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“Apathy is compliance, acceptance of the status quo, and that’s intolerable.”

They said it was a lack of information that was holding people back before the Internet, but there’s an apparent historical amnesia, or worse ignorance at the moment. It was only 60 years ago that segregation existed in the states and they were lynching black people. It was only 60 years ago that the tories ran their infamous ‘nigger for a neighbour’ campaign. It’s naive to expect we’ve moved on so much in such a short space of time. 

Events across the pond are rightly being condemned as police attempt to quell rioting caused by police brutality with ever more alarming acts of brutality. We think of the civil rights movement as a thing of the past. ‘I have a dream’, but that dream now only extends as far as banal memes to demonstrate how woke you are. Apathy is compliance, acceptance of the status quo, and that’s intolerable. Until there is real justice, there can be no peace. 

Black lives matter, because until black lives matter, none of our lives matter either. The struggle for equality binds us, it’s a shared destination that we must arrive at together. A lot of white people are getting it twisted as somehow excluding anyone else from ‘mattering’. It’s gross self indulgence and wilful ignorance to not see that this isn’t about you, but you do have work to do. Today, we stand with the black community in solidarity against the systemic oppression and profiteering from their land and culture that has formed the foundations of Western ‘civilisation’. Making it about your delicate white ego is precisely part of the problem.

Yet, I’ve spent time reflecting upon my own privilege, something that’s been hard at times, since my life has never really felt very privileged. I empathise that It’s hard for people to consolidate they’ve had a head start in life when the world they see around them doesn’t appear to reflect that. I say that for balance, but so long as our history books and education programs don’t accurately contextualise and confront the accepted narratives concerning our colonial history, the crimes of empire, the racism that built the world we live in, nothing will change.

I was moved by George Floyd’s death. I watched the video not knowing he would die, and felt like many that I wished I could punch through my screen and make it stop. It was shocking. Another massive fuck you to the notion of policing by consent, and another unnecessarily fatal abuse of power. This moved me to act on a concept I’d already been working on in the studio.

I’ve been playing with the iconography of justice, and that evolved into a series of paintings, ultimately a polyptych allegory of liberty. The IV July is replaced with IV SALE, we the people, whether our labour or data – our only purpose is to serve as stock. Emancipation was never about liberty or equality, which is why they compensated slave owners for their loss of ‘property’. It renders the concept of liberty as hollow as the statue itself. It was always about transference of wealth from the state to private ownership. Taxes from black people paid the debt for their ancestors freedom until as recently as 2015 in the UK. What a horrific legacy. So, with all of this rattling around my brain I felt like a black square on social media would never be enough, so I decided to go big!

I think in a world where opinions are stated as facts and with the backlash against science, and experts in general, these symbols are more important than ever. They’re archetypes within our collective conscious that transcend argument. You can’t fight a symbol, only reflect upon why you feel the way you do about it. These symbols are used to legitimise power and I want to challenge that authority, I want more of my work to provoke these kinds of reflections. Systemic change must come from public pressure, and if people aren’t hearing the message, we need to find other ways to communicate.

Ultimately, I know I’m incapable of ever fully understanding, but I do stand with you. 

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I’ve been reluctant to associate myself with this project for some time, not least because I was arrested before new year and needed to be cautious about the way I intended to proceed until I had jumped through all the necessary legal hoops. This is without doubt the most daring of my protest campaigns, but also the one I feel most strongly about.

Let me set the scene…

It’s Christmas 2018. The queen sits in front of a golden piano, on a golden chair, preaching to her subjects about poverty in the UK. Condemned by the UN for cuts to public services and benefits that disproportionately affect the least well-off, the conservative government is in breach of its human rights obligations.

The tory austerity narrative has been utterly refuted. Worse still, declared ‘social murder’ by a peer reviewed study from Lancaster University. UCL research links health and social care spending cuts since 2010 to 120,000 excess deaths in England alone.  14 million people, over a fifth of the country are in poverty, with a record 60% of those in poverty in work, the highest figure yet recorded. The governments own research indicates that a shocking 4.1 million of those in poverty are also children.

As the brutal impact of DWP policy on the lives of people close to me and thousands more becomes clear, witnessing first hand the turmoil created by a regime of devastating sanctions and chaos over the switch to universal credit.  Seeing the pain and unnecessary suffering brought to bear by this government upon the most vulnerable in our society, it’s safe to say there’s something sinister going on in this country.

At a time when disability benefit claimant suicide rates have doubled to 43%, nearly half!  When the disabled and terminally ill are being declared “fit for work” in the face of overwhelming medical evidence, there is no question that this is an ideologically driven program of social cleansing. 70% of appeal cases are subsequently overturned, wasting thousands in unnecessary legal fees, as claimants are sanctioned starving or freezing to death in their own homes, DWP officials are claiming 44 million in performance related bonuses.

