. I am so precisely where I want to be, so exactly living the image I had as a child projected into the future of myself as an artist before her easel in her studio that the reality now seems like an astonishing miracle of fulfilled convergence. Many times in the past when my psychological distress seemed unbearable I wanted to end my life but I never feared old age. At home I saw my musician grandmother and my artist mother thwarted by fear and patriarchy into renouncing professional ambition. Angry and bitter they did not rebel against the class strictures that forbade ‘ladies’ to work or earn money. Only ‘hobbies’ were ladylike. In contrast, at ballet school, I was taught by committed theatre world people, ambitious, dedicated, passionate, de-classed female and male artists for whom earning money and professionalism was essential. There was 70 year old Lydia Kyasht, a Bolshoi soloist in her youth, sitting before us in ballet class, her white hair pinned up, her head thrown back, her half-blind eyes half closed, whacking the floor with her stick demanding that we repeat the steps, again, again, again! She was awesome. We loved her for expecting the best of us, pushing us to the physical limits of our abilities. This was a professional artists’ old age, an old age filled with creativity, knowledge and experience. And I am not yet as old as the great artist teachers I loved, not yet as old as exemplary artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Monet, Tamara de Lempika, Matisse, Louise Bourgeois or Alice Neel. In my mind I scroll through photos I have seen of old artists, images of old women like Eudora Welty, Leslie Blanch, Kathe Kollwitz, Meret Oppenheim and Carol Rama. I think of all the professional women who defied class and patriarchy to make their mark in art, even into old age, their faces lined by the glacial grind of life’s adversities, their eyes radiating continued creativity and the memory of the uproar they caused.
Three days have passed. I am painting. I am persisting with twice daily yoga sessions. But I cannot relax my gut. I am in pain.
What could I possibly be anxious about? There has never been a better time on Earth for women, especially in Europe, especially in London. Unlike in the past I have no money worries, not least because of the legal rights to earn and own money, and equal pay, that female and male feminists have won for women.
Training my deep brain to acknowledge my new financial circumstances I repeat, like a mantra, I have no money worries. In the past it was being broke that broke my body. But today I have enough money and enough is plenty. In fact, I have never been so financially secure. Right, this is so remarkable that I can hardly believe it!
Since I was sixteen I paid taxes and self-employed National Insurance, sometimes less than £5.00 a week. I glory in the profit motive that drives capitalism. In advance of any need we may individually have, profit means that anyone who works can pay taxes and contribute to Welfare Services that provide the basic goods and freedoms of our generous, humane and civil society. I support the social contract politics of our welfare state not only because I personally appear to receive more than I have given. Five years ago a letter came from The Pension Service telling me what I must do to receive the state pension that years of contributions to the tax pool entitled me too after my 60th birthday. The current state pension for a single person is £97.65 per week (which will increase next April as the link to earnings has been restored). For a self-employed artist to have a regular basic needs income, an earned delayed reward in the form of a state pension, a weekly payment come hell or pestilence, is paradisiacal. I have no money worries.
But I cannot shift my stomach pain. I go for a long walk. I feed on bland food. I interrogate myself. I cannot be anxious about the cost of a plumber to fix the overflow because I fixed it myself after I went to Nu-Line, our local DIY store, and got a youth to give me an over-the-counter lesson on flush valves. I am certainly not anxious that wind blew down the stand of carefully tended delphiniums in our communal garden because a single spear survives like a flash of lapis lazuli. Nor am I anxious that my plan to make summer pudding for friends is stymied because, despite 63 varieties of bread on market stalls and in delicatessens on Portobello Road, I cannot find a loaf of brioche – Mrs Beeton’s recipe recommends sponge cake.
Returning home from Tesco’s I see neighbourhood artist Colette Morey De Morand cycle past, her crash helmet swooshed with red like one of her fine abstract paintings. An e-mail invitation from Mathew Flowers announces an exhibition of paintings, ‘Interiors Of A Kind’, by Derek Hurst, one of my macho tutors at Central College of Art in the 1960’s. His abstract paintings are very pretty and decorative (I smile to myself). I remember Hurst remarking that having to teach us students made him a ‘Sunday painter’ but, anyway, ‘painting is dead!’ I did not believe him. He is an old man now, still painting. I am painting, figuratively. I am sitting before my painting ‘Hours Of Happiness’. There is absolutely nothing, nothing in my perfectly resolved life to cause me anxiety. And yet, I feel as if I have shards of glass piercing my guts.
Three more days have passed. I lie on the floor trying to relax, emptying my mind. I have started to worry that the pain is serious and it would be sensible to go to the doctor and arrange an abdominal scan.
Then, at last, I admonish myself for not getting sooner to the epicentre of the pain. My self-interrogation so far has not been dishonest exactly, but evasive. Looking for and then discounting trivial impingements has only delayed what I know I must confront. This pain, this gut ache, has everything to do with my painting.
Now I am afraid. To cure my illness I must do battle with myself; a dangerous undertaking that I cannot be sure will have a positive outcome, this time. To rid myself of physical pain I must mentally confront the most elemental aspect of my consciousness, the essence of what I imagine myself to be. I feel my sense of self lose traction with reality. I am slipping towards infinite blackness, a pit of such grave hideousness that I will never escape. I am restraining a surge of violent raw energy that I recognise as a primal retaliatory reaction, how the animal in me responds in the face of threat. I am being threatened by my painting. I look at ‘Hours Of Happiness’ in horror. I am overwhelmed by an impulse to destroy five months work. Destroy the painting! Destroy all my paintings! Heat from the burning pyre of my work, flames crackling through canvases piled high, is so real I feel my cheeks burn. To immolate my work is to immolate myself – I am my work. I can barely breath. A substance of dense darkness closes around me, blocking out all the lightness of summer.
I am trying to stay rational. I laugh at myself, furious with pain and exhaustion. I lie on my back flat on the floor, trying to take control of my thoughts to maintain my sanity (I know I can, I have done it a thousand times).
Paintings that I will paint in future, on a written list, are like milestones marking out a secure way ahead. This structured painting plan frees my mind to consider spontaneous ideas like… It was last winter on a dark afternoon as I was finishing painting for the day that ‘Hours Of Happiness’ began forming in my mind. As I drew the studio curtains against the cold outside I felt a longing for sunlight. Summer, pleasure, leisure – ideas occurred to me that I immediately put to use.
I remembered images that have formed in layers over the first pictures embedded in my mind, the framed under glass original pictures that hung on the walls at school, water colours and gouaches of ballet costumes and set designs by Alexander Benoise, Leon Baksk and Natalia Gontcharova. I recall jewel-like colours, gold and silver, the purposeful sense of body movement suggested by bold line, sparkling and sumptuous characters dancing out the drama of life. I remembered people in hot, tropical places: Armide, Prince Igor, Raymonda, Firebird, Daphnis, Choloe, Petrushka… people at market fairs and festivals and at play in parks. I thought of places I have been to: playing in the sand at Broadstairs below towering chalk cliffs, boating on the lake in Hyde Park, floating on a lilo in Lindos bay, diving through forests of fan coral in the Caribbean sea. I remembered carefree happiness that I began to compose into my painting. And in answer to my question ‘How have artists captured pleasure?’ my mind flickered through Suzanne Valadon’s ‘The Casting of the Net’, her triple nude portrait of her young lover on a Corsican beach; the Birth of Venus paintings of Alexandre Cabanel and William Bouguereau; George Seurat’s bathing places and parks; the luxe, calm and volupte of Henri Matisse’s South of France; Jane Gravrol’s surrealist view down into a vulva-phallic rock pool. In the middle of last winter I imagined an entirely happy and free Arcadian world of joyous love and hedonism, a pastoral idyll of sensuality, an archetypal image of the summer holiday I would fix for all time. This idea made me feel very happy and the title ‘Hours of Happiness’ would refer not only to the subject but, I was sure, to how I would be as I worked on the painting.
With preparatory pencil sketches I began putting the painting together. I composed my peopled seascape over formal Euclidian geometry inside what would be the 122 x 153cm proportions of my canvas, a sky/sea horizon line about a third of the way down. Rather than a single block of action drawing the viewer’s eye to one arresting focal point I wanted my composition to lead viewers eyes outwards as if the action in the painting extended panoramically beyond the picture frame. I composed not one main action but clusters of actions, a patterned arrangement spread across the surface plane in regular steps structured by the mathematics of the golden section. I want to convey air, natural light and movement. People stroll, they play, sail, paraglide, swim and sunbathe. I intend the children and adults in the sea and on the beach to be integrated with nature, to express an ecstatic contact with nature to enhance their human identity and complexity. To suggest a transcendental dimension of seemingly infinite space and vastness I compose tiny anonymous figures in the distance. To pull the eye outwards and upwards I composed leaping figures along the lines of slanting sunlight. And to keep the eye moving I composed triangles, points of three – three sea gulls, three beach balls – creating vertical elements across the three horizontals of sky, sea and land.
The foreground figures in the painting are not the hybrid beings, the hermaphrodite transsexuals and gender fused people I often paint to unsettle the patriarchal male v female binary - they are obviously female and male figures displaying themselves to us, the spectators, as people do to each other on the beach. And yet, they could also be blithely unaware of such display, as we usually are, arms above our heads, submitting ourselves to the sensuality of being naked, outside, at one with nature.
When I paint landscape I often use volcanic smoke to symbolise how bucolic pastoral can be shattered by natural disaster. At first, in ‘Hours Of Happiness’, mountains and wooded hills sloped to the sea and only a lazy tongue of smoke drifted from the crater of a dormant volcano. Then, in March, when the real world Iceland volcano Eyjufjallajokull erupted, I filled the sky of my painting with dark volcanic ash. These darkened clouds helped both with my light source and the idea I wanted to convey (if only to myself) of a seaside place not necessarily in the tropics but on the North Sea coast. Light now came from sun behind clouds, rimming the clouds with white and illuminating the foreground figures from behind so that they are almost in silhouette, their skin colour and cultural identity ambivalent. I am aware of the cultural diversity of my friends and how important it is that they are represented in my paintings. I have been trying to fuse painting of the past with my unique vision now, to make a unity between the painterly and the graphic. My design is not to be faithful to what I have seen but to make permanent a memory of a scene, to fix feelings of happiness into an immutable recuerdo, a remembrance, an icon of worship symbolising awe of life and exaltation.
If it appears that no politics or feminism informs this painting then this is a mistake. Pleasure is political. She is here, she lacks for nothing, she is whole. The woman reclining on the blue striped towel, the Venus of the Beach, she has worked, earned and paid for her own holiday. She has travelled abroad, maybe alone, she is reasonably safe alone on the beach, she can gaze at women and men for the sake of their youth and beauty, and for her desire and satisfaction she can treat them with her own money, pay for them to accompany her, she has earned her freedom and independence. She is on her mobile phone telling friends back home what a wonderful time she is having!
I feel dizzy and nauseous with pain. Nothing of five months work satisfies me anymore. I had expected great things but the painting has lost all its potential. It is only painting, unnecessary, insignificant, unwanted, useless. I am not able to find a single good word to say for myself. I try. It is no use. Nothing I have done is worth anything. My gut aches. In the garden two pairs of blackbirds are squawking territorial warnings to each other. I am humbled and bewildered to be so suddenly sabotaged by loss of hope. There is nothing the matter with me but shame and hurt ego. The painting has failed.
I will not get drunk, I will not use legal or illegal drugs to numb this pain. I will not be hysterical. I have to reason this through with my mind calm and collected. I must remain conscious and intelligent. All I must do to relieve this pain is to get my head in working order again. I must become ‘undevastated by uncertainty’. I must regain my nerve. I must believe that it is worth going through this Hell to get there.
My self-evaluation and scale of personal esteem has diverged too far from what I expected of myself. I have lost my equilibrium. The whole apparatus of my will has fallen apart. There is too big a discrepancy between my ideal and what in reality I can do. I am inadequate, devastated. I feel small, a limbless speck, not competent enough even to go to the garage for a carton of milk. I want to lift my arm to paint. The air is thick and dark. I move sluggishly.
I had been absorbed in my work unaware of my body except as the tool that performs the ideas that I make. The canvas size I usually use is practical, I can carry it arms out stretched and, when I am working at arms length from the canvas surface, the size is big enough so that I cannot see where it ends. I am in my painting, spit, sweat, and skin cells, eyelashes, hair and fingerprints. Up till now I have been unselfconsciously lost in the tactile pleasure of paint application, mixing, squeezing, brushing… to appear convincing the marks I make must be assiduously repeated until nothing but intentionality remains and they are just right, perfectly beyond alteration.
Now, three quarters of the way through the painting, I am standing back. To assess what more there is to do I ask myself: how is it going? I double over, aware of my body in acute pain. Sticking in my gut is ‘the knife of the perfectionist’. I am physically overwhelmed by the thought that one wrong decision now will ruin five months work. It is not the further work I am afraid of. From the start I was trained to work hard for future rewards. After ballet classes or rehearsals for public performances, as we took off sweat drenched tunics in the changing room, we did not consider ourselves worthy unless blood from our blistered toes stained our point shoes red. No, what I fear is how I will judge the outcome, and how I will be judged.
Destroy the painting now rather than make the effort to finish it! Destroy the painting now and I can prevent others from judging me failed, I can save face. This is the battle with my ego. The sudden crisis of confidence is anxiety that I am experiencing as pain. To win I must find my determined inner voice and drive myself forward out of this potentially catastrophic abyss. I tell myself just stop it!
Saturday: a Polish student, with enthusiastic charm, is doing a magnificent job of serving demanding customers in a busy Portobello Road café. My friend CM and I order a posh brunch treat. We settle CM’s five-year-old child beside us with colouring book and crayons to keep her occupied while we talk. This morning CM, who is capable of shifting a film crew and equipment across the most remote and inhospitable terrain, is wearing a delicate Liberty print blouse. She is telling me her news in a restrained manner, quite modestly. But as I begin to comprehend the significance of her story I want to cheer and dance on the table.
From the time, over twenty years ago, that CM began making documentaries, often under the aegis of the United Nations or the World Health Organisation, her object was to illustrate how Human Rights, education and pressure on government could change lives and reduce the horror of survival issues like child marriage, cholera, starvation, and Aids. Inevitably in Africa, whether it was Egypt or Uganda, she was confronted by female genital mutilation (FGM). Since woman’s liberation is part of her personal and political agenda she determined to make campaigning films against it. Eventually, despite winning awards, despite contributing to the law that made FGM illegal in UK (including taking UK nationals out of the country ‘on holiday’ for the sole purpose of FGM), CM came to realise that nothing, not close-up images of torture, not interviews with women brave enough to talk about and show their life destroying wounds, no marches or demonstrations, no pleading or demanding, nothing polite or rude was persuading Men Who Rule to abandon the abhorrent practice. Like so many long-time committed campaigners CM was caught between corporate media indifference and the protected voices of those who denounce anyone ‘interfering in our religion and our traditional culture’. I understood why, shocked and wearied by the relentless blood, heartache and death, she stepped back from filming in Africa.
The news is that several weeks ago CM got a call from a powerful woman entrepreneur who was organising an ‘End FGM’ conference in Kenya. Would CM be a key speaker? After a rush to digitalise her films CM was on the plane. Today CM seems won over again to the fight, ready to say to men, like the ones who came up to her at the conference physically sick weeping and wringing their hands, ”then what are you going to do about it?!” I touched her arm with a glad heart, laughing, feeding back to her what I hoped she believes: all the work she did in the past counts, all the films she made matter now, they give unimaginable hidden crimes real visibility, real presence in society, they contribute to breaking the socially coerced silence that allows the torture of women to flourish.
Back in my studio I tried not to completely lose my head. I jumped up and down, in actual inches perhaps one or two but psychologically I went up a mile. I was light-headed. Before we walked to the café, before I could stop her with some imperceptible diversion, CM was in the studio. I rather like for friends to visit me and so take for granted finished paintings and my stuff going on that they need not notice. On the other hand how they ‘see’ a work in progress and the comments they make can bring to my attention invaluable connections I have missed.
This morning CM stood in front of ‘Hours Of Happiness’ and said: “Oh, I like this!” Pop, I felt the burning twist in my gut spring undone! The stabbing pain was gone! Astonished by my body’s instant physical reaction I could not take the compliment with good manners. I muttered something, got off the subject of my painting, and ushered us all out of the house.
Flattery! Afternoon sunlight fills the room, shadows from the silver birch trees dance across the wall, I am in such good spirits. I do not want to cause this state of happiness to disappear by arguing with myself. I can bring myself down again by allowing my brain to slip off the moment and start analysing the sincerity of my friend’s flattery and whether it could be true. I do not care. CM said she liked my painting! And the pain in my gut is gone. Failure had been right before my eyes. It will not do to miss the chance to cling on to the lifeline of words CM has thrown me. In the morning I will take up my paintbrush again with a light heart – my mind knows exactly what I must do – repaint the sky a slightly darker tone of cobalt, for a start – more bright yellow, more foam in the waves.
I will keep going and take the consequences. I know I am doing my best. But I am not satisfied. I cry, I laugh and my monstrous ego demands: “how can you live in the knowledge that you have not painted the greatest painting ever painted?” I answer myself: live because only by living can anyone hope to do better. Refusing to adjust myself to my limited powers means I refuse to lose hope. Sanity is the ego climb-down that enables me to live and create while being both ferociously ambitious and facing up to what my talent enables me to achieve.
And the purpose of painting? The purpose of painting is only and always education and enjoyment to a greater or lesser degree. With my painting I hope to leave a record of a received vision of life to fulfil the need of rising generations to make sense of the world, my individual, idiosyncratic perspective. I am taking full advantage of enlightened hard won rights of free speech and equality; the purpose of my painting is to keep up the tradition of independent creative expression.
*Endnote: ‘Hours Of Happiness’ 2010 122x153cm oil on canvas. This painting is not yet professionally recorded – I have only my own studio photograph. The image is not in my web site Gallery yet because the above essay about process, what I have written about the psychological drive that enables me to finish a work, should be hidden, invisible or separate from how you view the painting. Primarily I would like my work to be considered and appreciated without reference to my work process or my biography. I will put the image of this painting in the Gallery in 2011.
June - July 2010
Drugs: the exorbitant social and financial cost of punishing pleasure.
When David Cameron and Nick Clegg expound coalition government policy on drugs they look and sound like cranks, at best. We know, even those of us who never took a joint or a line from either of them that these are men who used drugs for pleasure in our enlightened, liberal youth culture. Cameron and Clegg are functioning people protected by wealth and privileged who are oh so understanding and supportive when occasionally one of their kind needs legal services and expensive private medical interventions for addiction. In private both would agree with the recent Guardian leader: ‘In Britain and America, the war on drugs is now widely seen as a failure. Begin again by treating drug abuse like alcoholism and smoking – not as a matter of law and order but a question of public health.’* In public, however, Cameron and Clegg tell us, the common pleasure seeking people, that we must be criminalised, serve terms of imprisonment and have our lives ruined.But why do politicians need to maintain a hypocritical public façade? What is it about us, the British common people, preventing our anti-prohibition argument from having vote-catching traction? If there were votes in ending prohibition then surely Cameron and Clegg would put their private behaviour into political practice?
Is it that common people are not aware of, or outraged by, the cost of this war on drugs – which is not a war on drugs but a war on us? Do they not know what portion of our taxes goes on punishing people for dealing and taking drugs of pleasure? Are they unaware of the social cost of needlessly sending people to court and prison? And, if they knew, would they care? Is this the problem? The pleasure-indulging majority of people do not care about the damage and the waste that the war on drugs inflicts on us all? Or even worse, does criminalising people appeal to an atavistic human need to inflict punishment on others? Or, more optimistically, is it simply that the alternative to the war on drugs and prohibition has not been presented to people in a popular way?
These are questions I mulled over, yet again, with the solicitor Richard Parry. I first met Richard when we both spoke at the 2002 National Legalise Pot Demonstration in Trafalgar Square. He was a new anti-prohibitionist face on the scene with a lively, activist approach. He appealed to the thousands of demonstrators. He said he was getting together a group of criminal lawyers who would be prepared to challenge prohibition with legal strategies. He offered to provide free legal advice and representation to anyone arrested for any cannabis offence willing to plead NOT GUILTY rather than accept a caution or admit guilt. Since then Richard – who realised ever since he was a history student at University of London that our drug laws were wrong – has defended hundreds of cannabis dealers and users. Pioneering the ‘medical necessity’ defence he has taken cases to the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights.
Richard Parry is on the front line. For him, the social and financial cost of prohibition is not academic. Every day, like solicitors all over the word, he tries his best, face-to-face, to support non-violent people crushed and ruined by the criminalising prison system that drug-using politicians like Cameron and Clegg hypocritically maintain.
In Britain this year more than 10,000 people arrested for drug offences will be given immediate prison sentences averaging 3 years**. It costs taxpayers about £41,000 per annum to keep a person locked up.
“But what does it cost us taxpayers to take non-violent drug dealers or drug users through court, the tens of thousands who do not receive prison sentences?” I asked Richard.
“It could be estimated in money” he replied. “For each court appearance there are average legal aid fees of £600 to £700, there are court costs of about £300 to £400. Then, if you are not using legal aid, or say, you take the case to appeal, then you are talking a minimum of £3,000. Then there are the police time costs of ‘street cautions’, cautions and the rest… But” he continued, “the social costs are far worse. When someone is sent to prison for a cannabis offence, be it non-violent selling or merely personal use, the repercussions are dreadful.”
To make this point I asked Richard Parry to describe just three of his recent or current cases to highlight the iniquity of our punitive and disproportionate drug laws:
Mr A is a 45-year-old who has never been in trouble with the police. Police stop him in the street. He panics and runs because he has a few ounces of cannabis resin on him. He is arrested and admits he imported it for his own use from India where he lives happily for half the year with his wife and 2 young children. He is charged and because he is not a permanent resident in UK he is held in custody. He pleads guilty at court next morning, but is sent to the Crown Court for sentence. He spends 3 weeks in prison while his wife and family do what they can to help him, supplying character references and arranging expensive legal representation. The Prosecution accepts that 7 imported ounces is a small amount but the Judge says it was not insignificant and gives an 8 months prison sentence. An appeal is lodged within days but his family’s life and business is shattered. On appeal the sentence is reduced to 3 months and because Mr A has already served that amount of time in prison he is immediately released.
Mr C is a 65-year-old who suffers from 80% burns and is severely disabled. He smokes cannabis for his chronic pain. He has other friends who are medical users so they club together and buy larger amounts, as it is cheaper. He is raided and arrested. The police find a small grow room and cannabis all over the house. Mr C runs a ‘medical necessity’ defence, but the Court of Appeal outlaws this and he is advised to plead guilty. He strenuously denies commercial dealing, but the Prosecution demand confiscation of his only asset – the equity in the house he has lived in for the last 20 years. The Magistrates throw him in jail for 12 months for non-payment of this equity; his appeal is rejected. In jail his condition continues to deteriorate. Notwithstanding his prison sentence for non payment, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 the equity debt remains. If a Receiver is appointed to sell the house to raise this money, Mr C will have nothing to come out of prison to but the Homeless Persons Unit.
Mr J is a 40 year old who had a business selling hydroponics equipment; he also sold cannabis seeds and a book on how to grow cannabis. All entirely legal. He submitted tax returns. He displayed a large sign over the counter: ‘Please do not ask for advice on how to grow cannabis it is illegal (sic)’. But the police send in an undercover man (with a secret camera and audio device) to buy equipment and ask for advice on how to grow cannabis. Immediately Mr J points to the sign and says he can only give advice on growing tomatoes. None of the conversation recorded over the following few days mentions cannabis. However Mr J is convicted of incitement to produce cannabis and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment. He is forced to abandon his business. But this is not enough for the Prosecution, they argue that his business turnover is the ‘proceeds of crime’ and demand over £400,000 and 4 years imprisonment in default. By the time the case reaches appeal (last month) Mr J has served his prison sentence – the appeal is refused.
Compared to the horror of drug users executed by the Chinese government or violent drug lords funding Jamaican politicians or British soldiers dying in Afghanistan in a futile mission to eradicate much needed medical heroin, Richard Parry’s life-destroying cases are ordinary, normal, in our courts everyday.
But, even when common people understand all this and are outraged by the social and financial cost, what seems to be holding back a People’s Uprising against prohibition is the way anti-prohibition arguments are presented.
In Britain, the tepid anti-prohibitionist argument which calls for ‘harm reduction’ and ‘better ways to reduce the harm’ of cannabis fails to arouse much popular support because the policy is always messed up in anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol cant. Anti-prohibitionists who say that tobacco and alcohol are ‘more dangerous’ and cause ‘more harm’ than cannabis are talking irrelevant science and unethical, unprincipled nonsense.
The campaigning organisation Transform, set up in Bristol in1996, now wants to promote ‘sustainable health and wellbeing by bringing about a just, effective and humane system to regulate and control drugs at local, national and international levels’. Here is what the organisation has to say about alcohol: ‘For alcohol policy to have an effective future it is clear that potentially very unpopular decisions will have to be made that will involve increasing regulation and heavy restrictions on all aspects of marketing and promotions.’
And this is what Transform proposes for cannabis: ‘A key task of any regulatory body would be to manage supply so as to prevent the emergence of branded products and limit all forms of profit driven marketing and promotions.’***
In fact puritan, Stalinist campaigners like Transform have helped to destroy the liberal, permissively social cannabis culture of the 1960’s. Luckily tax paying common people will never support authoritarian so-called anti-prohibitionists who are contributing to the decline of the British pub and have already stymied any prospect of a cannabis café culture. The British anti-prohibition argument would gain popular appeal if it were presented as a principled, liberal, inclusive case for all pleasure giving drugs.
The American anti-prohibition scene is more appealing, not least because it embraces fair-traders who enjoy marketing. But still the argument problematically revolves around ‘medical cannabis’. In the USA millions of common people, a people’s Popular Uprising, have created convivial, playful medical cannabis ‘dispensaries’ and ‘clinics’. But many of us are uneasy that ‘medical cannabis’ is being promoted as a pathological norm that threatens to render illegitimate and abject all pleasure and recreational uses of the drug.
I object to having my pleasure use of cannabis masked from police by ‘medical cannabis’ for, while the ploy is a fun façade that cocks a snook at prohibition law it also turns me into a dishonest person. We need to oppose prohibition without embracing ‘medical cannabis’ as the exclusive or most highly valued use of the drug.
Meanwhile Cameron and Clegg warn us that the axe is falling on government spending, including spending taxpayers money on police, courts and prisons. Maybe ‘austerity’ will reduce the number of people arrested, imprisoned and ruined by our drug laws in the name of punishing pleasure. Lets hope so because the present situation is, as Richard Parry says “a monstrous insanity”.
*Guardian, Saturday 22nd May 2010
** Ministry of Justice Statistics: England and Wales 2008 (the number of drug offenders sentenced – 52,911 – in 2009 was up by 18.9% from 2007)
*** ‘After the War On Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation’ Transform Drug Policy Foundation 2009
April – May 2010
The Art of Stamps. Royal Mail's Rock 'n' Roll stamp collection, Women and Black Artists AWOL, continued:
Why were only white male musicians featured in the Royal Mail's collection of 10 rock 'n' roll classic album stamps? The patriarchal explanation for why women are absent from collections of excellence is stark: women are not as good as men. Even Camille Paglia, who has been called a feminist, argues from a female essentialist position that women's wombs sap us of the drive that is required to make humans excel: men don't have wombs and therefore men have the drive to be great. My kind of feminism profoundly disagrees with this patriarchal, constructed idea of biological male superiority. However it has been very difficult to propose 10 album covers of women musicians comparable to the album covers chosen by Royal Mail. Here are some of the socio-political explanations why:
1. Misogyny in the British music press and music industry, which amounted to a closed shop against women musicians, meant that compared to thousands of young men comparatively few women musicians joined or formed rock 'n' roll groups. When women did join or form groups, confronted by the macho closed shop they found it very difficult to get heard, signed, promoted, or encouraged and therefore becoming economically viable was difficult. Hence, few of the British woman musicians who did have the guts to brake with sexist tradition and create music or join bands survived for long enough to have comparable success or to make as many albums as male musicians.
2. The second wave of Women's Liberation that began in the late 1960's purposefully to challenge and destroy the white male closed shop, gained force in the 1970's. In Britain this should have been a socio-political platform upon which women musicians could make a stand for their art. Paradoxically, in the 1970's Women's Liberation in Britain was informed by aspects of puritan leftism that acted against women's struggle for economic independence and success. Unlike in USA where capitalism is lauded, in Britain capitalism has been challenged if not despised, especially in anti-establishment arts culture, including rock 'n' roll. Recently American voters have been demanding more 'socialism' and the British left has had to modify its contempt for entrepreneurial profit to talk of 'fair trade'. But in the 1970's the British left was anti profit and anti consumption. Just when it looked like a critical mass of British women musicians were matching their male contemporaries in the punk rock era, there was leftist economics sabotaging their progress. Unlike their American counterparts, many British woman musicians failed to sell and make a profit from their work because of their antipathy to capitalist business and marketing.
3. Because the decorative aspect of female is privileged in patriarchy - in fact 'beauty' is the only aspect of female that is privileged in patriarchy - very few woman musicians have been able to work against the sexist grain and commission album art which is not about female 'beauty' portraits and decorativeness. On the other hand, the glamorous body skills that women have perfected through the ages means that when asked to be subjects in album cover art women can be exceptionally artful, creative and decorative. As Carol Dyhouse says ‘It is important to remember that women practice glamour, they are not simply the objects of the male gaze  Glamour can represent self-assertion, sexual confidence, playfulness, pleasure and delight.’ But portraits of living people other than the Queen, however glamorous, are not allowed on British stamps.
4. Despite laws against sexual harassment being passed since 1975 women have had to expend mental and physical energy negotiating the industrial hazard of sexist hostility, often violent, in male dominated workspaces, energy that most women would rather have spent on creativity and career advancement.
5. Leftist anti competition and anti elitism – anti the struggle to be The Best - fed into patriarchal propaganda that indoctrinates women with the notion of female second-rateness, a learned psychological state of inferiority that suppresses innate motivation and drive and is very difficult to overcome. Young men who form bands cover their initial lack of skilled musicianship with a bravado 'don't care' front. In the punk era young men made a public art of three chords while in private they rehearsed hard to develop complexity and technique. But many of the young women musicians I interviewed in the 1970’s seemed to take at face value the false belief that skill is unnecessary and that improvisation will do - they seemed unwilling or unable to compete with male musicians and woe betide the woman - that would be ‘lady’ – who admitted to Ambition. Dumbing down in the name of egalitarianism acted against women achieving comparable musical skills to their male contemporaries. This learning to loose mentality was quite tellingly expressed by ex-Slits guitarist Viv Albertine on BBC Radio 4 recently: 'I wasn't really influenced by say Janice Joplin or Grace Slick, people who went before, because a) they had too much talent and I couldn't even conceive of myself being in their league  let's get rid of all this trying to be rich, trying to be a star...'
In the past oppressive patriarchal practices within the family and in education helped to assign women their social positions and even convinced some women that they desired the subservient positions they were assigned. But since the 1980's the struggle to combat sexism in the classroom has gained force and teachers are giving female children a confident sense of themselves as people for whom striving for the highest attainments is legitimate. To-day the exclusion and barriers against women musicians, including what Helen Reddington describes as 'sophisticated tensions between representing womankind, the realities of press hostility and the exaggerated focus of being a novelty female', are breaking down, especially since on the World Wide Web there cannot be white male gatekeepers. (Women sing 13 of the all time top twenty songs of the 10 billion downloaded from iTunes.)
Given the patriarchal strategies of exclusion that confronted women in the past it is remarkable and heroic that so many women created so much great music. After years of struggle it is now normal for 50% of chart music to be created by women. To work as a stamp album cover art has to be conceptual and pictorial rather than literal and graphic. You can’t have ‘hair and make-up’ portraits or band names in big lettering which is too much like advertising. In future we will have as much female as male conceptual album art to choose from. Meanwhile, here are some albums covers by women and black musicians, art that would work as stamps, that Royal Mail could have chosen:
Yazoo 'You And Me Both', Miranda Sex Garden 'Suspiria', Siouxsie and the Banshees 'Nocturn', The Raincoats ‘The Raincoats’, MIA 'Kala', Sundays 'Reading, Writing and Arithmetic', Voodoo Queens 'Chocolate Revenge', Goldie 'Saturnz Return', Sneaker Pimps 'Becoming X', Girlschool 'Demolition', Sinead O'Connor 'Universal Mother', Elkie Brooks 'Pearls', Helen Love 'Radio Hits Vol.3', Rubella Ballet 'Greatest Trips', Blue Roses 'Blue Roses', Courtney Pine 'Resistance', Aswad ‘Aswad’, Linton Quasi Johnson ‘Bass Culture’, Kate Bush ‘Aerial’, Eurythmics ‘In The Garden’, P J Harvey ‘Dry’, Soul 11 Soul ‘Vol.11: 1990 – A New Decade’, Fairport Convention 'Unhalfbricking', Sade 'Soldier of Love'...
Notes: 'Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickenson' Camille Paglia, New Haven, Yale University Press 1990. 'The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Rock Era' Helen Reddington, London, Ashgate, 2007. 'Learning to Lose: Sexism and Education' Dale Spender and Elizabeth Sarah eds, The Women's Press, London 1980. ‘Glamour: Women, History, Feminism’ Carol Dyhouse, Zed Books, London 2010. ’Women of the New Wave' BBC Radio 4, Sunday 14 March 2010. Apple News, 25th February 2010.
Thank you to Cazz Blase, Suzette Newman and Joan Smith for album cover art suggestions.
March – April 2010
Art and Rock ‘n’ Roll Stamps – Women and Black artists AWOL!
When Pennie Smith first looked at the contact sheet of photographs she took of The Clash at The Palladium, New Your City, on 21st September 1979, she dismissed one particular frame as being too out of focus. She knew The Clash well through her lenses. Like all photographers who study their subjects she always looked out for those signature movements that define a band’s character and stage presence – Patti Smith throwing her head back to scream, Bob Marley shaking out his dread locks, Pete Townshend and his arm whirr. Paul Simonon had begun clunking his Fender Precision bass like a hammer into stages. His new move would make a great shot if all was ‘right’ – lighting, focus and frame. At first Pennie Smith didn’t think she had it. Sometimes artists have such a firm idea in their minds of the image they want it takes a while to see what they actually have. Pennie Smith had to be persuaded that, despite what she considered to be technically ‘wrong’, the photo she had taken of Simonon using his bass as a hammer was one of the most iconic rock ‘n’ roll photographs of all time. It became the cover to ‘London Calling’ and it is now one of the stamps in Royal Mail’s Rock ‘n’ Roll LP Cover Stamp Collection. For the sake of rock ‘ n’ roll the Queen has broken with tradition and for the first time allowed living people on stamps – an honour which goes to Paul Simonon, and David Bowie on the cover of ‘Rise and Fall of Ziggie Stardust and The Spiders From Mars’. As well as The Clash and David Bowie the Royal Mail’s chosen 10 are Mike Oldfield ‘Tubular Bells’, Pink Floyd ‘The Division Bell’, Blur ‘Park Life’, Coldplay ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, Rolling Stones ‘Let It Bleed’, New Order ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’, Led Zeppelin ‘1V’, and Primal Scream ‘Screamadelicia’. The stamps are deliciously cute with vinyl discs ‘emerging’ from the edges but, what a line-up of white male musicians!
To live up to what Royal Mail calls its ‘reputation for showing the richness and diversity of British heritage and culture’ Julietta Edgar, Head of Special Stamps, should have ensured that album covers of women and black musicians were included. But choosing album covers of women and black musicians is difficult, a symptom of commercial and cultural exclusion which is only recently evaporating. To work as a stamp album cover art has to be conceptual and pictorial rather than literal and graphic. You can’t have ‘hair and make-up’ portraits or band names in big lettering which is too like advertising – which rules out Shirley Bassey ‘Something Else’, The Spice Girls ‘Spice’ or Amy Whinehouse ‘Back to Black’. Neither does murky darkness work – which rules out Siouxsie and The Banshees ‘The Scream’ or Joan Armatrading ‘Back to the Night’. And of course, no nudity – which rules out The Slits ‘Cut’.
Which album covers of women and black artists would you choose to add richness and diversify to the Royal Mail’s next Rock ‘n’ Roll LP Cover Stamp Collection? Albums I came up with are Aswad ‘Aswad’, Fairport Convention 'Unhalfbricking', Linton Quasi Johnson ‘Bass Culture’, Kate Bush ‘Aerial’, The Raincoats ‘The Raincoats’, Eurythmics ‘In The Garden’, P J Harvey ‘Dry’, Soul 11 Soul ‘Vol.11: 1990 – A New Decade’…
Thursday 4th March - Peaceful Demonstration outside the Malaysian Embassy, 45 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QT (nearest Tubes - Hyde Park Corner/Sloan Square) from 1pm to 3pm. Similar Actions will take place in Paris, USA and Vienna prior to the UN Drug Policy Summit from 8th to 12 March 2010. Many of us continue to be outraged by the fact that there are estimated 300 people on Death Row in Malaysian goals principally for drug offences, including many accused of trafficking relatively small amounts of cannabis. Judges have no choice under Malaysian law but to sentence those convicted of trafficking to mandatory death by hanging...the sharp end of prohibition and the iniquitous war on drugs!
January - February 2010
Drugs, Science and Horse Riding on Ecstasy.
Will there be any progress in 2010 towards ending drug prohibition? What surprised me most last year in the Professor David Nutt v Home Secretary Alan Johnson spat was the way organisations like Transform and Release jumped to Nutt’s defence. After all Nutt like Johnson is a prohibitionist. Nutt was chairman of the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) when government took their advice to add ketamine to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a class C drug with a prison sentence for possession of up to 5 years. In fact, government accepted all Nutt’s ACMD recommendations (94, I believe) except just the one he is in such a paddy about – his recommendation that cannabis should not be re-classified as a class B drug but stay in class C. How any reputable scientist can recommend that people in possession of cannabis should be sent to prison beats me. I do not believe any of the scientists on the ADCM can be reputable since they surely knew when they were recruited that their purpose was to advise government on how best to enact prohibition. Most reputable people know that prohibition is an extremely harmful and expensive failure. The ACMD’s support of prohibition and the imprisonment of cannabis users and dealers in the UK is one end of the prohibition scale that has state murder of alleged heroin smugglers in China at the other. If Professor Nutt, and those scientist colleagues who resigned in protest at his sacking, had any reputations to protect they would have forsworn the flattery of having Government Advisor attached to their names and made an honest critique of prohibition, the legal process that has ruined many more lives than the drugs it affects to prohibit. It was dishonest of Nutt to criticise government in the most floridly facile terms and on such a minor and insignificant detail of prohibition. Of course the Home Secretary had to sack Prof Nutt, for his stupidity if nothing else.
David Nutt is a great nuisance. The ‘scientific’ and ‘rational scale’ he is promoting ‘to assess the harm of drugs’ has done nothing but add to the general scary-drug phobia. Nutt has assisted people like Liberal Democrat shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne who cites the ‘rational scale’ which puts tobacco and alcohol near the top, when saying that had tobacco and alcohol been invented to-day they would be prohibited. When leading liberals use Nutt’s kind of ‘science’ to justify prohibition and a puritan intolerance of pleasure then any idea that there will be a more rational way of regulating social drugs is way off.
Scientists like David Nutt who are toiling in the prohibition industry miss the point. It is not drugs per say that cause harm – what can cause harm is the way drugs are used. When Nutt says ‘there is not much difference between horse riding and ecstasy' or when he states that ecstasy is no more dangerous than horse riding, he just sounds nutty. Any fool knows that sober children riding ponies in a paddock are less dangerous than bus drivers stoned on ecstasy down Oxford Street.
Nutt’s silly unscientific analogy prompted me to take a look at the science used to come up with his ‘rational scale’ of drug harms. I discovered that he unfortunately misused the Delphic Analysis Method. Even when used properly this method is a creative effort and not a scientific process. Properly constructed the Delphic Method is a communication device to combat groupthink. Professor Nutt and his colleagues misused the method to reinforce groupthink about prohibition. The ‘rational scale’ that Nutt recommends to government is no better than the classifications in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 that he condemns as having ‘seemingly little scientific basis’.*
I won’t be jumping to Professor Nutt’s defence until he stops hiding behind ‘science’ in the prohibition industry and instead states clearly that adults who use drugs for pleasure are not a ‘harm’ but a benefit to themselves and society. If Nutt is concerned about harms of excess then he must state clearly that it is not criminalising and imprisonment but licensing and control that is the rational way forward to protect individuals and society. Meanwhile, a bracing New Year canter across the South Downs on Ecstasy seems very appealing to me…
* ‘Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse’ Prof David Nutt FMedSci, Leslie A King PhD, William Saulsbury MA, Prof Colin Blakemore FRS. The Lancet, Volume 369, Issue 9566, Pages 1047 – 1053, 24th March 2007
Calling Women Whores... up-date:
Two women a week are killed in their own homes in ‘domestic violence attacks’. The cry ‘Nanny State!’ goes up whenever government takes a lead on social issues. But when we refuse to recognise the extent to which personal behaviour in private can cost taxpayers’ substantial sums then authority in the form of government is right to take a stand.
A recent NSPCC report* has found that a third of teenage girls suffer unwanted sexual acts in relationships. A quarter of 13 to 17-year-olds in relationships report physical violence such as being slapped, punched, or beaten by their boyfriends. Girls from families where there has been violence towards them are at greater risk. For boys, having a violent group of friends makes it more likely that they will be violent in relationships.
One of the NSPCC report’s authors, Professor David Berridge, said: ‘The high rate and harmful impact of violence in teenagers' intimate relationships, especially for girls, is appalling. It was shocking to find that exploitation and violence in relationships starts so young. This is a serious issue that must be given higher priority by policy makers and professionals.’
The social behaviour government is now addressing, albeit obliquely, in a more invasive way than ever before is sexual violence and sexist verbal abuse in the home. To do this government plans, in 2011, to teach children from the age of five how to prevent violent relationships – non-violent relationship education. (This plan co-insides with a chorus of United Nations officials calling on the international community to make greater efforts to tackle the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.) But why is government putting yet another burden on teachers? Well, obviously, it is easier for government to access the public space of schools than to tell adults how to behave in private. In school, children act out behaviour seen at home. So it is really by stopping adults being violent in the privacy of their own homes that will reduce children acting out violence and sexual abuse amongst their peers.
Too many adults have been deaf to forty years of second wave feminist campaigns against violence in the home. We have had some effect. But the obdurate refusal of adults to address endemic humiliation of women continues. Unreconstructed men, like those who write and read Lad Culture media, have resisted change, allowed sexist whore-language to flourish and have promoted the normalisation of sexual violence ‘fantasy’. Too many men have refused to take responsibility for teaching their boy children how to be modern. Too many adults, in the privacy of their own homes, are refusing to take responsibility for their own violence and misogyny. Teach the adults, don’t blame the children!
*NSPCC and University of Bristol, 1st September 2009
Exploiting whores: The Hoerengracht by Ed and Nancy Kienholtz (1983-8) at the National Gallery until February 21 2010
This is an interesting art installation. It is 'an exploration of the theme of love for sale', but with no male-dummy buyers amoung the female-dummies selling sex the installation risks accusations of sexism. It is presented merely as crowd-pulling titillation. Curator Colin Wiggins says the National Gallery is exhibiting the work to ‘trip people up, knock them on the head, hit them with something that’s radical and dangerous’. I wonder why he thinks whores are dangerous? Instead of walking through a dummy mock-up of Amsterdam’s red-light district I suggest that to be really radical you should walk down a corridor of Holloway Prison and gawk at real women prostitute ‘criminals’ sitting in grey prison cells.
October – November 2009
Rape: Calling Women Whores… an update.
The scandal of rape continues – according to government estimates 95% of rapes in England and Wales are never reported. However, as Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Kings College, has been saying for years, no more changes in the law will help to reduce the incidence of rape or make a difference to rape reporting and conviction rates. What will make a difference is a systematic onslaught on male attitudes to women (attitudes which many women mimic) including pillorying men who believe that women’s sexuality can be attacked. At the moment the only women who are not likely to be blamed for being raped are female babies and women over the age of 70. Misogynistic attitudes to women are responsible for the small number of rape cases that reach court. Shame on all those like Robert Harris (author) and Bernard Kouchner (Foreign Minister of France) who are revealing their misogyny by leaping to the defence of a film producer (43 years old at the time) who groomed a thirteen year old in photo sessions, drugged her, raped her vaginally and anally and then shouted ‘she asked for it’! As a result of government concern Harriet Harman has appointed crossbench peer Lady Vivien Stern to examine the way rape complaints are managed. Lady Stern believes that police bad management of rape reports and gross negligence in regard to forensic evidence in rape cases is partly responsible for the low conviction rate. Her report, The Stern Review, will be published early next year.
Painting: Mr Olympia - an interview with Jonathan Stockwell for his art history (University of Sussex) final dissertation on ‘Visual and Literary Explorations and Critiques of the Social Constructions of Masculinity and Femininity, through depictions of men in both a feminist and erotic context.’*
Jonathon Stockwell: The first thing I wanted to ask you is whether you feel that your painting Mr Olympia could be used to serve an erotic function for women?
Caroline Coon: It could serve an erotic function, but I’m not saying that that’s the reason I painted it, because after all, I could have painted a pair of shoes or a sword, and for some people, that would be an erotic function. So I’m not painting it necessarily as an erotic function, although I am painting it as a woman looking at a beautiful body, for admiration and delectation. It’s a very interesting question: are you actually drawing erotic pornography or are you just doing a painting out of sheer admiration for beauty? And I have to say as a matter of fact, many great artists from Rembrandt and Rubens right the way through to Jean Cocteau and David Hockney have earned a lot of money drawing specifically erotic drawings. To date women artists haven’t had the benefit of that aspect of earning a living. At least, I’ve never actually been paid money to paint an erotic painting.
JS: Do you think it’s possible for a pornography to be developed by women that would serve women’s sexual desires to the same extent that traditional pornography serves men’s?
CC: Yes of course women can develop traditional pornography, but like any other subject it’s not a pornography, it’s pornographies, because different women are going to be turned on, made hard by different things. So this one genre ‘woman’ has never existed. For instance, as a woman I might be creating erotic images for other women who like to make love to women. There’s a lot of hidden erotica painted by homosexual artists, or men who are maybe bisexual or have a predilection for other men, that’s not obvious. In other words, many homosexual artists have to hide their sexuality, so you can’t necessarily tell from looking at the image what effect the artist wanted it to have. As an artist painting an image, I have no control or power over how that image is going to be used.
JS: That’s interesting because a quite a central part of what I’m writing about is how there isn’t this concept of ‘woman’, just women - that it’s really just a social construction.
CC: There’s a lot of feminist theory around the ‘male gaze’ that I contest - the hypothetical ‘woman’ walking around a gallery being outraged by all the absolutely exquisitely beautiful women being painted by men. Where is the feminist theory about women who actually want to make love to women, who walk around galleries and gaze at and absolutely adore all the beautiful images of women? So I quite challenge this idea of the ‘male’ gaze as being a) exclusive to men, and b) a bad thing.
JS: In the seventies, Laura Mulvey said that women are the bearers of meaning and men are the makers of it. Do you feel that by depicting men as sex objects, you are turning them into bearers of meaning made by women?
CC: There’s two things here: first of all, if I paint the idealised man - an Adonis - that man is not the object of my painting, he is the subject of my painting. Secondly, should I objectify a man, well, to me it’s never been the issue of whether we objectify this or that. If I paint a picture of a man’s torso as an object, the issue would be ‘how am I going to treat that object?’ If I was going to paint a vase, an absolutely beautiful blue and white vase, as an object, the issue would be ‘am I now going to want to smash that vase?’ So to me, artists’ objectifying humans or nature is not the issue. It’s what the artist then has the power to do to that object. I don’t think that’s been drawn out from those arguments. The patriarchal argument is that ‘anything beautiful has to be available to me, and if it’s not available to me, I’m going to destroy it, to make sure it’s not available to anybody else’. I have seen no evidence that ninety per cent of male artists have wanted to destroy the women they paint. Especially looking back to the Manet portrait of Olympia, he was perfectly aware that his model, Victorine Meurent, was a working class woman who was an artist herself. So this is a woman who has no access to funds, who is supporting herself doing work that is available to her, modelling. So he is aware of that, and I think that it’s an absolutely wonderful portrait of this woman. I see no malice in that painting at all. So I paint my Mr. Olympia, recognising that I have male models that I love, and am perfectly aware that they are very happy to have the funds that I give them. So there’s no derogatory inference in what I’m doing. The bad inferences stem from orthodox patriarchal readings of paintings like Olympia. Why, every time patriarchy sees a nude woman in a painting, do they call her a prostitute?
JS: So do you feel that with his erect penis - you’re obviously celebrating male beauty with that image…
CC: Well not quite - he’s almost…to have done him blatantly erect would have been too hot. Have you come across the word ‘ithyphallus’?
JS: I haven’t.
CC: It’s a great word here, because we don’t want to necessarily talk about erect penises so we? So ithyphallus is the Latin for erect penis, I quite like using that word. In Mr Olympia he is not so erect that it actually dominates the picture. But to me as a woman, in my heterosexual moments, I actually think that the erect phallus is wonderful, utterly beautiful. The erect phallus is something I’m going to draw into myself. And therefore when I paint an erect penis it’s through absolute awe of a life-giving force. And I would like women to admire that too. Why my work was so controversial in the sixties and seventies was firstly because in patriarchy women are not allowed to enjoy sex and secondly because it was thought that if you are a feminist you should hate the penis. And I absolutely, fundamentally, disagreed.
JS: So I understand the Tate refused to hang the painting on the grounds of this ithyphallus, and I was wondering if you thought this had anything to do with perhaps their fear or anxiety of seeing an intimate image of a man created by a woman?
CC: Actually it’s very funny because they had done an exhibition at the Tate called Venus - this was in the eighties when you’d have thought they’d be more conscious - and they had a whole art gallery full of images of naked women. And I think suddenly they realised quite what a patriarchal statement this was. They did a kind of education pack, where they wanted to offset their male theme of naked women with images of naked men. They saw a tiny transparency of my Mr Olympia and they thought it would be an ideal painting to include. It was only when they enlarged the picture that they realised how intimate it was! That’s when they decided it was too shocking.
JS: So they wanted intimate images but perhaps not that intimate!
CC: Yes exactly. In other words it was perfectly acceptable to have every kind of intimate detail of female anatomy, but the minute that you had male anatomy that could possibly arouse women, that was going to be a problem. And I have to say that it’s also a problem for men. I loved Anthony Easthope’s book, What a Man’s Got To Do. It’s a wonderful dissertation about why men are so terrified of images of the erect penis, because it destabilises their sexuality. In patriarchy there are only two forms of sexuality allowed: female or male heterosexuality. If you see an erect penis, it is actually a very potent sexual image and even if you think that you are heterosexual you could be slightly turned on by an erect penis?
JS: Yes that’s certainly possible.
CC: Exactly, and therefore an erect penis destabilises what is allowed of male sexuality in the patriarchy. In other words, homosexuality/homoeroticism absolutely is not allowed. Anthony Easthope’s book is about male fear of being attracted to the penis. My Mr. Olympia not only destabilises what is allowed of women in our culture, but it is also a threat to men, because if they should see this beautiful ithyphallus they might be attracted to it, and what does that say about the stability of male heterosexuality?
JS: I’ve noticed some striking parallels between that and the incident in 1971, in which the authorities closed down Margaret Harrison’s exhibition for much the same reason. The painting they took particular offence to was of Hugh Hefner as a bunny girl with a bunny penis.
CC: I’m writing her name down. I didn’t know about this instance of censorship, but it’s obviously an example of a forbidden challenge to patriarchy’s rigid dichotomy agenda.
JS: Yes, and that was 1971, so what I wanted to ask you was whether it concerns you that there’s been such little change in people’s attitudes after all these years?
CC: For me, since I was a teenager at art school in the seventies, there’s been absolutely massive change. And yet on a logical analysis of what changes there should be, it seems very little. I think we are slowly getting there. And yet there’s also a kind of re-talibanisation of culture. We have to guard our liberal, enlightened advances very carefully and very resolutely. It has always interested me how most men who come into my studio, if I’ve got one of my Adonis works on the go, have been absolutely shocked and horrified. They take my depiction of the ideal male personally. They will gasp ‘I’m not as big as that’! For centuries women have had to get accustomed to men idealising the female form, so that every time we see a female form we don’t necessarily say ‘my breasts aren’t as beautiful as that!’. We’ve internalised that ideal in a way that men have yet to do, which I find very interesting. All kinds of men will walk into my studio - rock and rollers and right on liberals - and they will actually wag a condemning finger at me and go ‘tut tut tut’.
JS: I find it quite strange that they should feel offended by such a depiction.
CC: Yes, they are threatened and… I mean, there are lots of layers there. As an artist, as a woman, inviting people into my studio, what does the invitee expect? The invite sees me with these idealised male forms and then thinks ‘I don’t stand a chance here’. So that adds a whole kind of poignancy to the novelty of women entering the workspace as artists. And I’m not sure that male artists have had to deal with that level of erotic charge when their male patrons walked into their studio.
JS: To go back to the erect… to the ithyphallus, do you think that they would have been more likely to exhibit it if it had been painted by a man?
CC: They would have been more likely to exhibit it if it had been done by a man, yes and no. Because, as a matter of fact, very many men artists through the ages have had terrible times with censorship of nudity. This could be one of the reasons why men paint relatively few images of the male nude. Although, actually. I went to the National Gallery the other day and for the first time they had this absolutely fantastic male nude by the great French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte. It must be the first time that this male nude has been seen in public for 50 years! Male nudes painted by male artists are hidden and censored, too. So in other words, I would say there would be a pressure on men from painting the male nude as well. When David Hockney began painting the male nude in an erotic way, he was going to have a very difficult time had he not had Kasmin as a patron and a protector, and Kasmin himself was gay. I don’t think men have had that much easier a time of painting male nudes than women have. Male nakedness, because of patriarchy’s homosexual panic, can be problematic or confrontational whether painted by a male or a female.
JS: Yes, one of the artists I’m really interested in is Tom of Finland…
CC: I adore Tom of Finland! How wonderful that you love him too!
JS: I do, and I think it’s really interesting how he… perhaps almost over-idealised the male genitalia, and how that was obviously seen as very threatening.
CC: Well he’s such a great draughtsman! I love his work because it is kind of popular and naïve at the same time, you know? Well listen, his painting isn’t necessarily ‘art’. He was painting for, I would guess, mainly what he would presume his audience was: homosexual, but I know a lot of women who absolutely adore his work.
JS: That’s very good because I’ve found that the reaction of women has generally been that the idea of homosexual erotica is quite off-putting to them.
CC: I don’t really like S&M, but that’s my own taste; I don’t like torture in bed! But Tom of Finland… those beautiful men lined up drinking at a bar; I just want to stand amongst them.
JS: That’s the beauty of Tom of Finland I think. He wasn’t so interested in S&M and torture, dungeons and so on - all of his men are depicted outside, in natural settings like woodland…
CC: Yes, or on the beach. I’ve looked at his work for a long, long time. I could also think of somebody else - have you heard of Kurt Kauper?
JS: I’m not familiar with him, no.
CC: Kurt Kauper is a little bit more ‘fine art’ than Tom of Finland. I first saw an illustration of his about fifteen years ago: a nude of…not David Niven… a very brilliant Hollywood actor…Oh, yes, Cary Grant. Anyway, please look at Kauper’s work. He’s also done some fantastic pictures of hockey players. Very graphic. I don’t know enough about him to know whether he is gay, or whether he’s ever talked about being gay, but I love his images of men. I don’t think necessarily they’re painted to be erotic, but I empathise with him, because I think he’s painting the beautiful male nude - honouring the male nude - in the same kind of way as I do. He paints women, too.
JS: I think that this kind of male nude painted by men is really central to the theme of transformation, especially with the way Tom of Finland appropriated the image of the nude male as something that actually celebrated the beauty of masculinity, whilst allowing the audience to revel in masculinity and feel masculine themselves, rather than feel their masculinity threatened.
CC: As a matter of fact, I can confirm that for you. It’s the masculinity in Tom of Finland’s work, of men loving each other, men loving the look of other men, which I find so life affirming and so gorgeous. It goes back to that idea that it’s not masculinity that’s the problem. The problem is patriarchy and what patriarchy allows men to do in a damaging way to those that have less power than them. You could say that Tom of Finland is objectifying men in his fantastic portraits, but I don’t feel that he wants to destroy those men and be nasty to them, or not allow them to vote or give them equal wages and stuff like that! So that’s where I think feminists have come unstuck sometimes, when they assume that masculinity is an issue, and that objectification is an issue. To me that’s not what it’s about. I love and cherish the objects I paint.
JS: So to go on to the next question, how important do you think the rebirth of figurative art was in furthering the cause of feminism? And I’m really thinking of the criticism of figurative art - that the male gaze couldn’t be appropriated by using an artistic language created by men - do you think there’s any truth in that criticism? How do you respond to it?
CC: I can’t respond to it very academically, except that there’s a wonderful book called The Power of Feminist Art. There’s some fantastic figurative art in that book, and it stretches from the early fifties. For instance it even encompasses Alice Neel. One of the most incredible portraits owned by the Tate is by Alice Neel of a naked man, one of her friends, with a very big phallus. Absolutely fabulous! Anyway, this is my subject really, and I’ll try to be brief. One of the difficulties for me as a student at Central St. Martins School of Art when I was nineteen was that just then the art male establishment decided that figurative art was dead. They retreated into abstract art, which kind of disabled me. In fact life drawing was banned at Central in the year that I started there. To me, unless you can do life drawing, even if you’re never going to use it, you can’t really do figurative work. I think that the minute you do figurative work you are tackling ideas and philosophy and then maybe ideology. I think that for a lot of male artists the ideologies that would be prevalent at that time, i.e. Capitalism and Communism had seemed to have ‘failed’, so they had nothing figurative to work on so they retreated into decorative abstractness. Whereas for feminists, or for women artists, there was a whole landscape of ideas and ideologies about race, about gender and sex which absolutely needed a figurative practice to explore. And to a certain extent, because life drawing was abolished in art colleges, women found it very difficult to explore in a figurative manner some of the intellectual ideas that were thrown up by the politics of the 20c. However, as you will see if you look at The Power of Feminist Art, a lot of feminists didn’t stop doing figurative work but, because it was so political, it was hidden from public view, or excluded from the cannon and the academy. And you have to remember those feminist artists from the fifties and sixties were considered to be second-rate because they were women.
JS: Yes that’s certainly something I’ve come across. So you could almost say that it was actually the feminist artists who were making figurative work that were subverting the male artistic language and not the other way round?
CC: Absolutely. There’s a kind of academic orthodoxy that the avant-garde stopped in the sixties. Male academics will say ‘where is the avant-garde after the sixties?’ Well, feminist art was the avant-garde.
JS: And I suppose the patriarchy didn’t want to accept that.
CC: Absolutely not. The art world could accept men challenging certain things - the male avant-garde has always challenged contemporary orthodoxy - but when women started challenging the very footings of patriarchy, that was not going to be acceptable. Just flip through The Power of Feminist Art… Look at Sylvia Sleigh…
JS: I hope they’ve got it in the library…
CC: If they haven’t it’s an absolute scandal! Anyway you will see how feminists were doing conceptual work because it’s a very fast way to work. When you want to make a political point you can do it very fast with a conceptual work. Figurative painting can take time. Never the less, there was always a lot of figurative art going on in the sixties and seventies, by women artists, but they were not allowed into the male public art space.
JS: So do you feel that there are any individuals that have particularly influenced your own work or viewpoints? Talking about Pauline Boty as well, do you feel that she has been quite influential upon your own work? Because obviously she is someone who was producing figurative work in the sixties.
CC: Exactly, and it blew my mind when Derek Boshier took me to meet Pauline Boty. At Central life classes were banned and all the students coming from Roy Ascott’s classes were into cybernetics and abstract work and I was really feeling very isolated and disheartened. To see Pauline Boty’s work, her colour palette was so un-English, absolutely blazingly optimistic. And the fact that she was working figuratively and actually tackling political issues - I don’t know if you can imagine what an impact her portrait of Jean Paul Belmondo had on me! The rose on his head! Any young woman would know that the rose on his head was a symbol of female genitalia…
JS: It’s certainly a very sexual image
CC: It is such a wonderful, erotic, loving, celebratory portrait of a man…anyway, so Pauline Boty was a huge enabling influence on me. The other great women artists were people like Bridget Riley - and great as Bridget Riley is - but that was not how I wanted my art practice to develop.
JS: And do you think that the fact that women artists like Bridget Riley were producing abstract art was perhaps one of the reasons why she has become so much more famous than Pauline?
CC: If you draw up a group of the women artists who were allowed into the male cannon: Elizabeth Frink, Bridget Riley, Barbara Hepworth…yes you could make that argument. But Pauline died when she was very young. Had she lived, with the confidence to carry on in the figurative way she was painting, she would have hit the moment in the mid-seventies…she wouldn’t have been excluded for long. Dr David Mellor, having rescued those paintings, the minute he put them on the wall in an exhibition with other sixties artists, there was just no argument any more. David was literally attacked, he was actually physically attacked by one of the most famous and powerful art critics of the time, for allowing Pauline Boty’s work in that exhibition. Some male artists of the sixties said he couldn’t exhibit their work if he allowed her into the exhibition.
JS: That’s really quite shocking.
CC: It is shocking, but those were the absolute battles that had to be fought. But once you put Pauline Boty’s work there, there’s no discussion. And if Pauline had been alive and carried on painting, she would be absolutely huge and considered to be one of the greatest celebrated painters of our time. Like for instance Louise Bourgeois. She only become recognised as one of the greatest living American painters in the middle of the eighties. If only I’d known Louise Bourgeois when I was twenty at art school… I didn’t know that she existed. Unbelievable really.
JS: So would you say that even though Pauline didn’t live to see the height of feminism in the seventies, she in many ways anticipated it?
CC: Yes, it’s not that she anticipated feminism exactly; she was just innately - because she wanted to earn her own living as a woman artist - a feminist. As a matter of fact, Dr. Sue Tate is very interesting on this point. Sue discovered that at the time Pauline’s contemporary friends didn’t understand the political positions that she was working through in her paintings. We say they couldn’t see it. When Pauline was painting It’s a Man’s World I and 11, the meaning and significance of what she was saying in the paintings was so shocking that they kind of blanked them.
JS: I’ve heard that when It’s a Man’s World was first exhibited it was completely disregarded.
CC: Yes, I think it was wilfully ignored because, to actually engage with it would have caused a lot of problems. So what you do, as is often the case with a shocking taboo, is just literally walk steadfastly past. But that’s the power of Pauline Boty’s paintings. The fact that they had to be so fervently ignored indicates how hot they were.
JS: While Pauline was alive, she experienced a lot of prejudice purely from the position of being a ‘beautiful’ woman, possibly to the extent that it prevented her from being taken seriously as an artist. So the final question I wanted to ask was whether you feel this is something you’ve experienced in your own career?
CC: Well you see, what I say to that is this: I was on a television programme with Waldemar Janacek who said: ‘Pauline Boty was just a dolly bird, she was a bad painter’. I replied, well, in fact in the 1960’s we were after all surrounded by very, very beautiful male painters. David Hockney was very beautiful. Allen Jones was very beautiful. Derek Boshier was very beautiful. It’s interesting how the men around were fantastically conscious of how decorative they were. I mean, David Hockney didn’t wear a gold lamé jacket and dye his hair blonde without being very interested in his appearance. So, like her male contemporaries, Pauline Boty not only was painting the sixties, she embodied the sixties. And as much as I would say I didn’t know I was beautiful, people said that I was beautiful, and that therefore they couldn’t take me seriously. I don’t forget that people will say, for instance, that David Beckham isn’t a very good footballer. So beauty has it’s disadvantages but I think, that can apply to men and women. And it’s not very graceful to complain about it. What you have to do as an artist is just fucking carry on and do the work! Prejudice sometimes hurts, but it’s to be expected. People have said to me ‘Caroline if you make yourself look ugly you’ll be taken more seriously’. Well how do you make yourself look ugly?! That’s a Taliban solution. In reaction to that I’m going to make myself more beautiful! And now I’m 64, age has come upon me. And I say to all youths, male and female, honour your pulchritude, be as sexy and virile as you possibly can while you’re young and students, because it won’t last. Just enjoy it!
* Telephone interview 27/04/09
For the last eighteen months or so I’ve been enjoying the historic change created by the critical mass of women getting recognition in all sectors and at every level of the music industry - Krissi Murison has just been appointed editor of NME, the first woman. Musicians like Bat For Lashes, Little Boots, Florence in the Machine, VV Brown and Lady Gaga have unhinged the unreconstructed faction who whinge that so many women getting attention is ‘too many’ or ‘a fad’. Just when the gender hullabaloo was deafening, yet another young woman entered the mix. She is La Roux. Early this year friends went to see her at the Notting Hill Arts Club and they raved about her. And suddenly this summer, there she was ‘red-hot and hair raising’ leaping to the top of the charts with singles ‘In for the Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof'. In June La Roux’s album ‘La Roux’ was battling for No 1 in the charts with Michael Jackson.
When BBC Music Entertainment contacted me to ask whether I would like to ‘champion’ La Roux for the Mercury Prize*, I couldn’t have said a more resounding YES! ‘I think she is FABULOUS!’ I told producer Sasha Duncan, and her cameraman John Williams, when they came to my studio to film me for the BBC Mercury Prize website.
La Roux (Elly Jackson) creates perfect pop songs about love and betrayal, happiness and misery, lust and fidelity – ‘As if by Magic/ Thoughts of you are gone/ And now I’m keeping/ My head in the clouds/ And it’s not so tragic/ If I don’t look down’ – presented in minimalist electro-pop with oodles of melody and a touch of trance. She demands fun and thrills but she makes us hold our breath because, of course, punishment is what fun lovers are bound to provoke. There is a kind of careless danger about La Roux, a light and darkness that makes her exceptional. Her sound is angular and metallic dry, as if it reaches us from outer space but then, with arranger/producer Ben Langmaid, she adds a velvet rich detail, like the London Community Gospel Choir on ‘Cover My Eyes’.
Pop has always been about confronting adversity with pleasure and La Roux is a brilliant new star carrying the torch of this grand tradition. But she is not only a musician; La Roux is a DIVA, a leader of fashion. Her style is a subtle but majestic rebuke to the normal. Her sexuality is reserved and ambiguous. A quif of red hair screeches over her forehead like the wing of a stealth bomber. And suddenly thousands of young people want to be like her.
Sasha Duncan suggests that it is hard for pop acts to win the most prestigious music industry awards, and I agree. Powerful voices in the music press have always tried to trivialise pop - which is strange because there wouldn’t be rock ‘n’ roll without pop music. Trivialising pop music has a lot to do with fear of young people’s lust and passion – and in particular fear of young women’s lust and passion.
Anyway, at last so many barriers are breaking down. This year it is my pleasure and an honour to champion La Roux for the Mercury Prize – La Roux, with a debut hit album of exquisite pop songs, deserve to win.
* BBC 2 Mercury Prize coverage Tuesday 8th September 10pm - update: the prize of £20,000 for best album of the year was won by Speech Debelle for 'Speech Therapy'
July – August 2009
May – June 2009
Painting: Ordering stretchers for my next paintings… it is a moment when time stands still. I have been ordering stretchers from Rob at Bird and Davis Ltd for over 44 years. The other day I found in my files a Bird and Davis invoice for three stretchers costing £7.66 dated 1966. Back then Bird and Davis were a small firm of ‘joiners and wood merchants’ in a mews. Today they are ‘the artists’ manufactory’ in an industrial estate warehouse. The only change for me is that whereas in the 60’s I would collect my stretchers and bring them back to my studio by tube, now I have them delivered. In relishing this routine, sameness and familiarity I’ve begun to realise how, in contrast to life’s fast changes and uncertainty, the inheritance of the past stabilises and grounds my work. Robert Hughes said: ‘The one thing that truly sustains creation is the inseminating authority of the past’. I like to think that in my invented paintings I combine a veneration of the past with contemporary concerns.
This spring I’ve been admiring the past paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916) and the present portraits of Kurt Kauper (1966- ).
Drugs: The spliff is fat and long, a sensual plume of smoke fills the TV screen… Again! Damn that FRANK New Labour advertisement for cannabis. Talk about unintended consequences. Despite the supposedly 'reefer madness' psychotic-giggly youth, the advert is not off-putting. Instead I have to react against the sell. Lovely image of spliff! Oh, I could do with a puff, says my brain. No, I have to tell myself, like I have to resist rushing out for a Magnum ‘Temptation’ every time those delicious adverts pop up. New Labour is spending over £150 million per annum on advertising. How grateful the cannabis industry must be for this bonanza product promotion.
March – April 2009
Queens of British Pop: a 2-part BBC 1 art documentary* is being made to celebrate Britain’s most admired female singers from the Sixties to the present day. From Dustry Springfield to Kate Bush, from Siouxsie Sioux to Amy Winehouse, the films will profile pioneers who have shaped the landscape of popular music and who have proved a huge influence on other musicians. A project like ‘Queens of British Pop’ is necessary because previous BBC films about popular music have all but excluded women.
When the director, Dione Newton, interviewed me we had time to reflect on how good it feels for women to be receiving proper recognition in popular music. Historically it has been male musicians who are grouped together, compared and contrasted as if male was a superior genre. Women were after-thoughts and exceptional add-ons. The exclusively male music club was perverse, contrived and abnormal, not at all women’s actual lived experience of music. At last a new generation of musicians like Florence Welch, Little Boots, Alela Diane, VV Brown, Larkin Grimm, La Roux, Emma-Lee Moss, Josephine Oniyama, Micachu, Melissa Livaudais and Ikonika are reaping the rewards of a sixty year struggle for normality and equality.
Painting: I have completed ‘A Fast Rucking Game’ the first of three 123 x 153cm oil on canvas paintings I am working on this year focusing on the body and gender as performance. Humans in these paintings are striving for poise and control, the decorative beauty of masculine and feminine performance has destroyed the old patriarchal hierarchy of male over female; all genders are equal and we are free to shift from role to role and back again.
Lesbian and Gay film festival at the NFT: Gina Birch, a huge pioneering influence on popular music, is screening her 'The Raincoats - Fairytales - A work in progress' documentary.** With Gina, Ana, Beth Ditto, Viv Goldman and Naz in a panel discussion afterwards, and a rousing chorus of 'Lola', it will be good to see you there!
* Wednesday 1st April and Wednesday 8th April at 10.30pm (subject to change).
**6.00 pm Sunday, March 28th.
Murder and ‘The Hate Nancy Conspiracy’: Homage to Nancy Spungen
by Nina Antonia.
When Nina Antonia, writer and manager of The Skuzzies, contacted me for this laudatory essay about the young woman Sid Vicious murdered she caught me at a good moment. I had just been interview for a DVD film about Vicious ‘the ultimate punk pin-up’ to coincide with the 30th anniversary of his death in February 1979.* When I mentioned Nancy Spungen there was an attempt to contemptuously brush all memory of her and the way she died aside.
Like the tragic character of Nancy in ‘Oliver’, Nancy Spungen lived and died for her man. Unlike Dickens’s martyred creation however, Nancy Spungen has been reviled ever since. Aged twenty at the time of her death on October 12 1978, ‘Nauseating Nancy’ as the tabloids dubbed her, had been stabbed in the abdomen with a hunting knife. The blade had been a gift to her boyfriend and chief suspect, Sid Vicious. Found slumped under the sink in a bathroom of the Chelsea Hotel, the press reported with morbid salaciousness that Nancy was wearing nothing but black underwear. When her mother, Deborah, went to identify the body in New York, she overheard the desk sergeant describing her murdered daughter as a ‘Druggie Slut’. This casual dismissal of Nancy as trash was nothing in comparison to the ignominy that had been heaped upon her by the punk contingent that she had yearned to be a part of. Sex Pistol’s manager Malcolm McLaren called her 'This dreaded disease'. Johnny Rotten opined that she was a 'Beast'. Guitarist Marco Pirroni chortled that ‘I’m pleased that she was stabbed to death, we all had a good laugh about it. Looking back, you think “that fucking woman!” There was something wrong with her, she wasn’t all there. It was just that she was fantastically stupid.'
Born with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, Nancy Laura Spungen came struggling into the world on February 27, 1958. Her mother promised her a life of dignity and although Nancy was given all the trappings of a pleasant middle class upbringing in the suburbs of Philadelphia, she was a troubled child. She was intelligent, she could read Tennessee Williams by her tenth birthday yet, four years later she was diagnosed with organic brain dysfunction and a tendency for anti-social behaviour. None of the diagnoses were enough to save Nancy from delinquency: 'I had a lot of problems. I was just real different from everybody else. I was a lot smarter then them. So I just started to really rebel against my parents. I hated them a lot. They got real worried and sent me to a shrink.'
Nancy has often been wrongly charged with having turned Sid on to heroin but he was already cognisant with its anesthetic qualities. Lurching to Nancy’s defence, Sid told the press 'I’ve been doing every fucking thing they reckon she turned me on to two years before I met her.' Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious were damaged children who shared the same irresistible pull to the abyss and found comfort in each other’s arms on the long way down. According to Caroline Coon, Sid became less insecure in Nancy’s care. A clip of the couple filmed at the Chelsea Hotel in Lech Kowalski’s documentary ‘DOA’ shows Nancy fussing over Sid like a concerned little mom. No doubt Nancy was bolshie, mouthy and sometimes hostile. Many of the qualities that Nancy was despised for led to Sid Vicious being idolised and revered. So why the Hate Nancy conspiracy?
Over the last 30 years an industry largely propelled by men has sprung up around punk. Book after book from Legs McNeil’s definitive account of NY punk ‘Please Kill Me’ to Colegrave and Sullivan’s ‘Punk’ tome reiterate the Nauseating Nancy myth, never seeking to question the party line. I asked Caroline Coon why she thought that might be: 'You are going to get a lot of scorn poured upon a young woman who is virile, sexy, and luscious. She was very confident, delicious looking. Curly hair, blue eyes, luscious lips. I remember her running over to say hello to me when she first arrived in London. Nancy came into a scene which was resolutely misogynist. The British library is knee deep in books about the patriarchal horror of sexy women. It isn’t much spoken about but in rock n’ roll there is an all male fan-club, the homoerotic relationship that male fans and managers have to the bands. She was like punk’s Yoko. Nancy was another woman who got closer to a rock hero than any man could have done. She is a focus for male jealousy and misogyny and written off as a groupie.'
When Alex Cox was casting the role of Nancy in his 1986 movie ‘Sid and Nancy’ which sought to portray the couple as punk’s Romeo and Juliet, a then virtually unknown girl, Courtney Love, tried out for the role of Spungen. In the audition she declared ‘I am Nancy Spungen’. Typically, the feisty Love got a bit part while the anodyne Chloe Webb was cast as Nancy and never once sets the screen on fire. Even on film Nancy was denied. In life, she was a vibrant creature who invented her own look, a smoky eyed after hours Jean Harlow in ripped stockings possessing the downbeat glamour of the kind of girl who sticks a broken stiletto heel back on with chewing gum and totters into the night. Whilst Courtney Love might have empathised with Nancy, Spungen was a victim. In the last few days of her life, she finally admitted to her mother that Sid had been hitting her. Their romance had run aground in a seedy hotel room and the final scene was about to play out. By stripping Nancy of any dignity, her detractors undermine Sid’s love for her. Shortly before his own death in February 1979, Sid sent a letter to Deborah Spungen in which he wrote 'Nancy was a very special person, too beautiful for this world, I feel so privileged to have loved her and been loved by her….'
Sources: ‘Please Kill Me’ Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain, ‘Punk’ Stewart Cosgrove & Chris Sullivan, ‘In Cold Blood’ Nina Antonia, plus interviews with Simone Stenfors and Caroline Coon.
*DVD 'Sid Vicious - My Way' Play.com
Drugs and Painting: when to stop the BBC.
‘We cannot encourage you to break the law’ said the BBC TV Horizon researcher. This was a disingenuous back-covering statement because breaking the law by smoking cannabis while being filmed was exactly what Horizon wanted me to do.
I first got a call from the BBC several months ago. A Horizon researcher rang to say that she was looking to film a group of people smoking cannabis and would I be part of such a group? What was the purpose of the programme, I asked. It was explained to me that Horizon wanted to show how cannabis taking is normal and that the public perception of the stereotypical pot smoker as young is false. Over the telephone the researcher herself sounded, to me, very young. I decided to engage with her at some length because: the subject is close to my heart, I have campaigned against prohibition for over forty years, I am a publicly declared moderate pot smoker and Horizon has the reputation for being one of the best science programmes on TV.
This is my position, I said: filming groups of people smoking pot has been done many times before and the images have done nothing to further the anti-prohibition cause. I explained that seeing people smoking pot was no more informative about cannabis than seeing people drinking wine was informative about alcohol. There could be mild-mannered post-dinner pot smoking and distressing music festival excessive-psychosis pot smoking. I explained that it is an established fact of research that a drug per se is not the issue. The issue is how individuals use a drug.
I went on to say that I had always maintained that using any mind-altering substances for pleasure was an adult activity. Cannabis use, I told the researcher, was in my view incompatible with intellectual learning and psychological development and therefore should, like such things as alcohol and tobacco, be prohibited for children under the age of eighteen.
For me, I explained, pot smoking is an occasional recreational activity. One of the reasons I would not smoke a joint while being filmed for TV was because, to me, being interviewed about drugs and prohibition is serious work and I do not smoke pot at work. At work, I explained, whether painting or writing, I need to be compos mentis, of clear and controlled mind. And I laughed as I told her that the place I was most likely to smoke pot was in bed with a lover. I said I would be prepared to be filmed talking about my drug use but I would not take part in a group pot smoke nor would I be filmed smoking pot in an interview. The conversation ended with my suggesting other people she should talk to. I wished her good luck with her programme not expecting to hear from her again.
About two months later, another Horizon researcher telephoned. She referred to my previous conversation with her colleague. She said the form of the programme had changed and that they were no longer going to film a group of pot smokers. She wondered whether I would be prepared to be interviewed smoking pot? No, I said. And I repeated, firmly and in depth why: I would not smoke pot during an interview because to me being interviewed is work and I do not use drugs at work. I repeated that I would give an interview about my drug use. The researcher said, yes, she could not encourage me to break the law and that the BBC would be interested in an interview. As always with researchers I knew notes were being taken. The researcher said she would ring me back to arrange a date and time. I was informed that Horizon does not pay fees but that I would receive £50 in lieu of half a days work. This I agreed to, exceptionally, because of Horizon’s educational remit.
On the appointed day, just before Christmas, I stopped painting and cleaned-up ready for the film crew. When they arrived, in my studio, I suggested to the director a good place for the interview to take place. The director wondered whether she could film me painting. This was not what I had agreed to or expected, and because, for a start I had cleared up for the day and painting now would be a fabrication I said ‘no’. And then I hesitated. I did not want to upset the director. I backtracked a bit and I asked her exactly what she wanted.
The director said that she wanted to film me painting ‘because otherwise people might think you are just some woman sitting amongst a bunch of paintings…’ She reacted to the expression on my face by elaborating. She said ‘we could have film of you painting while your voice over would be saying how smoking pot helped with your creativity…’ Absolutely NOT! I said, and I turned to the researcher, ‘I explicitly told you that I do not use drugs for my work’. I must have looked thunderous because the director intervened. ‘I’m sorry’ she said ‘it has been some time since I read my notes…’
Well, that was it. Put myself in the hands of this sloppy journalist? No way! We do interviews, they can take hours and only a very few quotes will end up on screen, quotes cut and selected by directors and producers. Usually this quote selection is not crucial because the subject is not law breaking. But, the subject of this BBC TV Horizon interview was to be my law breaking. Considering that the director had come to film me carelessly, without a proximate reading of the notes she had received from researchers to whom I had given a careful amount of my time, I had no trust in how she might use my interview or represent my knowledge and experience. I could not go ahead with the interview. I put a stop to the BBC.
After the film crew had gone I realised that Horizon had not come to interview me. They just wanted film of ‘some woman’, a pot smoking 63 year old. And I had a laugh at my own bruised ego’s expense.
Happy New Year to all, especially to anti-prohibition campaigners everywhere!
‘Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll: The Sixties Revealed’ in three episodes on FIVE TV, Monday 1st, 8th and 15th December.
Holloway Prison 1968: I was sitting in a dungeon when the heavy door clanked open and a prison officer ordered me to get ready to see the Governor. She told me that I was to be released, immediately. A few minutes later I was on the back seat of a limousine next to Bernard Braden, the famous and powerful TV journalist. He was taking me to the Mayfair Hotel to be interviewed.
Bernard Braden knew about me because my arrest and imprisonment had been front-page news. Aside from arresting ‘hippies’ the police had been harassing rock stars. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were busted and given prison sentences. Brian Jones was arrested. In October 1967 he was sent to prison for nine months. Another demonstration was necessary. In my studio we sat up all night rolling 1000 fake joints. Next day we marched up and down Kings Road smoking our ‘joints’ and holding ‘Free Brian Jones’ placards. The police were not amused. Several of us, including Chris Jagger (Mick’s brother), Steve Abrams, Jeff Dexter and Suzy Creamcheese, were arrested. At my court appearance, in January 1968, I was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay court costs of £10. ‘No’, I said to the magistrate, ‘you can arrest me, but I am certainly not paying you to arrest me. I refuse to pay costs.’ The magistrate said he would give me two weeks to reconsider and if did not pay I would be sent to prison for two weeks. At the time, as co-founder and director of Release giving 24 hour help and advice to people, especially those who had been arrested on drugs offences, I thought that I should have actual experience of what hundreds of pot smoking young people were going though. Three days into my prison sentence Bernard Braden paid the £10 costs.
A few months ago - 40 years later - I saw this interview for the first time.
Bernard Braden recorded it himself, at his own expense as a project to chronicle the lives of Britain’s famous and infamous. In doing so, he created his own slice of history. He died before he could reveal his work to the world and since his death, it has remained forgotten…until now.
In ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll: The Sixties Revealed’, produced by Silver River’s Alan Brown, some of the class of 1968 come face to face with ourselves. There is Cilla, Lulu, Peter Cook, Quentin Crisp, Sean Connery…..
Incidentally, our protests and demonstrations had the desired effect: in November 1967 Brian Jones was freed from prison and instead fined £750 and ordered to see a court appointed psychiatrist.
November - October 2008
Painting: I am working on three oil on canvas paintings (123 x 153cm) focusing on the body and gender as performance. Humans in these paintings are striving for poise and control. The decorative beauty of masculine and feminine performance is destroying the old patriarchal hierarchy of male over female; all genders are equal and we are free to shift from role to role and back again. (The paintings of Carol Rama, Meret Oppenheim and Cheri Samba have been hot inspiration through this mostly grey and damp summer.)
August – September 2008
A walk with Barbara Steveni: Beginnings of APG, the 1960’s
Barbara Steveni is stretched flat out. Crouched over her a young woman dressed in black is drawing around her body onto a piece of cloth. Yoko Ono and Barbara Steveni are performing ‘Shadow Piece’ on rough ground near Powis Square, Notting Hill. It is 1966. Work has just started on the nearby Westway Avenue Extension that has necessitated the demolition of over 700 houses. Lying in the dirt Barbara and Yoko risk being investigated by rats-as-big-as-cats that plagued the area during that time of dereliction.
Now Barbara Steveni has come back to Notting Hill for part of a project called I AM AN ARCHIVE. She laughs outside the reclaimed and renovated Powis Square Tabernacle as she recalls the ‘Shadow Piece’ she performed over forty years ago. When I asked what Yoko was doing drawing around her body onto the piece of cloth, Barbara replies, “I can’t remember, I’ll have to ask her when next we’ll meet - I think it was about having my shadow-image with her that she
Her original concept for APG was to place artists who were working in the emergent fields of Multimedia and Conceptual Art within major UK industrial concerns and government departments. Artists like John Latham, Barry Flanagan, Jeffrey Shaw, Ian McDonald Munro, David Hall, Ian Breakwell and Anna Ridley, were to "carry ideas via artist's forms of expression, into action and activity in another context".
As Barbara explains to the walking group gathered around her*, she wanted to "create freedom for art in the commercial space" which meant artists engaging in "negotiations and exchanges" including "decision-making in organisations at all levels."
There is a nice paradox here – a group of outsider Authority attacking avant-garde artists wanting to penetrate the Capitalist Establishment to improve society from within. Informed by Surrealism and Dada, the artists Barbara Steveni worked with in the 1960’s presumed to change society through art that set a moral example with precision and honesty about personal experience. This was art with large ambition, with socio-political point, a grand enterprise to turn-on, to contemplate, to amuse, to invoke and to threaten. This was art anywhere, art with anything, art as happenings, performance and prank – it was conceptual art with meaning.
Barbara Steveni has included me in her I AM AN ARCHIVE project because not only have I practiced as an artist in the ‘Beginnings’ Notting Hill neighbourhood since I was a teenager, but Release, the civil rights, anti-prohibition organisation I co-founded in 1967, was just around the corner from where she and her husband John Latham had their home and studio. Rufus Harris and I, art students both in 1967, were thrilled that we had the great avant-garde artist and political seer as our neighbour. John Latham’s inspiring presence was a good vibes counterbalance to the BNP fascists’ office that was a few doors down on our other side.
The example of avant-garde art was at the heart of how I organised Release. We were an interface between young people and Authority - the law, the courts, the police, government and politicians. This was office bound, a process of slow technical persuasion. It was necessary work but it was not immediately visible to the public and it was not fun.
A fun way to get our voices heard was to create visible disturbances and interventions into the public space. The amount of street art – political street theatre – created in the 1960’s was phenomenal. There were huge anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. But everyday there were artists of all kinds making a flurry of ‘little’ events. For instance, I participated in one of Barry Flanagan’s Victorian Picnics. On a bucolic Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park suddenly there appeared several life size paper-mashe cows and men and women in Victorian crinolines and embroidered waistcoats spreading out rugs and opening wicker picnic hampers. When Brian Jones was arrested in another Rolling Stones drug bust, I organised the making of 1000 fake joints which we ‘smoked’ at a Kings Road ‘Free Brian Jones!’ demonstration. Another time Release office became a fake blood factory. We filled hundreds of plastic bags with fake blood made from flower, water and red dye that we tipped down Oxford Street to symbolise the horror of blood spilt in Vietnam. In street protest-style we dyed the fountains at Trafalgar Square blood red.At the time of its making The Establishment denigrates socio-political avant-garde art and denies that it will have any influence whatever on social change. One out come of Barbara Steveni’s I AM AN ARCHIVE project will to be expose and prove the extent and successful influence of avant-garde art intervention. The triumph of feminist avant-garde art has made it possible for artists like Barbara Steveni to become visible. As Barbara says “My own path in this history has hitherto registered as virtually invisible. Hidden behind both the artists involved (predominantly male) and the organisations (APG and O+I) themselves.”
The I AM AN ARCHIVE ‘Beginnings’ walk is No 1 of 5 which Barbara will lead through further sites in London, Scotland and Germany. Her project will critique “the different methodologies of art practice used, exploring the development of the personal and political”. It is especially significant that she will be tracking gender differences with artists and others. Barbara Steveni is in a unique position to bring together the history and practice of the APG movement that she pioneered. Artist Placement practice is now commonplace and mainstream.
* ‘Beginnings’ walkers included Guy Brett – art writer; Chris Bird and Kelly Large – HUT project; Ryumi Choi – I AM AN ARCHIVE project assistant; Caroline Coon – artist; Tristan Hazell – Move; Michael Horowitz – poet; Lisa-Raine Hunt – I AM AN ARCHIVE project Curator; Barbara Kukovec – photographer; Tatiana Mallinson – sculptor; John Mallinson – photographer; Clive Phillpot – art writer and historian; Laure Prouvost – filmmaker; John Seth - artist, 4D Pathway; Rita Sirignano – painter; Laura Trevail – artist.
May – July 2008
Drugs, Racism, Pete Doherty and Gordon Brown.
‘Do you think, what with the smoking ban, that we might see illegal places like shebeens start up again?’ producer Kate Bland asked me in an interview for her BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Blues Dance’*. ‘Yes, absolutely,’ I replied. Later I wondered whether I was already missing something. Surely, all over the country there are people disobeying smoking bans and drug prohibition and quietly gathering to indulge their pleasures in illicit, unlicensed rooms?
Kate Bland’s interview enabled me to reminisce about the 1970’s glory days when, in dark basements we smoked pot, drank Babysham, listened to reggae music and danced until dawn. Blues dance shebeens were a function of racism and prohibition. In the 1970’s almost every street around my Ladbroke Grove neighbourhood had one. Although there was never a legally enforced apartheid colour bar in Britain, until recently most black people were deemed ‘not respectable’ enough to be granted local authority alcohol premises licences. Unable to own or run legal clubs, unwelcome in ‘white’ clubs, many black entrepreneurs decided to outsmart the system. They set up little shebeens. Always threatened by police raids and harassment, shebeens survived because door guards exerted heavy manners to maintain the mellow mood. Violent troublemakers who would make it impossible for the police to turn a blind eye were cast out. Under the radar of racism and prohibition, invisible night and day except to the trained eye and in-the-know locals, blues dance shebeens provided a convivial private party atmosphere for those who loved the pleasure of reggae music and marijuana. I really miss those local good times!
But I refuse to get downhearted about the fact that democracy seems unable to deliver a liberal, rational drugs policy. Because anti-prohibitionists are mostly ‘green’ and leftist we have been unable to muster capitalist money to back and boost our campaign. Most politicians follow the money. Politicians bow before billionaires who ameliorate their reputation for greed by cloaking themselves in the pseudo-respectable anti-drug moral high ground.
Prohibition is not supported by science and good public health policy. Our struggle is against puritan authoritarian ideology and politics. We have to stomach the arrogant and ignorant spectacle of Prime Minister Gordon Brown doing a U-turn to ‘send a message’ to young people about the ‘danger’ of pot. He will uselessly increase prison sentences for cannabis possession from a Class C sentence of 2 years to a Class B sentence of 5 years. Don’t vote for him! We have to stomach the demeaning spectacle of otherwise law abiding drug users like Pete Doherty being ‘punished’ with prison sentences. Images of popular cultural heroes being handcuffed and jailed – and then taking drugs in jail – are no deterrent, and never have been. This is empirical scientific fact.
We have to stomach the spectacle of a wannabe ‘liberal’ politician like mayoral candidate Brian Paddick doing a U-turn on the BBC. Apparently, he was ‘always opposed to moving cannabis from class C to B’. Don’t vote for him! Politicians’ incoherence about efficacious use of law and drugs policy is one of the reasons respect for politicians is at an all time low.
My anti-prohibition spirits were immensely improved recently by a meeting with bold witty social historian Dr James Mills. He interviewed me for his forthcoming book ‘Cannabis Nation: Britain, Control and Consumption 1928-2008’, the second phase of his research into the history of the British and cannabis. His first book ‘Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition 1800-1928’** is a must-read brilliant and delightful combination of hard facts and colorful portraits of the personalities who shaped past drug policy. Showing how ‘attitudes towards substances like cannabis are formed in the context of vested interests, moral judgments, and political agendas’, Jim Mills’s stark conclusion is that politicians over the last thirty years have clung to false historical assumptions to inform drugs policy, assumptions that his research proves to be ‘blind’.
Like the heroes who once ran blues dance shebeens, anyone who is presently courageously breaking drug prohibition laws should be celebrated. We must out-wit authoritarians who, not satisfied to merely bully us about our health, continue to make even moderate, responsible pleasure choices illegal.
*‘The Blues Dance’ produced by Kate Bland and presented by Don Letts, BBC Radio 4, 11.00am, Tuesday 13 May.
** ‘Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition 1800-1928’ by Dr James H. Mills (Oxford University Press 2003)
February – April 2008
Painting: I am working on three Urban Landscapes, views of North Kensington street life around Grand Union Canal at Ladbroke Grove and Harrow Road. This is an apparently inhospitable, grey area where it is not usual to stop and look but, hidden behind the dilapidated strip of Harrow Road, the canal curves and gleams in winter sun and above all Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower stands guard for all its brave Modernism every bit like a medieval fortress complete with battlements and arrow slits. The paintings are 183 x 153cm, oil on canvas.
The Cunst Art pamphlet Calling Women 'Whores' Lets Rapists Go Free by Caroline Coon and barrister Amber Lane is about the need to legalise prostitution. We explain how the use of the word 'whore' for moral condemnation creates a fatal link between rape and prostitution, with the consequence that convictions for rape are shockingly low. Respecting prostitutes, and all 'whores', is the only way that all women will be respected. Only when adutls are free to work in a lawful, respected sexual service trade and free to use sex trade services within the law will we be able to protect all women from sexual violence.
The special, limited, hand stamped edition of 100 copies costs £15.00 per copy, to include post and packing. Normal copies are £5.00, to include post and packing. To recieve a copy email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Year and very best wishes for a great 2008!
November - December 2007
Law breaking and abortion:
Law breaking and drugs:
October - November 2007
Punk Rock Film
Zillah Minx is the lead singer with punk band Rubella Ballet. Her unique oral history documentary film about Punk Rock Women ‘She’s A Punk Rocker UK’ will be shown at The Raindance Film Festival, Cineworld Trocadero Centre, Shaftesbury Avenue, at 5pm on 3rd October. Featuring Poly Styrene, Gaye Advert, Eve Libertine & Gee, Viv Subversa, Michelle Brigandage, Caroline Coon and many others, the film is a fascinating and brilliant look into women's lives and attitudes during some explosive times!
The Plight Of Release
A member of the public writes: ‘I recently rang Release and spoke to one of their legal advisors, I have to say that he did not tell me anything I didn’t already know and was of no help at all. My son had been arrested with one E on him out side a nightclub and because of that the police came and searched my home and everyone in it! (They also charged him with possessing a class A drug). I’ve been trying to find out if the search was unlawful but nobody seems to know, the guy at Release certainly didn't know anything about it and didn’t appear to be that interested.’
Every so often, as the founder of Release, I am called upon for support and tapped up for funds. This time - the first time I have ever critisised Release in public - I am saying No, and explaining why. I've been told that unless Release has funds it will close in four weeks time. Well, it is not Release as an organisation per se that is of concern to me. We founded Release 40 years ago BECAUSE of the horror and distress caused to young people by drugs prohibition. My concern is the iniquity and misery caused to people and society by drugs prohibition. It is not Release as an organisation that matters. What matters are the terrible consequences of prohibition. The problem is that Release no longer campaigns to end prohibition. In fact, Release is colluding with prohibition. It pains me to say this but Release has degenerated into nothing more than a constituent of the drug Prohibition Industry. Furthermore, because Release has had nothing interesting to add to the anti-prohibition campaign for at least ten years, it still relies on the anti-prohibition campaigning glamour and heritage of the 1960's and 1970's to give it a vestige of profile.
Today rock stars are being asked to give free performances at a benefit to 'Support Release'. Release? Young rock stars and the general public have no idea what Release is. And why should they? Release is invisible. Despite 'drugs' and new 'moral panics' about cannabis being one of the main topics of press and public concern - not to mention heroin addicts and addicted rock stars being monstered in the press - Release is silent.
Release's plight has many causes.
For too long there has been a deep strategic failure of principal, a failure to fight for anti-prohibition policies upon which to build a public profile which would attract long term public support from young and old people alike. For too long Release directors have been ludicrously unambitious. For too long the Release office was 'filthy'. Although now clean and tidy, the Release office remains closed to the public. Release offers legal advice for two hours a week-day on a Legal Helpline - 'legal advice by telephone and e-mail'. This is unacceptable.
Aside from some worthy explaining of drugs law, on 'drugs issues' and 'human rights' Release is producing vague, derivative, 'decorative' waffle. This waffle is exemplified by the web site where information published is said better and with more point elsewhere. There is very little difference between what Release says on its web site and what Government says in various drug information outlets.
All Release has to say is behind the curve. It is dull and tepid. For instance, this is typical: a web site post about cannabis dated July 19th 2007 says 'maybe it is time to consider a regulated supply where those choosing to use cannabis would know what they were buying.' Maybe! Time to consider! This is unacceptable.
Navel gazing in the midst of prohibition devastation Release is currently using a marketing agency to 'review the market it operates in' and to carry out a crass 're-branding exercise' in an attempt to 're-connect to young people'. But young people, and adults, at the sharp end of drugs issues having their lives ruined by iniquitous drug laws, will not be attracted by the wooly well-meaning platitudes offered by Release, especially not when they are offered 'by telephone and e-mail'.
Release is no fun! Release does not advertise. Release is not outraged.
Release does not care. Release does not campaign.
It is sad to say but Release has degenerated into a remote, irrelevant organisation. Because the so-called 'services' Release offers are not accessible, they are obviously not essential, and are obviously not really needed.
Release is no longer an organisation firmly and bravely out in the vanguard with those - often the general public - campaigning to end drugs prohibition.
Release is no longer any practical help to the people, especially young people it was founded to serve.
Release is now simply exploiting drug prohibition as a jobs opportunity for 'Release workers'. Considering the distress, death and devastation caused by drug prohibition Release's response is disgracefully complacent.
The Release Drug Helpline is only open for 20 hours a week, otherwise a message tells callers to ring FRANK or dial 999. Release is a remote organisation and does not matter anymore. There are other organisations that do get media coverage - Transform and The Legalise Cannabis Alliance for anti-prohibition campaigning, Drugscope for drugs information. There are Government Drug Action Teams (DAT's) and private addiction facilities. If Release ceased functioning - or rather ceased malfunctioning - it would make no difference. Because Release has nothing interesting to say and nothing practical to offer to the thousands of people warned, cautioned, arrested and imprisoned for using or selling drugs, Release has no influence - no influence on Government and no influence in the media. The general public does not know that Release exists. Unfortunately no one, other than those who rely on Release for wages, would miss it.
To make Release relevant and viable: For a start, OPEN THE OFFICE! Have face-to-face case work contact with people who need help and advice for at least a few hours a day. And look at the exemplary modus operandi of voluntary campaigning organisations that the public admires and is aware of. For example: Shelter, Crisis, Centre Point, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, The Howard League For Penal Reform, Liberty, Citizens Advice Bureau, Childline, The Medical Foundation, Human Right's Watch....
ALTERNATIVELY RELEASE SHOULD CLOSE. Release workers who do not wish to campaign against prohibition will be able to find other jobs, legal work and volunteering opportunities in the Prohibition Industry.
Closing Release will remove a hollow shell of an organisation out of the path of any new group that might spring up run by young people for young people energetically campaigning to end the crime generating misery of prohibition.
August – September 2007
Mainly I am working on a still life of ‘Peonies’ and an urban landscape, the wonderful view from the top of Notting Hill looking north to distant Kensal Rise, called ‘Eve and Adam in Ladbroke Grove’. Some of the tubes of oil paint I am using are over 40 years old, Pauline Boty’s paints that were given to me after she died in 1966. I am using her Winsor & Newton ‘chrome green’, ‘terra verte’, ‘green alizarin’ and Reeves’ ‘New Blue’. But this is the last time I will use Boty’s paints. The remains of her half-used tubes, some as she left them, I am making into a reliquary called ‘Pauline Boty’s Duel Box’ – a memorial to her life and death fight to be an artist.
Punk publication and Celebration!:
'The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era'
by Dr Helen Reddington
Dr Helen Reddington researched this book, tracked down musicians, and persuaded them to be included, out of pure love and enthusiasm for music. But the book is also fired by outrage, an outrage that I share. Although Helen is more than a generation younger than me, we have experienced history in the making – and then watched as the history we made closed over our heads as if it had never happened.
History making women musicians and colleagues attending our publication Celebration! included: Zillah Ashworth - bass Rubella Ballet, Nina Antonia, Richard Adams, Gaye Black - The Adverts, Gina Birch - The Raincoats, Jenny Bellestar - The Bellestars, Maeve Bayton - Mistakes, Steve Beresford, Sue Bradley - fiddle Reward System, Leonie Cooper, Rhoda Dakar - Bodysnatchers, Ana Da Silva - The Raincoats, Heather de Lyon - drummer The Objects and Devil's Dyke, Sam Dwyer, Erica Echenberg, Karen Grey - Gymslips and The Renees, Viv Goldman, Paul Gambaccini, Kate Hayes - The Objects, Ellen Jones, Mandy Little, Rachel Lovell - Dollymixtures, Lora Logic - Essential Logic, Suzanne Long - bass The Reptiles, June Miles-Kingston - drums The Modettes and Fun Boy Three, Ellie Medeiros - Stinky Toys, Liz Naylor - keyboards Gay Animals, Lucy O'Brien, Shirley O'Longhlin - The Raincoats, Tessa Pollit - bass The Slits, Valerie Palmer, Andrew Pedder, Christine Robertson, Heather Smith - The Dollymixtures, Poly Styrene - XRay Specks, Nichola Swords, Keiron Tyler, Penelope Tobin, Jane Woodgate - Modettes, Enid Williams - bass Girls School. Present in spirit: Pauline Black - The Selecter, Vi Subversa - Poison Girls, Sara Furse - No Man's Band, Mufti Berridge - drummer No Man's Band.
Drugs and Release 1967 – 2007: Needed Then – Needed Now
Caroline Coon’s talk for RELEASE 40th ANNIVARSARY CONFERENCE, 18th June 2007.
'Thank you for inviting me to participate in this occasion. I am especially pleased to be on the same platform with Joe Boyd and Sebastian Saville. Joe was vital to Release when we started in 1967. Sebastian has done brilliantly over the last four years - especially in fundraising, which is such a difficult but essential task.
In May I had to pinch myself. Was it 1967 or 2007? There on TV was a grim faced Home Secretary announcing his ‘plans’ for a war time ‘stop and search’ power.
This is why Release was needed then. Here is what frequently happened in 1960’s - one of the first cases Release handled: Barry, age 19, was an editor of a community newspaper. He and a group of his hippie friends, 29 people, were having a party. There was an almighty crash. They were terrified. The front door was kicked down and 10 police officers and sniffer dogs came piling in… and everyone present, except a Russian Orthodox Priest, was arrested. Only a small amount of cannabis was found. Five weeks later, at Committal Proceedings, the charges against 24 people were dropped. Many had spent several weeks in custody because they couldn’t find anybody to bail them out. Barry, and his friends Paul, Mary and Mervyn were the only ones finally charged. Barry and Mary were charged with possession of cannabis and for allowing their premises to be used. When their case was heard at the Inner London Sessions before a jury, they were found not guilty of possession, but guilty of allowing their premises to be used. The case was remanded so that probation and medical reports could be obtained. Mary was allowed bail, but Barry was remanded in custody.
Release was needed: Because young people don’t usually know their civil rights. Our first practical intervention into the 1960’s civil rights emergency was to print up ‘Know Your Rights’ Bust Cards. Immediately our 24-hour telephone number was out in the community, published in underground magazines, given out at demonstrations, at music festivals and clubs we were inundated with calls.
Raising money to keep going was a struggle.
So what do I know after 40 years?
For our funding we have to rely on ourselves, on wealthy individuals and the great and the good. We are here today because brave individuals and the corporate sector are supporting our cause. Thank you everybody. Thank you Infinity, 3DD and Mishcon de Reya.
40th ANNIVERSARY RELEASE CONFERENCE on Monday 18th June 2007, at the Hampstead Theatre. Guests speakers: Helena Kennedy QC, Simon Hughes MP, Simon Jenkins, Joe Boyd, Caroline Coon, Prof. Graham Foster, Sebastian Saville, Ethan Nadelmann, Lord David Ramsbotham and Allen St Pierre.
Release: Remembering Rufus Harris 1946 - 2007
It seems like only yesterday that it was 1967, the Summer of Love, and Rufus and I were sitting under the statue of Eros. It was dawn and Rufus, like me, had been demonstrating against the News of the World’s character assassination of ‘disgraceful drug-taking rock star’ Mick Jagger. Unknown to each other, but both with our own personal understanding of iniquitous drugs law, we had marched from Fleet Street, past No 10, through Trafalgar Square and up to Piccadilly Circus. As strangers but demonstration compatriots, we began chatting. We discovered that we were both art students. Immediately there was a connection. The next evening Rufus came over to my studio - and that was the start of Release.
Not only was Rufus able to emphasise with the young people who came to Release for help, not only was he able to comfort people in distress, not only was he a great listener – he was also very acute. He was especially good at dealing with the Drug Squad officers whose habit it was to drop by the Release office unannounced. Rufus, after a few minutes of polite banter, would calmly come out from behind his desk and lead the officer down the road to the local pub.
It was because of his ability to cultivate police ‘friends’ that Rufus was personally tipped off about a Drug Squad raid on Release. Rufus knew exactly what to do. He arranged, with a solicitor, to camp out all night at the office. When ‘the fuzz’ turned up Rufus was there: ‘no need to break down the door, officers’ he said, showing the thwarted midnight raiders around as if such a nocturnal visitation was quite normal.
Release was not only the Hippy Underground civil rights organisation, a legal and welfare service, we also actively participated in politics. For one demonstration against the Vietnam War, inspired by street theatre protest, we all, staff and volunteers, spent several evenings with water, flour and red dye making gallons of symbolic blood to spill. Several people were arrested. When we all mustered back at the office to debrief, Rufus, who had been at a police station to bail people out, made us laugh. All had been going well, he told us, until he began signing bail forms. At the same time as the station desk sergeant noticed Rufus noticed that his hands were stained bright red.
Rufus was innately socially conscious. He was a courageous problem solver, a battler, and an optimist who brimmed with hope. In fact, he was exactly the kind of person who was always destined to be an integral part of the innovative network of voluntary organisations that sprung up in the 1960’s to meet the needs of people excluded from society and oppressed by the state. Like many of those organisations Release survives to this day. Furthermore, the ‘shocking’ but rational argument that Rufus spent his life expounding is now respectable and mainstream. Forty years ago when he spoke out against prohibition he was in the minority – today all intelligent people know that prohibition has failed. I very much hope that when Rufus visited Release for the last time a few months ago that deep in his heart, despite his modesty and diffidence, he was able to feel huge pride. Peace and Love, Rufus. Keep on marching!
March 2007 – April 2007
CUNT: asserting women’s right to sex and sexuality has been part of my art practice since I was a teenager. I was brought up in a family where sexualised bullying to intimidate and undermine me was the rule; a misogyny that I later realised was but a microcosm of generalised misogyny in society at large. Women and men were socialised into viciously denigrating women’s ‘disgusting’ genitalia. Lodged in our minds was the terrifying myth-image of vagina dentate - women's vaginas have teeth. As a girl child I was fearfully unsure what these yet-to-grow teeth were destined to bite. Looking back to my teens it is astonishing how far we have come from those days when ‘respectable’ women had to be pure, untainted by sexual pleasure and without a sexual thought in our heads. When having respectable sex married women were meant ‘to think of England’. Men could only be sexually liberated with 'whores'.
In the 1960’s, at the start of second-wave Women’s Liberation, we began to challenge what we realised was sexual terrorism to keep women in our place and out of the public space. In an interview with Nell Dunn the Pop artist Pauline Boty confessed to how believing that her cunt was ugly contributed to the deep depressions that sabotaged her work. The misogyny of disgust was a source of much disabling despair. Painting ‘My Beautiful Cunt’ in 1967 was part of my personal liberation journey as well as a defiant public statement. My cunt paintings claim and assert the wonder and beauty of this most crucial and awesome part of the female anatomy, the source of life and the vessel into which we receive the seed of life.
Pete Woods is producing and directing a documentary film, commissioned from North One by BBC 3, provisionally called ‘The History of the C Word’. Pete has reminded me of Germaine Greer’s brilliant 1971 essay ‘Lady, Love Your Cunt’. Greer exhorts women to regain the ‘power of cunt’. After a day of filming with Pete and his young male film crew, the extent to which we have all benefited from the triumph of gender equality is obvious. Today it is possible to share sexual experiences with men in a way that I hoped for in my youth. The enlightenment of sexual liberation, with all the duty to youth and health care that this entails, is one of the joys of our modern world. ‘CUNT’ (1999) is my celebration of female sexuality and companion piece homage to a painting Pauline Boty did in 1966 called ‘BUM’ - see Gallery.
Post script: As production consultant on the film ‘Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains’ (aka ‘All Washed Up’), I designed the logo for The Stains which was, of course, spatters and smears of menstrual blood.
Photography: look out for the March issue of The Observer Music Monthly, edited by Caspar Llewin Smith. The Flashback page will celebrate the March 1977 release of The Clash’s first hit single ‘White Riot’.
Exhibition: from 9th April, Museum of Costume, Bath, is making links between music and style with 20 photographs of punk and new wave bands.
February 2007 - March 2007
The Veil-mask: Masking, Sexual Ignorance and Rape.
Those who choose to wear and advocate for the Muslim veil-mask* in Britain today appear ignorant or unaware of the violent psychosexual dynamics of ‘the forbidden’.
In a religious context the veil-mask is particularly perverse and kinky. Christian nuns, by signaling with the veil that they renounce worldly sex and marriage for a pure life married to God, become the forbidden and therefore exciting ‘sex objects’ of violation fantasy and fact. Christian culture is saturated with erotic images of the ‘sexy nun’ and nun rape pornography.
How many of us presume there is no pornography in Muslim culture or no sexual violence in Muslim society? In fact, Muslim society is rife with sexual violence**. Rumors about ‘Mullah rape camps in Northern Iran' abound. Far from being a protection from rape the Muslim veil-mask turns women who wear it into classically exciting ‘sex objects’ of sexually forbidden masked uncertainty. The black Muslim veil-mask, with its sinister undertone of punishment and torture, is a fetish of rape fantasy and fact.
It is dangerous for anyone to imagine that by wearing veil-masks Muslim women de-sexualise themselves. Nothing women do or wear is protection from sexual violence. Veiled or naked, sober or drunk, young or old, women are raped. Women ‘sex objects’, naked or veiled, are not the problem. People who believe that it is excusable or permissible to abuse, violently assault and rape ‘sex objects' are the problem.
Belief systems that forbid sex except for procreation within heterosexual marriage make masking adult sexual desire inevitable. Veil-masking women is the neurotic displacement act of fearful Muslim religious extremists who need to mask their own ‘sinful’ desires and behavior. Religion is the atavistic alibi of sexual deceit and bigotry.
It is nonsense to obey instructions on dress and sexual behavior issued by the likes of Prophet Mohammed, a child rapist with many wives. Religious patriarchs and religious ‘community leaders’, men like Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden, lie about their sex lives. They mask their sexuality. Veil-masking women is their most visible sexual perversion.
Furthermore, hysterically anti-women cultures that are ruled by men in exclusively male institutions have always provided cover for homosexuals. Men having sex with men is one of the ‘sinful’ secrets hidden beneath the macho, homophobic front of Muslim institutions and societies that banish and veil-mask women. For adult men to have sex with adult men is common and normal. Hysterical violent denial and masking of homosexuality is common but perverse.
Instead of punishing women and condemning ‘the degenerate West’ men like Osama bin Laden - one of his father’s 57 neglected children – would do better to question why there is so much horrific sexual and domestic violence, child abuse and human misery in the morbid, life-limiting Wahhabi influenced societies they champion.
For all the faults of ‘the West’, compared to the violence and misery in those totalitarian societies ruled by religious extremists and sexual bigots, our secular civic institutions are a paradise of child care, bisexuality, gender equality, religious tolerance, opportunity, humanity and happiness.
Muslim women in Britain today are free to choose to wear the veil-mask, but in so doing they identify themselves with offensive and objectionable misogynist religious beliefs and dictate that are incompatible with democracy and gender equality***.
The bodily autonomy and integrity of both women and men is only protected and respected in sexually liberated societies that have secular laws making sexual abuse and sexual violence in all circumstances illegal, where prima facie ‘no fault to the victim, the perpetrator pays’ is the rule.
*niqab is the Arabic work for mask
**See ‘Iran to hang teenage girl attacked by rapists’ at
***See ‘The Burka, Jilbab and Islamo-scarf as fascist symbol and sign' at NEWS May– April 2006
December 2006 – January 2007
Seasonal Greetings and very best wishes for a prosperous 2007
Painting. The Chambers Gallery ‘Painting the Nude’ Private View was a good opportunity to ask a group of young male artists, including Michael Ajerman, Peter Harrap and Andrea Rossi, this question: Why do you think artists paint the male nude so infrequently? With one voice they answered: ‘Because they don’t sell!’ Will we begin to see more paintings of male nakedness as more independent women earn enough money to buy art?
Photography. Sony BMG has issued a boxed set of all 19 UK The Clash singles – The Clash The Singles. The accompanying booklet is illustrated with photographs by Caroline Coon and Bob Gruen. B-Unique has released the Babyshambles Pete Doherty version of The Clash song ‘Janie Jones’. Caroline Coon took the CD cover photo of The Clash with Janie Jones a few days after Janie was released from Holloway Prison in 1977. Proceeds from the sale of the single will benifit The Joe Strummer Foundation For New Music (Strummerville.com).
October - November 2006
20th October - 17th November: 'Painting the Nude'.
The nude is not what it was. We can no longer simply admire it for its grace or beauty. To-day - post-Freud, post feminism - it is mired in debates about sexuality, the gendered eye, voyeurism and the ballance of power relations. It stands at the intersection where the traditional and contemporary colide.
'Painting the Nude', a group show, presents the ways in which contemporary artists have approached the female and male figure, addressing questions of nudity and nakedness, of gender, of sexuality, and the human condition. Caroline Coon's 'Mr Olympia' is exhibited for the first time in public since the painting caused a banning sensation in the 1980's.
Artists include Caroline Coon, Micheal Ajerman, Peter Harrap, Andrea Rossi, Arkady Wesolek, Frans Koppelaar, Kate Montgomery, Laura Smith, Jim Dunbar, Phoebe Harvey Wood, George Weissbort, Maggie Milne, Dennis Gilbert, Hannah Lee, Peter Rutty, Austin Cole, Linda O'Grady and Hadas Levi.
The Chambers Gallery, 23 Long Lane, London, EC1A 9HL
Tel: 0207 778 1600 Email: EveginiaG@chambersandpartners.co.uk
Christopher Dreher, avant-guard rock musician and film director, has been commissioned by German public broadcaster ZDF to make a documentary for ARTE. Dreher is interested in events leading up to the 1967 Summer of Love and the radical new definitions of lifestyle and morals of the period which continue to influence artists and society. He will be filming an interview with Caroline Coon surrounded by Pop Art works in the Mayor Gallery exhibition 'London In The 1960's' which opens on 12th September.
Cunst Art. The project to find film of Osama Bin Laden at Stringfellow's is progressing. Promotional and documentary film makers are searching through used footage and out-takes. Peter Stringfellow remembers Bin Laden from the early 1980's: 'He was just one of the young Arabs who was welcome in London and welcome in my club. He liked it and congratulated me on it'. Cunst Art is tracing the film of Bin Laden at Stringfellow's so it can be made available to young Muslim 'jihadi' who dream of bombing clubs like Stringfellow's and the Ministry of Sound because they are full of young women they call "slags". Women hating extreamists should be warned that by acting out their anger with bombs in night clubs anywhere in the world they risk inadvertantly murdering their idol. After all, who knows where Osama Bin Laden is today?
Cricket. What is the difference between a cricket umpire and a fruitcake? A Hair's breadth.
July - August 2006
Jann Haworth: her slipshod presentation and her 'feminine' predicament.
Some artists who are bright stars in their youth slip off the radar, become invisible, their contribution to the history of creativity forgotten. In the past this was most likely to happen to women even when they were essential ingredients of a particular time, group or movement. Part of the women's liberation project has been to restore women to their rightful place in history and, over the last fifteen years great artists like Niki de Saint Phalle, Pauline Boty, Evelyne Axell and Alina Szapocznikow have been restored to the Pop Art story. Not without a fight, literally. One pioneering male curator was physically assaulted for daring to rupture the master narrative to include Boty for the first time in a Pop Art retrospective.
Jann Haworth is another 'lost' woman coming back into view. Her first solo exhibition in London for many years - 'Artist's Cut' at the Mayor Gallery - was eagerly anticipated. What with the enduring fascination with all aspects of 1960's watershed culture and politics, the scene was set for a timely reminder of her crucial part in Pop Art and a career re-launch.
But, well... some people are still stuck in the past. In his unintentionally hilarious essay 'The Mom of Pop, Unpacking Her Baggage' for Haworth's exhibition catalogue, Marco Livingstone blithely ignores feminist action or scholarship. He fails to acknowledge the intellectual journey about class, race and gender travelled by all conscious male and female artists since the 1960's. His resistance to the contrapuntal feminist analysis necessary in any relevant writing about women, art and culture today means that he is incapable of looking seriously at Haworth's art. He discusses Haworth's work in terms that patriarchal panjandrums used to slight 'women's art' in any period before the c20th and with an undercurrent of resentment he wears his belated inclusion of women in his Pop Art history narrative as quaintly as a middle aged fashion victim. He does not say why he excluded Haworth from his Pop Art retrospectives or why he now includes her. He walked over her then and he is walking over her again as he disarms her of any hint of threat to his patriarchal status quo. Unable to discuss Haworth on equal terms with the male artists of his comfort zone, he totally dehumanises her. In fact, he treats Haworth's work like a proverbial doormat.
Take a close look at 'Flowers' (1962). Does Haworth really subscribe to Livingstone's half-blind take on one of the great pieces in the show as 'feminine' in the stereotypically patriarchal sense, as if these flowers were displayed in a porcelain vase? Or does she want us to notice a monstrous parody of fleshy organs sprouting out of a sewer pipe? In 'Old Lady 1' (1962) and 'Old Lady 2' (1971), does Haworth confer what Livingstone calls 'dignity' on old women just by 'depicting them'? Or, are we meant to notice that she has made bent old women with flayed, blood soaked faces riven with the suffering of life long indignities?
Livingstone jollies himself along imagining that Haworth has 'no anxiety', 'delights in feminine things' with 'a girlishness and love of prettiness' and 'simple', 'innocent' 'unbridled joy'. He says her choices are 'simple', 'organic' and 'unpremeditated'. Mae West is described as 'not perhaps a model of decorum for serious women in the 1960's'. Of the iconic Haworth donuts he purses his lips to say 'that the donuts themselves suggest a particular sexual organ of the human body is, of course, not lost on her'. For Livingstone the spirit of Haworth's art 'literally blooms and blossoms, expressing the life force of the creative impulse as a giving birth'. Obscured behind such a thicket of queasy sexist flattery and commercial patronage Haworth is back to being the invisible woman of her nightmares.
Haworth wants to be where the action is. She obviously knows about the revolution in the way women occupy the public space and she has seen how women promote themselves and are promoted these days. She knows the feminist argument - that artists of significant calibre were excluded from art history because of the prejudice against women - has been won. However, instead of valorising and celebrating the brave enablers of cultural change, she does the unforgivable. Haworth is distancing herself from the women's liberation movement that has cleared public space for her and her art. She is disassociating herself from exciting and influential feminist scholarship. She has Livingstone pointedly tell us that although her early work is 'proto-feminist' and celebrates 'a matriarchal lineage', because it was 'fully formed' before 1960's 'radical' feminism it is not 'politically feminist'. Haworth, Livingstone tells us, would be 'inappropriate' and 'arrogant' should she claim to 'speak on behalf of other women'. Get back, inappropriate arrogant women! How Haworth can title work 'The Hollow Men' (2003), a self portrait 'The Incredible Invisible Woman' (2004) or 'Hannah Hock 3' (2005) without being political or feminist remains mysterious.
Allowing herself to be cast off from the feminist art movement - one of the most important art movements of all time - to be used as candy on Livingstone's 'Pop guy' arm is a dubious strategy. It might work for Haworth, at least in terms of sales, if she was carefully aware of this positioning and up for it. But she is neither. Did Livingstone not question Haworth's dull, badly typed, badly written press release? What was he looking at when he wrote about the work to be exhibited? Did he ask Haworth whether it was her intention to provide her gallery with photographs that makes all her art look like it is sprayed with donkey's diarrhoea? Haworth is presenting herself in a slipshod way that is not acceptable of a serious artist of any gender and certainly not of male artist contemporaries of hers like Derek Boshier, Colin Self or Gerald Laing who subscribe to and maintain the highest art standards. As a consequence, Haworth looks foolish and second rate under the weight of Livingstone's lifeless puffery. In another catalogue essay for the show she has more honest support from Christopher Finch. He contradicts Livingstone's airhead fantasy of Haworth by mentioning her 'complex and always passionately held ideas' but without telling us what they are. For Haworth, what should have been a splash of a breakthrough comeback show with a wonderful catalogue that fixed her place in the cannon and included her in - or at least associated her with - the triumphant feminist avant-garde has turned out to be a flop and a failure.
Feminist scholars and curators would make Haworth's work more relevant, more interesting and more humanly connected to the real world. Sue Tate, Sarah Wilson and Catherine de Zegher with their expertise in Pop Art and their radical reappraisals of the role of women in art come to mind. Livingstone wilfully ignores the conflict in being 'feminine' and the danger of being a rebellious liberated woman, the poignant, painful paradox in the wit and irony of Haworth's work that is the dark subject of her art.
Haworth could acknowledge and own this conflict, and then commit to the highest art standards. If, through lack of authentic feeling and clarity, she continues to present herself in a slipshod manner and if she continues to remain patronised by sincerely sexist critics then her reputation, for what it is, will suffer. The value of her work is in danger of falling just when the value of 1960's Pop Art is rising, as are the reputations of those groundbreaking feminist scholars and curators Haworth has eschewed. Dismayed admirers can only say: Come on Jann, sharpen your scissors and make the cut where it really counts!
The Saatchi Gallery 'Your Gallery' web site.
Thousands of visitors a day are viewing the Saatchi Gallery site - there is a real buzz about it. Charles Saatchi says 'I'm thrilled that the standard is so high from such a variety of artists and hope it will be interesting to gallery owners, exhibition curators and collectors to see such diverse work'. I was very happy indeed to be invited to contribute work and I have posted eight images from my ongoing collage series 'Glossy Magazine Tear Sheets'.
Derek Boshier, a founder of the British Pop Art group, was one of my fine art tutors at Central St Martins School of Art. He recently reminded me that a painting I did in 1966 was very Pop Art. The painting was of his rumpled morning-after bed covered in the American flag sheets he had bought in New York. I remembered the painting but since it was a student work I had long since lost track of it. Derek said to me 'then re-create it'. The painting I am working on at the moment is called 'Derek's Bed - 1966'. As I work listening to disastrous news from Iraq the sense of deja vue is overpowering. Forty years ago many of us, in particular Pop artists, saw our lives through the filter of the disastrous Vietnam War.
Another Pop Art painting I have done this year is 'George Best with Heart and Dog Roses' inspired by 'Monica Vitti Heart' painted in 1963 by Derek's British Pop Art founder and friend Pauline Boty. Derek introduced me to Pauline. Her 'hot' painting, with its combination of politics and passion, transformed the way I saw art. I interviewed George Best, in 1974 for Cosmopolitan, when he was to football what the Beatles are to Pop music. If Pauline had lived to see George Best I am sure she would have included him with Jean Paul Belmondo, Elvis and Che in her painted cannon of inspirational male beauty and valour.
Joe Boyd held the launch party of his elegant and witty book 'White Bicycles: making music in the 1960's'* in the flat off Portobello Road where David Hockney painted until he moved to America. In 1967, after one of the Underground meetings that established Release, Joe gave me a lift home. I invited him into my studio. In his book Joe describes the scene. Caroline 'showed me a painting she was working on: a phalanx of naked Amazons charging towards the viewer.' Joe is immediately reminded of a recent visit to his friend Clive Goodwin, Pauline Boty's husband. Joe continues: 'Over his fireplace he proudly displayed his new acquisition: a pink-hued oil painting depicting pubic hair and moistly parted labia, viewed from below. He told me he had brought it from an artist who supported herself nude modelling - including a Mayfair cover clad in nothing but gold paint. He had an option on her next work: his description of it matched what I saw on the easel'. As it turned out Clive brought the impresario Michael White to my studio and Michael brought the Amazon painting 'Marathon', which in 1993 he lent to the Barbican for the David Mellor curatored exhibition 'The Sixties Art Scene in London'.
To complete the Pop, Art, America and World Cup football theme - don't miss Jann Haworth at James Mayor.** Haworth, born at the heart of the movie making community in Hollywood, was co-designer for the album cover of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Included in her 'Artist's Cut' exhibition of recent work are Pop Art figures in cloth that she made in the 1960's.
* Joe Boyd, 'White Bicycles: making music in the 1960's', Serpent's Tail, 2006.
** Jann Haworth, 'Artist's Cut', The Mayor Gallery, 8th June - 28th July 2006.
May - April 2006
The Burka, Jilbab and Islamo-scarf as Fascist Sign and Symbol.
I want to say exactly what I mean by fascist*. But first I want to explain why this is necessary. Many women I know are expressing shock and despair at seeing so many women wearing the burka, jilbab or even the so-called moderate Islamo-scarf. We share similar emotional reactions. Yet another women walks past in her black cloth coffin and we have wanted to scream at her 'take it off'. The dead blackness provokes in us such horror, terror and anger that we have wanted to run up and rip the damn thing away.
Women like me are terrified of the burka for the insulting subjection it signifies. We know how contingent our own freedoms are. Today, under the guise of clamping down on permissiveness and pornography which has 'gone too far', religious and secular authoritarians in USA and Europe are chipping away at the freedoms, including abortion, that we in The West fought so long and hard to gain. Covered women are held up to us as paragons of feminine virtue and modesty that we uncovered women are not but should be.
Men, too, think that the burka and Islamo-scarf is an insult, to men. Muslim women must cover-up, say the mullahs, because just the tiniest slither of naked female flesh is enough to turn men into instant rapists. This burka-insult to men is compounded by the fact that even in the UK four year olds are being forced to cover-up. Islamists apparently do not believe men can practice civilised sexual restraint even in the presence of babies.
On the other hand, it has been said to me in all seriousness by men who consider themselves sane and liberal that, considering binge drinking and pornography, it is understandable for Muslims to despise The 'degenerate' West. No it is not, I reply. Binge drinking and pornography, which we can freely criticise and control, is a price worth paying for our liberal freedoms. Despite The West's faults and excesses - including torture, foreign policy and the death penalty - we are living in a rational, egalitarian paradise compared to the hellholes ruled by Islamists.
Men who are not revolted by the burka, e.g. Prince Charles, Tony Benn and George 'I've fought against abortion all my life' Galloway, it's not as if they are consciously or even unconsciously sexist. It is superior know-it-all pseudo-tolerance that allows them never to wonder if they are. They simply do not question their male privileges and the patriarchal social-political structure that maintains them. Any equality women now have in The West seems to these men to have appeared out of nowhere. They do not understand nor empathise with our fear of the burka, the most blatant sign of discrimination. It has to be spelled out to them, again and again. In fact, British tolerance of the burka indicates a British tolerance of the most extreme hatred of women and a very atavistic British misogyny.
Women in The West are clinging on to the equal rights we have, freedoms that are as valuable to us as life itself. The oppression and imprisonment that the burka symbolises is more than painful. The burka is the ultimate provocation. It is mental torture, a daily reminder that powerful men, in the blink of an eye, would bury us back in domestic oblivion.
But I do not know a woman who has acted out her fear and rage. We are restrained and in pubic mostly silent. Women I know simply gasp in astonishment that it is not our elected Members of Parliament who protect our freedom but judges on the Court of Appeal. On the street, instead of causing breaches of the peace, we hold back. We are accustomed to street politeness and civility. We condemn bad manners and 'road rage', or any other kind of rage. We know that assault is a crime, and anyway, she is not responsible for the belief system that dictates what she wears.
It is not the Islamic Stepford wives we blame, those ghosts buried inside their burkas, religiously brainwashed to the gills and programmed to pray and walk subserviently behind hubby and when not silent or banished to 'the women's quarters' then only allowed to talk in vanilla soundbites.
The men to attack are those who impose the dress code cover-up. I call them fascists. The burka is nothing less than a sign and symbol of fascism.
So what is Fascism? The fascist* archetype is timeless and resilient. A nascent fascist worldview was apparent in Europe by the late nineteenth century. It spread around the world with the emphasis varying according to the diverse traditions of those nations that produced fascist regimes, movements or parties.
Fascism is essentially a counter-revolution against Enlightenment values. For Hitler 'The West' was code for liberal precepts. Hitler was anti-liberal and anti The West. Fascists seek to reverse the civilising effects of the European enlightenment of rationalism and secularism and replace it with myths and superstitions of racial superiority, male purity and atavistic misogyny. Fascism is a threat to freedom and democracy because it is an assault on pluralism and tolerance and contemptuous of the rights of individuals. The superiority and the might of fascist males gives them the right to occupy and conquer all territory and all individuals. Glorifying aggression and the subjugation of others by means of power and coercion never argument or persuasion, fascism is any exclusive and inegalitarian dictatorial regime that unleashes armed thugs and bullies to march over whoever they consider to be 'other', 'outsiders' or 'aliens'.
The idea that 'Muslim nations' cannot be democracies is informed by the fact that Islamists admire Hitler and all things anti-liberal and anti-democratic. The ideologues of fascism, like Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Klu Klux Klan or Hamas, fantasise about a world-wide Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. Islamic anti-semitic rhetoric is straight out of Hitler's book.
Fascists legitimate their disgusting beliefs by maintaining they are acting out a divine mission under the orders of the Almighty Creator and his prophets like Jesus Christ or Mohammed.
Fascism is the ultimate creed of unreason. It is fascist irrationalism that characterises the extremes of religious and political Christianity and Islam today. We see an elite-led Machtpolitik, a macho political system where women have no power and are made invisible. When women have no power some fight to the death against the powerful. Others negotiate their survival by learning their lessons well from powerful men. When threatened with death for not covering-up then most cover-up.
To fascists women are inferior, the nadir of 'other'. Hitler considered women dangerous in public, naturally dependent on and submissive to men, prone to irrational passion and uncontrollable outbursts, only fit for producing children and organising 'a house'. Hitler said 'I detest women who dabble in politics... there she is, ready to pull her hair out, with all her claws showing'. Mussolini said 'Women... should never be taken seriously, for they themselves are never serious'.
For fascists, and their religious enablers, acceptable women are those who bare children. Like Christian fascists, Islamic fascists create a myth of a pure past where women know their place 'barefoot and pregnant' as the saying goes, and in the kitchen. Women are reduced to wombs in the service of God, Allah and the nation state.
The sexing of the fascist state as Fatherland (the new Iraq Constitution is addressed to 'We the sons of Mesopotamia') is paradigmatic of the fascist mindset that demands that women must be subordinate to men, even in the 'lesser' domestic domain.
At the very least the burka and Islamo-scarf are sexist because men are not forced to wear it. Insisting, as Islamists do, that women are 'modest' is sexist. No men are under a religious injunction to be 'modest'.
Forcing women to cover-up comes from the same patriarchal mind-set that allows men to demand that women get their kit off. The religions extremists who want to cover women in cloth or the lad publishers of magazines who want to strip women naked are horribly similar. They order women around and then hate her whatever she does. They hate her for being a whore and insist that she covers up or they hate her for being a whore when she takes her covers off. It is not the nudity of uncovered women or whores which is offensive. The offence is that under the pretence of provocation sexist men give themselves permission to do the worst to women, including rape and murder, whether we are naked or not.
And women are expected to forget there still is any such thing as sexism and misogyny. We are expected to act as if we are physically and mentally unaffected by sexual prejudice. If we maintain our right to continue fighting sexism from the bedroom to the boardroom in our own country and abroad we make ourselves very unpopular and almost unemployable. Having enough freedom now, we are lectured, means we should shut up and not ask for any more for ourselves or for women of 'other' cultures who are not our concerns. Our horror of the burka is embarrassing and to shut us up we are glibly and wrongly accused of Islamophobia and racism. In fact we are bullied by the guardians of the status quo into silence.
For too long I've considered my silence a betrayal. My anger and horror is based on rational and justified fear. But I want to join with those who are speaking out. Those of us who value our freedom must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who hate fascism and sexism and the burka, all the brave women who are refusing to cover-up and are dying everyday for the right not to.
When I was invited to review the papers for Sunday 2nd April on BBC Radio 4's 'Broadcasting House', I did not know what news I would mention. On reading through the papers more news of fascism stood out. In 'World News' Michael Sheridan, the Sunday Times journalist in Jakarta, reported that 'Sunbathing tourists in Bali and barely clad tribesmen in Papua are caught up in a cultural war between a minority of puritanical Indonesian Muslims and the country's tolerant majority'. Many Indonesians fear that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono 'is losing his grip on a political debate increasingly dominated by fundamentalists who have made a parliamentary bill on indecency the centrepiece of their campaign to purify the nation. "This is an attempt by some people to import Arab culture into Indonesia," said Yenny Wahid, a Muslim campaigner for women's rights.'
In the Sunday Times News Review section I read 'Riverbend', a young uncovered Iraqi Muslim woman who blogs about her life in occupied Iraq. She wrote 'Over a month ago, a prominent electrical engineer (one of the smartest females in the country) named Henna Aziz was assassinated in front of her family - two daughters and her husband. She was threatened by some fundamentalists from [the Iraqi extremist] Badir's Army and told to stay at home because she was a woman, she shouldn't be in charge. She refused - the country needed her expertise - she was brilliant. She would not stay at home. They came to her house one evening: men with machine guns broke in and opened fire. She lost her life. She wasn't the first, she won't be the last.'
I had a moment's hesitation. Criticism of Islam is contentious, might even be illegal, and corporations like the BBC have to protect their staff from bombs. But I am a Women's Movement woman. Words and rational argument are our first line of defence against sexists and fascists. Confidently, 'live' on air, I said that the sight of women walking around London in burkas is as frightning and provocative as if people were passing by on the street every day wearing fascist swastika armbands. I was wearing a cashmere mini dress, three inches above my knees (N. Peal 1984), the sign and symbol of my liberty and liberalism.
*See Rick Wikford's chapter on Fascism in 'Political Ideologies: an introduction' by Robert Eccleshall et al, Routledge 2003, which includes an extensive reading list. Important reading: 'Male Fantasies Volume 1. Women Floods Bodies History' and 'Male Fantasies Volume 2. Male Bodies: psychoanalysing the white terror' by Klaus Theweleit, Polity Press 1989.
CUNST ART glorifies CH'IU CHIN, the Chinese feminist freedom fighter who was beheaded in 1907.
At the age of 32, at daybreak on 15 July 1907 at Shao-hsing in the province of Chekiang, Ch'iu Chin was executed for organising an uprising aimed at overthrowing the Manchu dynasty in China. These were early days for Chinese revolutionaries but the uprising shook the Government which lasted barely another four years.
Ch'iu Chin's brief and dramatic career was the more astonishing because she was born into a Confucian society where a woman's role of painful - and total - subservience had hardly been challenged. Among the radicals of the budding feminist movement she was unique, if only in one respect - that she single-handedly masterminded the armed insurrection of an entire province.
Ch'iu Chin could be said to personify the traditionally revered Chinese bandit hero, the swashbuckling knight errant, inspired by noble ideals and bent on self-sacrifice in the service of high patriotism. In the Chinese tradition the knight errant was often female, in both history and fiction. Ch'iu Chin rode horses astride, excelled in sword fighting, made bombs, drilled women fighters, organised secret armies. She was also a considerable poet, a legend for her skill in verbal contests and she had a daughter who became China's first woman aviator.
Ch'iu was the eldest daughter of a declining middle-class family in Shao-hsing. They were scholarly and liberal. For instance, Ch'iu was not subjected to such extremes as footbinding - the tradition of painfully deforming the feet of girl children for the sake of beauty. Ch'iu's arranged marriage to Wang T'ing Chun, from a conservative family, came comparatively late by Chinese standards. When she moved with her husband to Peking in 1900, the year of the boxer rebellion, she reacted sharply to the visible feebleness and corruption of the alien Manchu rulers who had governed China since 1664. The sight of the highly painted doll-like Manchu women disgusted her. During this time she developed into a fierce nationalist, increasingly troubled with anxiety about her own existence, which seemed meaningless.
The failure of the Chinese reformist movement of 1898, after the war with Japan, and the persecution of reformists themselves, hardened opposition among the educated bourgeoisie and convinced moderates that radical change was the only answer to China's disintegration. Ch'iu became obsessed with the plight of Chinese women, which she later wrote about in intense and illuminating detail.
Ch'iu's attitude to married life in this period was dutiful and traditional. She applied her talents, above all, to poetry. The sinologist Mary Rankin has described the recurrent themes in Ch'iu's poetry as autumn, sorrow, loneliness, wind and rain. Significantly the Chinese character for Ch'iu's surname means autumn and is an element in the character meaning sorrow. She also took another name for herself which meant 'Male challenger'.
By 1903 Ch'iu's experiences had crystallised into a single burning ambition - to save China, through revolution. Compared with that heroic mission, poetry and domestic life seemed trivial. The Confucian tradition put the family before the State, but this was the tradition which had to be swept away. Ch'iu took the almost unprecedented action of leaving her husband and her children. For a woman of that time, it was a step into the abyss. It was a radical decision for her own emancipation, too - both exhilarating and filled with anxiety - and she threw herself into the cause of feminism and revolution with impatient brilliance. 'My body' wrote Ch'iu 'does not attain In prominence to those of men My heart truly transcends in ardour Those of men'.
Because she was a woman, she was up against greater odds than men. She had further to go to be a revolutionary, more ties to break, and, in a period of transition, little with which to replace them except her own sense of mission. Her loneliness and melancholy was necessarily acute at times, as her poetry shows; so was her deeper despair at failure. What she achieved was at great emotional and personal cost - ultimately the cost of her own life.
In Tokyo - where she sought refuge - Ch'iu seemed a fascinating, compelling figure. Having arrived from Peking 'quite alone and oppressed by a thousand anxieties', she was instantly the focus of attention. Her behavior, for a well-bread Chinese girl, was idiosyncratic in the extreme. She was never without her short sword; she swilled wine like a buccaneer. Her brilliance in debate turned any public meeting she attended into an event.
Ch'iu admired Western figures of heroic action: Napoleon, George Washington, Sophia Perovskaya (who helped assassinate Alexander ll) and Madam Roland, the Girondist leader who was guillotined during the French revolutionary Terror. Her models in Chinese history were usually those who had committed suicide in the act of assassinating tyrants. Often they were women; notably Mu Lan, who distinguished herself as a foot soldier and fought in the ranks in place of her father. Ch'iu often wore men's clothes, but whereas Mu Lan acted out of filial piety - the Confucian virtue - Ch'iu sought to prove her moral ascendancy over males.
In her writings Ch'iu railed against the system that kept women in bondage: enforced marriage, seclusion, concubinage and especially the 'untold misery' of footbinding. Concubinage was not only miserable and humiliating; it caused jealousy and unhappiness in the family. 'You try to flee its insufferable tyranny by poison, hanging or drowning...' she wrote. 'It is truly a hell on earth which competes with the hell of the dead.'
Pressed by the Manchu Government, Japan agreed to restrict Chinese students' activities in Tokyo, and Ch'iu decided to return to Shanghai early in 1906. From that moment she became an active revolutionary. She opened a branch of the Restoration Society, the main revolutionary movement of the times, and hired a house in Hongkew to set about making bombs. Her inexperience nearly proved fatal. One day an explosion rattled the windows in the district, injuring Ch'iu and one accomplice.
She made exhausting, difficult journeys through the mountainous province of Chekiang, preparing an uprising to coincide with those in Hunan and Kiangsi at the end of the year. But both ended in disaster, with the execution of many of her friends. In anger and despair she returned to Shanghai and founded a feminist newspaper, The Chinese Women's Journal. Its readership, for all her efforts, was confined to the educated elite, and it lasted for only two issues.
Ch'iu left Shanghai for the last time in 1907 for her birthplace Shao-hsing, to become principal of the Ta-t'ung school. By now, aged 32, she had total control of the movement in Chekiang. That spring she reorganised the society, tried to pull all the secret societies under its banner. She made contacts with revolutionaries in the army in Hangchow. She drilled her students for combat in the 'physical culture' classes. This, and the impropriety of wearing male dress and riding flamboyantly through the town, angered the local gentry, who tried to lynch her. Ch'iu was saved by her students.
Meanwhile, the planning went to considerable lengths. Army commanders were appointed, duties assigned, uniforms and banners manufactured - all in great secrecy. Ch'iu had joined forces with another revolutionary, Hsu Hsi-lin, a man of 'fierce energy and fanatical temper', who was in charge of Anwei province. Both agreed on 8 July for the coordinated uprising. Their plans, however, went wildly wrong from the outset. The uprising started elsewhere on 1 July. Hsu lost his judgment and shot wildly, without his glasses, at the Governor of Anwei, who was attending a local function. He then ran into the street, waving his sword, to signal the uprising. Nothing happened. He was then killed and his heart cut out to appease the governor's family.
Ch'iu wept with rage and disappointment. Any further moves were clearly hopeless, yet she went ahead. She knew that the Army was marching from Hangchow on the school. She ignored the pleadings of her students to escape, and with those that remained she put up a brief resistance, with only a few rounds of ammunition.
Ch'iu was tortured and interrogated, but refused to admit to having planned a revolution. Her only statement in court after the death sentence was passed was a single line of poetry, traced out in the courtroom and using the characters in her own name. 'Autumn rain and autumn wind will make me die of sorrow'. On 15 July, dressed in the red robes prescribed for a criminal, she was beheaded with a sword.
None of her relatives dared touch Ch'iu's body, which lay exposed for a time, until a charitable society buried it on a nearby hill. Then a close female companion honored an old promise to bury her by the Western Lake and moved the coffin secretly, by night. The Manchu Government destroyed the tomb and ordered the family to rebury the body at Shao-hsing. In 1909, her son, aged only 14, made the long journey alone from Hunan province, to collect the coffin. And finally, after the revolution of 1911, revered as a national heroine and martyr, she was brought back to Western Lake. The Wind and Rain pavilion now stands there as her memorial.
As a model of the feminist revolutionary freedom fighter and as a folk heroine, the Ch'iu Chin myth has the distinction of having survived, unchallenged, in China, since her death.
Adapted from 'Feminists in the firing line' by Robert Fox, The Observer, 26 November 1978
More feminist freedom fighters to glorify: Alexandra Kollontai, Louise Michel and Flora Tristan.
January - February 2006
Question: How much does it cost to have sex with seventeen-year olds?
Answer: 7 years in prison.
National Youth Campaign.
CUNST ART Comment on: 'A Coordinated Prostitution Strategy and a summary of responses to Paying the Price'. Home Office. January 2006.
A male Home Secretary who has sex without condoms with a married woman and then attempts to break up her marriage and family by demanding DNA tests on her children would look hypocritically baffoonish announcing moralistic legislation for how consenting adults should manage their sex lives. Luckily the Home Office is rid of David Blunkett.
Fiona Mactaggart presented Government's Prostitution Strategy with a good deal of credibility considering the moralistic muddle she presided over. The premise of the Paying the Price prostitution review was to eradicate prostitution with a zero tolerance policy to 'any form of sexual commercial exploitation'. In the real world, and in almost every line of her post-review Prostitution Strategy, Fiona Mactaggert acknowledges that toleration of how consenting adults in private conduct their sex lives is necessary. Already this relatively brave moderation is being condemned. Apparently there is fury at the Home Office's last minute decision to include in the Strategy the proposal of an amendment to the law 'so that two (or three) individuals may work together'. A powerful group of lobbyists, authoritarian feminists and women MPs had been urging the Home Office to adopt a Swedish-type law that would make it a crime for consenting adults (mostly men) to buy sex from consenting adults (mostly women).
Cunst Art is opposed to authoritarian feminists who still hold to the view that all prostitutes are the mindless victims of male power. There have always been authoritarian puritan feminists who order 'other' women around. Their natural alliance with women-hating religious reactionaries, right-wing conservatives and prohibitionists can give feminism a bad name. Authoritarian feminists refuse to listen to the voices of prostitutes who say they freely chose to do sex work, contending that such women are not credible. Liv Jessen, who in 2004 won an Amnesty International Award for her Prostitutes' Rights work, says that feminists who stigmatise prostitutes and refuse to accept their right to choose are wrong and that they dehumanise these woman with their accusations of 'a false consciousness syndrome'. Authoritarian feminists only want to believe prostitutes who know what is best for them, are 'repentant sinners' and who can then be called 'survivors'.
'Women in prostitution naturally have different views on the subject of prostitution,' says Jessen. 'But to say that only the ones who agree with us are right, while the prostitutes who think differently are not ascribed human qualities like the right to make their own choices or to be believed, is oppressive and a fundamentalist attitude.'
There were 861 responses to the Government's consultation paper. Considering the enormous amount of money, time and serious endeavour it would be churlish simply to dismiss the resulting Prostitution Strategy because of the missed opportunity that it represents.
In part the Strategy is tremendously good. The bad parts are where Government, and the majority of the respondents to the consultation, contend that it is unacceptable and must remain illegal for consenting adults to buy and sell sex. With much 'zero tolerance' rhetoric Government has decided to play to 'popular' opinion, hysteria about 'evils' of prostitution and 'sexy' media stories about the 'nuisance' of street prostitution. In fact, and in reality, as the Strategy acknowledges (page 13), 'the level of nuisance impacts on relatively few residents and local businesses'. For the 'few' who can be 'hugely distressed' by street prostitution there are already ample remedies in law.
It is a crime to buy sex from children under the age of 18. All trafficking of people of any age for sexual exploitation anywhere in the world is illegal. Men who have committed offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 of trafficking women for prostitution, false imprisonment and rape have received prison sentences of between 9 to 21 years.
What everyone agrees must not be tolerated are murder, rape, violence, assault, threats, sexual abuse, grooming, kidnapping, theft, robbery, abduction, slavery, coercion, human trafficking, fraud, tax evasion, public disorder, nuisance, noise and litter. We have laws, including the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which cover these offences.
So long as adults obey these laws and so long as adults trade according to standard business codes, employment law and health and safety regulations then they should be free to buy and sell sex. Adults who choose to buy and sell sex want to be safe not saved.
Government Prostitution Strategy is at its best when it considers children under the age of 18. The most effective measures Government proposes are the non-criminalizing voluntary welfare service 'holistic' packages. Social services, health agencies and Drug Action Teams are being encouraged to work together with a variety of early interventions to help distressed children, identifying and reaching children in need of protection, and support for vulnerable drug dependent street people, whether they are prostitutes, homeless or beggars.
These commendable welfare services never grab 'sexy' headlines. They are low-key, out of sight, unpublicised, despised by reactionary tabloids - and expensive (in the short term). No amount of DIP's, DAT's, NTA's, CRP's, CAF's, PSHE's or VVAPP's (Drug Intervention Programmes, Drug Action Teams, National Treatment Agency, Common Assesment Frameworks, Crime Reduction Programmes, Personal Health and Social Education, Victims of Violence and Abuse Prevention Programmes) can have impact without money. Government makes much of the few multi-agency Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCS's) but only intends to fund more as money becomes available from 'recovered proceeds of crime'.* In other words, women will only get proper protection from violent sexual criminals if police manage to recover money from gangsters!
Headline grabbing 'crack-down' rhetoric on prostitution and 'curb crawlers' is cheap and it always fails the most vulnerable, especially the women and children most likely to be victims of sex crime and violence.
But hidden within Governments Prostitution Strategy is a remarkable emphasis on changing the paedophile paradigm behaviour of patriarchal men that could make a dramatic difference to all women.
In patriarchy male status is gained by the ability to control, own and be seen with young women, the younger the better. In patriarchy having sex with chirldren is the norm. It is considered perverse for men to desire mature women. Men like the DJ John Peel, who for years salivated on the BBC about his lust for 'school girls', are valorised. Men like the film maker Woody Allen and teacher William Gibson are forgiven the statuary rape of children under the age of 18 on the grounds that this is a 'grey' area and that they married the children. Allen and Gibson deny they are paedophiles. They certainly appear not to love children since they were selfishly willing to reduce the life chances of the uneducated children in their care to childbearing and domesticity. Many men are very tolerant and envious of other men who have sex with teenagers - unless those teenagers happen to be their own daughters and then they are overcome with child-is-my-property vengeance.
Making it a crime to buy sex from children under the age of 18 has been a radical paedophile attitude-changing law. Adults who buy sex are under strict liability as to age. Pleading that they did not know the child was under 18 because she looked and acted grown-up or that she 'consented' is not acceptable mitigation in court. Adults who want to buy sex are having to get accustomed to only buying sex from those who are very obviously mature and old enough to cope with the serious responsibilities of the profession.
Encouraging prostitutes to report abusive and violent men to the police is another positive element in the Strategy. Government wants prostitutes to have confidence in the criminal justice system. The intention is to train special sexual offence liaison officers with specific information on how to deal with crimes against women involved in prostitution. Of course, legalising prostitution would be the most effective way to enable prostitutes and all workers in the sex industry to report crimes committed against them. However, if Government follows through with support for Ugly Mug 'dodgy punter' schemes and the national data base that is being set up with information about men who are abusive and violent to prostitutes then we could see a significant change in the way men behave towards sex workers. When men know that their behaviour to sex workers is being monitored they are likely to behave well. Intelligence about violent and abusive men could help to solve crimes of abduction, rape and murder. Men who abuse prostitutes are likely to pose a danger to all women. Men who behave well and respect women sex workers are likely to respect and behave well to all women.
Respecting prostitutes and all 'whores' is the only way to ensure that all women are respected. Only when adults are free to work in a lawful sexual service trade and free to use sex trade services within the law will we be able to protect all women from sexual violence.**
No legal machinery can be brought to bear to eradicate prostitution. At the same time changes in the law can improve the relationship between prostitutes, clients and society to reduce crime and nuisance. The present law stereotypes women prostitutes, and by extension all women, by focusing on women's moral 'fault', impugning women's motives, questioning their rationality and challenging their competence. Prohibition of prostitution creates the conditions for exploitation and crime. Clients can abuse prostitutes. Prostitutes, despite or because of their legal and historic power disadvantage, can harm, rob, "kiss and tell", blackmail, inconvenience or embarrass their clients. To reduce crime we need to use the business-regulating laws we already have to encourage cooperation between the two trading parties. Sex workers and their clients have the mutual, crime reducing interest of treating each other with respect and dignity. Increasing the status of prostitution to a legitimate profession would not only increase the status of all women it would reduce the conditions that foster crime, including violent crime and rape.
'Common prostitute' is a sexist term in law stemming for the belief implicit in our legal system that all women are immoral. The term does not include male prostitutes. Government now recognises that this term is 'offensive'. There are plans to create a new gender-neutral 'soliciting' offence 'along the lines of causing nuisance of harassment in public places through offering sexual services for gain' with penalties varying 'according to persistence'. We look forward to Government's law drafting struggle to define 'gain'. Laws already exist for nuisance and harassment. No new law is necessary.
Government also plans to 'redefine the definition of a brothel'. This is part of the plan to 'research off-street prostitution'. A new law that permits 'two (or three) individuals' working together to provide sexual services will conflict with the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which increased the prison sentence for 'brothel keeping' to seven years.
ASBO's (Anti-social Behaviour Orders), Government acknowledges, are increasingly discredited and 'are of limited use' especially without the back up of welfare support services. (Page 41). From April 2006 a new civil order, an Intervention Order for adults, will run alongside ASBO's to 'help individuals' out of prostitution and those dependent on drugs.
Government acknowledges that criminlalizing prostitutes has no long term effect on street prostitution and that 'success' is more likely where treatment of drug dependence and mental distress is voluntary.
War on prostitution always has and always will fail. The most effective long-term method of crime reduction in relation to prostitution is a social welfare policy that gives a helping hand to those involved in prostitution who want to get out of it and that applies to both buyers and sellers. While prostitution itself should not be a crime, coercion and violence should be. An intelligent Government would persuade the public that such a liberal approach to consenting adults involved in buying and selling sex would reduce crime and benefit everyone. This January the public might have been ready not to begrudge the slight increase in taxation necessary to pay for a society enhancing liberal strategy. Under New Labour we will never know. Maybe this is one for David Cameron and liberal New Tories?
* Page 44 5.17 of Paying the Price: a consultation paper on prostitution. Home Office 2004
**The Cunst Art pamphlet Calling Women 'Whores' Lets Rapists Go Free by Caroline Coon and Amber Lane is about the need to legalise prostitution. We explain how the use of the word 'whore' for moral condemnation creates a fatal link between rape and prostitution, with the consequence that convictions for rape are shockingly low.
The special, limited, hand stamped edition of 100 copies costs £15.00 per copy, to include post and packing. Normal copies are £5.00, to include post and packing. To recieve a copy email: email@example.com
Rock Against Sexism - continued!
This month's MOJO, edited by Phil Alexander, is brilliant. Kate Bush is on the cover! In the history of MOJO Bush is only the third woman, after Janis Joplin and Madonna, to have broken through what Pat Gilbert calls 'the music press men only segregation barrier'.
Tom Doyle writes the Kate Bush cover story. It is rumoured that Doyle has an instructive by-the-way story to tell about how MOJO got his scoop, the first interview Bush has given for twelve years. Apparently he first offered it to another music magazine. The editor of that magazine, surrounded by an astonished sock of male writers, is reported to have said to Doyle 'if you carry on proposing stories like that you'll be out on the street!' Said editor is idiotically pushing that men only magazine with its ever-diminishing readership into oblivion. He appears unaware that he is breaking anti-discrimination law. Responsible corporate bosses should take note.
The December MOJO also has an article on Debbie Harry and Blondie. These days Blondie is recognised as one of the greatest pop-punk bands of all time. But lest we forget, in 1976 the then editor of New Musical Express gleefully allowed naive Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons to denigrate and dismiss Harry as 'just an ugly old bag'.
Phil Alexander, in a very smart marketing ploy to sell MOJO to the biggest possible readership, has added a great free CD compilation to the package: 'The Roots of Hendrix, 15 tracks that inspired the legend'. Icing on this delicious MOJO cake would have been to have included women in the all-male R&B compilation, say Betty Lavette singing 'Let me Down Easy'.
Pop song in Bilbao - British Pop at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao* until 12th February 2006
In an art history defining moment, the place of women artists in Pop Art is finally beyond contention. It is no longer acceptable to distort art history by excluding women artists from Pop Art exhibitions. Following the lead of Dr David A. Mellor in 1993, curators of Pop Art exhibitions are putting women artists back into the narrative. In other words, the Pop Art story is at last being represented in curated exhibitions today in a truthful telling of how the art was created when women Pop artists worked and played alongside their male Pop artist colleagues, friends and lovers in the 1960's.
Curated by Marco Livingstone, British Pop is a brilliant gathering of 19 artists who make up the hot core of what British Pop Art is. For the first time Pauline Boty's painting 'My Colouring Book', 1963, is included in the cannon. Boty (1938-1966) not only painted Pop Art, she lived it. Like David Hockney with his dyed blond hair and gold lame jacket, Boty dressed with a style and freedom which signed her commitment to the class and gender liberating politics of the time. She reveled in the youth culture of Pop music. As a fan she turned up at Top of the Pop's recordings to dance and pose and swoon in the presence of great stars like Dusty Springfield. 'My Colouring Book' is her painting of the Ebb and Kandor song Springfield recorded for her first solo album. Rarely has youthful love and heartbreak been more exquisitely captured in the three art mediums of music, performance and painting. However, Boty is still the subject of a sexist category error. Livingstone still finds it difficult to 'see' art when it is created by women. While he elevates the self-consciously childlike bad painting marks of male artists like Boshier or Hamilton to the status of vanguard innovation against the academic finish of traditional fine art, he judges Boty's painting to be 'sometimes clumsily executed'.
For the first time the art of Jann Haworth is included in a major Pop Art retrospective. Bringing Haworth back into the heart of the Pop Art cannon could not be more significant. Through her art, and in the way she is able to talk about her work, Haworth exemplifies what W.E.B. de Bois called, in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, 'double consciousness'. In Haworth's art we can see how being a women artist (writer, painter, sculptor or musician) means standing both inside and outside society. A woman artists' 'double consciousness' means that she can see the world as men do while reaching out to touch it as a women. Haworth writes that when Eduardo Paolozzi saw her fabric sculpture 'Cowboy', 1964, he said: 'Cast it in Bronze'. Haworth told him that she had 'cast it in cloth' and 'that was the point'. Her use of stitching and fabric as a high art material was politically explosive. Male artists and the art establishment could not bear it. Sewing, when done by a woman, was considered inferior and second rate compared to any sewing art or craft made by men, like tapestry or tailoring. Because Haworth dangerously challenged male art practice and sexism she was the butt of male backlash to the point of almost being 'silenced' as an artist. Luckily for us her courage and conviction - not to mention the intellectual depth she can draw on to articulate her positioning in art establishment politics - has meant that she continues to make art, much of which 'connects directly' to the work she made in the 1960's.
More Pop Art women to sing about: Evelyne Axell, Rosalyn Drexler and Alina Szapocznikow.
* A tip for visits to Bilbao: if you are disappointed in the art on show in the Guggenheim go three minutes down the road to the Museo de Bellas Artes. Here you will be rewarded, as James Mayor would say, by art 'not interfered with by architects' but art in perfect exhibition spaces, a fine permanent collection, especially works from the Basque School.
Rock against sexism - and racism, too!
For women to challenge the sexism of being under represented and excluded is dangerous - you risk your career. There is enough female representation around these days for it to be frequently argued that in asking for more Western women are selfish and go 'too far'. Women do not read the music press is the excuse offered for why media like New Musical Express and Q are male dominated zones. Young women music writers continue to plot ways to break in.
Emily Mackay*, music writer and postgraduate student at Goldsmith College, turned me on to 'revolution',** a new music magazine written by women about women musicians for women music fans. It was, she said, on sale at Rough Trade.
Some time ago at Rough Trade: Nigel House, the ever-helpful manager, recommended a new punk compilation Rough Trade had just released in co-operation with Mute. I cast my eye down the track list. It was only male groups. I suggested to Nigel that there would be a big demand for a CD of 1970's punk-era women bands, an alternative soundtrack to those exhilarating times, from The Slits through Althea and Donna to Lena Lovich. Nigel grimaced at mention of Lovich. 'You're wrong' I said, remembering Too Tender (To Touch) 'she was great!' Write up a proposal and a track list, said Nigel, and he would put it to Mute. I sent him the idea for SHEPUNK! But I heard nothing. Time passed, and here I was again at Rough Trade.
What's 'revolution'? Nigel asked. A new music magazine - about women musicians. After inquiring out back Nigel returned to tell me they had sold out. But, he said, he could recommend a great new CD compilation called 'Grlz'.
Oh, I exclaimed, so without telling me you nicked my idea after all! With a flash of recall Nigel said 'I left a message on your answering machine. And the Grlz CD is not put out by us.' I did not receive any message. And my proposal deserved a written reply. It appeared to me that not only had Rough Trade ignored my letter but they had missed an obviously commercial opportunity. Nigel huffed. 'Well, anyway' he said 'I don't agree with gender-based records'. How rich, I laughed, coming from behind the counter of a record shop that mostly serves men with mostly gender-based records - male gender records!
Later: Pat Gilbert, the great music writer and one of the nicest non-sexists around, was looking sharp in designer stubble and a porkpie hat. We were dodging through rain back to the Q office where he was editing another Q Classic on The Clash. We had been to the launch of 'Who Shot The Sheriff?', Alan Miles' documentary film, supported by the Amicus trade union***, about the history of the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement.
We agree that Alan had compiled a series of stunning film clips of 1970's RAR concerts, demonstrations and revolt, images which were suppressed at the time. However, despite film of rock stars like Mick Jones and Pete Docherty giving emotional endorsement to the anti-racism cause, I thought the film ended without focus or impact. Political organisers Alan had to rely on to tell the contemporary story appeared unable to make sense of what multi-cultural British democracy is up against to-day. These speakers presented themselves as good ol' don't-need-no-educashun blokes who wouldn't touch 'intellectual' clarity with a barge pole. Opposition to the fascist British National Party (BNP) was dumbed down to the level of my anti-fascist logo is as good as your Nazi logo. Thug-stupid stereotyping of the working class, which any self-respecting worker would find offensive, was followed by self-congratulation - for making the effort to fight against racism and fascists who 'come at us with knives'.
Pat thought the political speeches were rather old fashioned. He grew up under Thatcher and he has for her a murderous hatred. But, I pointed out, that old-fashioned rhetoric was typical of much off-putting leftist politics and explained why the left failed to stop Thatcher. And to-day, I said, we will fail to galvanise everyone to Unite Against Racism if we go on aligning ourselves with 'black' fascists. Why isn't Love Music Hate Racism, who are following on from RAR, including Hizbut-Tahrir (HUT) along with the BNP in their anti-fascist campaign? Instead of challenging 'black' fascists the left is lining up along side people from the sexist, fascist right religious block which includes Sir Iqbal Sacranie and The Muslim Council of Britain. It is disastrous for the left not to know when fascists are fascists just because they are not white. Pat said that many on the left are afraid to challange HUT for fear of being called racist. Then he joked that it didn't really concern him personally that Islamo-fascists force women to wear the hijab. I tut tutted and said that if Islamo-fascists had their way they would kill him if he decided to shave off his designer stubble.
And by the way Pat, I said, what happened to my request that you edit a Q Classic dedicated to the history of How Women Have Changed Rock? Pat said: 'But don't you think that having a women only issue is just putting women in a getto?' From whom did Pat get the idea that where women are is a deficient slum? No, I replied, most of the intelligent people I know recognise that where women artists are grouped together is the avant guarde.
* After research for her essay 'Sleeping With The NME: Women, struggle and the Spectre of the Groupie in the UK music press' Emily MacKay concludes: Women's under-representation in the music magazines is one symptom of the denigration of the female in the music press as a whole. As research proves, increasing the number of women in a workplace will not necessarily produce more positive gender representations that might attract more female readers. A specific woman's taste in music or a specific female approach to writing about music proves on examination, impossible to define. The best way in which to alter the representation of women in the music press and attract more female readers is by the activism of individual writers by reclaiming female fandom and sexuality for the music press through parody and satire of stereotypes like 'groupie' or 'hysterical fan'. A separate woman's music magazine might be an important stepping stone, but the ultimate goal must be to normalise a place for women in the world of popular music.'
** 'revolution', edited by Leonie Cooper, is 'here to deliver a kick up the arse of macho music magazines who only cover female artists once in a blue moon. Or if you can see their bra.'
*** Congratulations to Gloria Mills the newly elected first black woman President of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
No, Bush and Blair, no compromise!
On our behalf two white male millionaires, endowed with every liberal secular freedom to make their life on Earth paradise with shaved faces and Bermuda shorts on, have asked placemen in Iraq to "compromise" on the Iraq Constitution. Compromise what? Essentially, to compromise on the secular human rights of women. The compromise will create gender apartheid. And worse. If women do not have equal rights to men then there is no democracy. In a system where women do not have human rights then the rights of men are worthless. In fact, in Iraq today self-appointed gangs of religious police are not only forcing women into the 'Islamic' veil they are murdering men for not growing beards. Men who refuse to compromise on woman's rights guarantee their own rights too.
Bush and Blair's disregard of women's rights is typical. Last month, in the Independent on Sunday, feminist Joan Smith argued that Bush and Blair had created the incipient civil war in Iraq but to bring Troops Out Now was the worst option since it would condemn Iraq to Islamic fascism.* A male letter writer objected. Labelling her a "liberal imperialist" he stated that we have "no business in Iraq and if women and homosexuals are persecuted then that is the way in the Middle East and nothing to do with us." In the 1970's women struggling shoulder to shoulder with working class men and anti racists were told to shut up about women's liberation with varying degrees of civility. Black Power leader Stokley Carmicheal told us that our role in the revolution was "horizontal". One of the organisers of Rock Against Racism, a man with impeccable right-on Labour credentials, remembers that campaigning time. He says, "The spirit was incredible. Where it got a bit silly were the arguments about whether drum risers were phallic symbols and these discussions about the phallic nature of the guitar and all that. It's fine to have intellectual debates about those issues, but in an emergency situation where Asian greengrocers are being petrol-bombed and burnt to death I didn't think it was the number one issue".**
Women were, and still are, challenging sexism in the rock industry. (The debate about phallic instruments is easily settled. The guitar is splendidly hermaphrodite.***) But women were, and still are, also confronting "emergency situations" - the "and all that" issues of rape, 'domestic' violence, and 'honour' murders. The trouble with many men on the British left is that they have always put the rights of immigrant male patriarchs and religious 'community leaders' above and before the secular rights of immigrant and indigenous women. These men are apparently not only disinterested in fighting against sexism and religious persecutors but they are actually dismissive or irritated by anyone who is. It is worse than stupid to brush women's rights aside as 'silly' while you decide how to prioritise what you judge to be more important political concerns. While women are asked to 'compromise', code for shut up, murderous extremists are allowed to flourish at home and abroad.
When women will not shut-up about sexism "no sense of humour" accusations fly. However, if you do believe in democracy and human rights and you are not just a sexist political joker then you had better start seriously demanding that Bush and Blair get serious. Support all the women in Iraq, and women every where else in the world who are bravely demanding secular equal rights to men and are refusing to compromise.
* UK, USA and other foreign occupying troops will not have the redemptive opportunity of staying in Iraq to help to 'stabalise the situation' or to 'establish democracy' - they will be forced out by Iraqi 'insurgents'.
* * Q Classic magazine: "Bob Marley and the Story of Reggae". September 2005. Page 100, Rock Against Racism.
*** For an iconic image of a hermaphrodite guitar see "Jimi Hendrix: Cock of the Rock 'n' Roll Roost. No 3". at http://www.axisweb.org/artist/carolinecoon
No to 'Faith' and religion.
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion ban art, music, dancing and free speech,If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion spew murderous hatred at 'unbelievers' and others,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion demand the genital mutilation of children,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion stone women to death for 'adultery',
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion call same sex love a sin,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion refuse women equal rights,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion refuse to ordain women bishops,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion control the way women dress,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion demand that women are 'modest',
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion refuse women control of their bodies and reproduction,
If you tolerate those who in the name of faith and religion refuse the poor birth control and family planning,
If you tolerate any gender apartheid,
If you tolerate "honour killing" women,
If you tolerate the execution of homosexuals and lesbians,
Then do not be surprised when they no longer tolerate you
And you find that they murder and bomb you to death in the name of 'faith' and religion.
(Caroline Coon/Cunst Art)
Cunst Art publishes the pamphlet: Calling Women 'Whores' Lets Rapists Go Free.
The pamphlet is about the need to legalise prostitution. We explain how the use of the word 'whore' for moral condemnation creates a fatal link between rape and prostitution, with the consequence that convictions for rape are shockingly low. The pamphlet is designed in conjunction with Richard Adams Associates.
The special, limited, hand stamped edition of 100 copies costs £15.00 per copy, to include post and packing. Normal copies are £5.00, to include post and packing. To reserve your copy email: firstname.lastname@example.org
At the Glastonbury Festival, in the Leftfield tent, look out for the launch of the documentary film "Who Shot The Sheriff". Directed by Alan Miles, it is a history of Rock Against Racism - "a mass musical counter-blast to the creeping curse of fascism 1978- 2004". Caroline Coon has contributed photographs of multi-cultural Britain in the punk era.
At the Cannabis Education Rally on Sunday May 15th, organised by the Cannabis Research and Education Trust, Caroline Coon exhorted government not to demonise dealers but to licence them. She urged black politicians to campaign to end prohibition. For the full text of the speech: www.schmoo.co.uk/cannabis/carolinecoon.htm
Check out the art on producer and designer Mal Burns' site: www.burnsite.int.tl/
MOJO, April 2005, reprints
Caroline Coon's report of The Clash in Belfast -
On BBC Radio 4's "You and Yours", in a discussion comparing today's welfare services with those of the 1960's, Caroline Coon said "I disagree with the premise that young people today are less idealistic than they were in the 1960's. Young people today are idealistically engaged in many great causes like Fair Trade, anti racism, gender equality, preserving the environment and ending poverty. Demonstrations against the Iraq war today are very reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of the 1960's.
"Voluntary welfare services today carry a huge burden of responsibility for social good and they therefore have to be efficient and business-like. But then, many welfare services in the 1960's like Release were efficient and business-like too!"