“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.