“It’s clear that our institutions are broken, not fit for purpose, and in need of serious and urgent reform.”

When homelessness is a crime, when poverty reigns on the streets of one of the richest countries on the planet. When homelessness has risen by a shocking 165%, and people are freezing to death on the steps of parliament, it’s time for immediate action, not platitudes about “strong and stable leadership” or  any of the countless sound bites regurgitated in parliament or the media to avoid answering for their criminal legacy. Public opinion must make it clear that we will not accept this!

When our elected representatives outright lie to both the public and parliament with impunity. After repeated scandals, U turns and systemic failures, conflicts of interest, and the first government in British history to be found in contempt of parliament, they laugh and jeer when questioned about the impact of leaving the life opportunities of a generation in tatters. No mandate to govern, no real majority within their own party, let alone parliament, desperately clinging to power through bribery, deceit & electoral fraud. Compassionate conservatism laid bare.

It is against this backdrop that on the 21st December 2018 I took it upon myself to paint FIT FOR WORK in 40 metre wide letters across the front windows of the Department for Work and Pensions. They’ve tried to cover up these protests in the past, as if that would in some way hide the reality of their savage policies. A metaphor for how they’ve ignored the real human toll of their actions. So it needed to be said much louder!

“DWP, more like The Department for Wealth and Privilege, because if you don’t own property, and or fall on hard times, you might as well be invisible, better yet, dead.”

I was ultimately caught mid operation and only managed to get part of the slogan up, and there’s a video link of the police chase at the bottom of the page if you fancy a laugh, but this statement still begs the question, what is this institution “fit for”?

I was given a caution for criminal damage, conditional on the attendance of a victim awareness course and a fine of £60. The suggestion that the victim in this situation is in any way the DWP is scandalous! The crass insensitivity demonstrated here is frightening. Yes, I could have been punished more harshly, and I accept that. I thank the police for dealing with me in a respectful way, despite cuts to their own funding that have left them threadbare and completely under resourced, which was why I was taken to Oldbury, because they were understaffed everywhere else. 

However, this country has a rich history of protesting that has lead to many of the freedoms we enjoy today, and it is our collective responsibility to stand up against these gross and systemic violations of peoples fundamental rights. It was infuriating to hear the police defend the DWP with statements like “you can’t fight the system”, “what’s the point?”. I explained how many of the most disgusting crimes in Human history were legal, from slavery to the holocaust, and that our government was complicit in mass murder, but I wasn’t about to change any minds. They exist to protect the very system I was fighting against.

I’ve not long completed the victim awareness course, that was meant to help me “gain an understanding of the effects of my behavior and learn to make informed decisions that will reduce my risk of re-offending”, but all it did was present me with an opportunity to discuss what real victim-hood was in a room full of people who ultimately congratulated me for my work, and suggested I should run for local MP. I think it’s clear from what has already been said here, that this was by no means an ill-informed decision. I would readily give up my liberty if I felt that it could in some small way make a difference. So, will I re-offend? Until this villainous scum are either removed from office, or brought to justice, I’d pretty much promise it!

For the future I’ll be working with The Hemp Trading Company to bring the Fit For Work concept to a series of T-shirts where 100% of the profit from these designs will go to charity, but I need your help. I’m selling Fit For Work sticker packs in store now as a means to both fund future protests, and so that you too can get involved! As we move toward what I see as an inevitable general election, we must make sure that issues like this are at the forefront of public conscience when considering who to vote for. We can not endure another 3 years of crippling austerity under the tories.

Click on the image below for sticker packs:

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Just before New Year 2019 I was invited down to the BBC Studios in London to create a piece of art for their tech based science show, Click Live. What I didn’t realise, was that I would also be making history! I wont go into too much detail, as much of the information about the project is contained within the program itself, but that day I would become the first person in the world to paint using synthetic DNA that contained stored data.

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Massive Attack had commissioned a series of cans of spray paint containing this unique paint as part of their anniversary celebrations. My role within the show was to produce a piece of art using the DNA paint to help demonstrate potential uses for the technology in front of a live studio audience. I wanted to stay true to the initial concept artwork featuring the beetle, but with some simple details, like a helix, some DNA sequencing and a cracked microscope slide to add a graffiti stylisation in keeping with the theme of the piece. In total I only had about 3 hours to work on the painting, but thankfully it came together without too much drama.

Following on from the live show, I was interviewed in my studio space as part of a TV special that would further explore this incredible technology. Below are links to both the live show, and the special feature: