Just a bit of fun around San Pedro del Pinatar today.
100 years ago today Britain declared war on Germany and entered one of the bloodiest battles in history. But not everyone involved in the war was fighting – there were some on the frontline who risked their lives to save lives, to patch people up, to salvage humanity. They were the ying to the yang of the soldiers, and faced severe adversity themselves. These were the medics and the stretcher bearers – those tasked with life, not death.
100 years on and the human species still appears to err towards violence as a means to resolve disputes. A century more and men and women in conflict zones are still risking their lives to save others. These people are tougher than soldiers and the ultimate heroes of modern warfare. In 2009 I was asked to write a positive piece about Gaza and Israel. I chose to write about the International Red Cross Society – and some may be surprised to learn that I unearthed moving cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. And for those that consider Israeli nationals purely as aggressors – ponder on the 37,000 nurses and 25,000 physicians (40% of whom are women) currently practising. When we think of the destruction and hatred sweeping the middle east at the moment, and also touching Ukraine, South Sudan – know that there are people out there heroically working at countering death, illness and injury.
Maybe if we focussed on these heroes, it will inspire compassion rather than fuelling more hatred. It may also encourage people to enter the noblest of professions in history.
It’s time to run to the mothers
For the fathers have waged war
They have kicked strangers and children
And now their fathers will push you to the floor
It’s time to turn to the mothers
The givers of billions of lives before
More likely to find solutions
Than to send their children to war
More likely to nurture and think
Of how to better the lives they have borne
Than to destroy and dominate
Those already battle-worn
It’s time to listen to the mothers
They listened when the fathers wept
But now is her time for action
Help her to appear on the temple steps
by Caroline Jaine
Full text repeated in honour of the Iraqi Elections 2014.
Maliki Maliki there’s no one like Maliki.
Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw -
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air -
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!
Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square -
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!
He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair -
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!
And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair -
But it’s useless to investigate – Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
`It must have been Macavity!’ – but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!
Those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will have noticed a steep increase in bicycle-related art works of late. Just moments before I left the cycle-rich city of Cambridge after 20 years of calling it my home, my arts organisation was awarded funding to run a project for the Cambridge Vélo Festival, which coincides with the Tour de France being in Cambridge. I swiftly tattooed a small bike on my forearm before heading for Spain leaving my co-director, Janice at the helm.
I have been lucky – I have been able to set up an impressive studio in the sunshine and commit myself to painting pictures that celebrate the work of World Bicycle Relief – the charity we are supporting throughout this work. Janice has been busy working with a wealth of bicycle-inspired talent and I am looking forward to returning to Cambridge soon to experience a sculpture trail of pieces all constructed from bicycle parts (Recycle Le Vélo) and a bicycle themed take over of the gallery at Cambridge Contemporary Arts.
Meanwhile, here in Spain I have been unable to escape bikes! After a saga which involved having to leave my trustee two-wheels in Cambridge, I set about finding a replacement here in Murcia. Just a few blocks away from my studio I discovered an amazing cycle hire business run by a Welsh bike enthusiast. The owner collects old bicycles and bicycle memorabilia, and he not only provided me with a bicycle (which I have since sprayed and made gold), but has offered me a Penny Farthing to “decorate” and commissioned my first painting here in Spain (of a bike, what else?).
Yesterday I took my first venture outside of the small town I live in and headed for Spain’s seventh largest city – Murcia. After bus and tram, I climbed the hill up to the impressively modern Fine Art faculty at the University, where I had a pre-arranged meeting with Victoria Santiago Godos. It was a hot and humid day and the concrete blocks and high ceilings of the building provided an industrial cool. I found Victoria in her office. One of the first things she did was point and grin at my bicycle tattoo. Me gusta las bicicletas, I offered, as we embarked on a two-hour discussion in my poor Spanish and her slightly better English. Victoria then revealed that as well as being Vice-Dean of the Facultad de Arte, and fine art lecturer, she also appeared to be one of Spain’s most knowledgeable people on bicycle inspired art. The serendipity was overwhelming as she shared a presentation on the subject she had recently delivered. Pictures of bicycles by almost every 20th century artist I could think of filled the screen and many many more images of bicycles themselves – as sculpture, a canvas on which to paint or as simply a beautiful means of transport.
There is no doubt that aesthetically that the bicycle has a lot to offer. However I am also interested in its political loading. The suffragettes called bicycles “freedom machines” and in the early 1900’s many men took a dim view of women who used them. In the last few weeks, I have been painting pictures of African girls riding to school on bicycles that were provided for them by World Bicycle Relief. The bicycle allows access to education for girls, during a time where girls’ education in Africa is making the headlines as celebrities and world leaders shout #BringBackOurGirls in a bid to find the school girls abducted by Boko Haram.
And here is where I really begin to join the dots. One artist that Victoria told me about really caught my eye. He is Fernando Traverso. In 2001, Fernando Traverso, an Argentinian hospital worker, political activist, and artist, began spray painting a series of 29 life-size bicycle stencils throughout the streets of his Argentinian home town of Rosario as a memorial to 29 friends who were abducted, tortured and killed by the government. Today, there are 350 identical stenciled images painted on buildings throughout Rosario and his “bici” has become an international symbol remembering those who were disappeared, particularly in the Latin American “dirty wars”. His unique stencil was downloaded from the internet and used under his instruction – not in galleries – but as creative political statements. This is gentle, creative social-activism at its best.
It struck me that every bicycle I am painting at the moment is for a missing school girl – not just those taken by Boko Haram, but for those missing from school because they cannot get there. I hope that in my writing, painting and activism I can make a small difference – as did my small tattoo spark such a remarkable conversation.
When Huffington Post reported that George W. Bush was about to embark on making a series of portraits of world leaders – I nearly wept at the serendipity of it all.
I regularly seek space for my diverse set of interests to converge. As a non-traditional portrait artist obsessed with political propaganda and defacement. As an international relations academic and a former diplomat who served in Iraq (and wrote a book about that). And as a publisher who has recently published Dr Al Safi’s book, highly critical of the US in Iraq – this is great news for me indeed. To add to my excitement, the New York Times reported that the news of the portraiture had been inadvertently revealed by Jim Glassman. Master propagandist and public diplomacy expert Jim Glassman, doesn’t let anything just “slip”. I regularly use the footage of him preparing for the Arab Spring (astonishingly in 2008) with my students.
Only last week I penned a piece “Paintbrush Diplomacy” about Hilary Clinton’s (and my own) claim that art and diplomacy needs to go hand in hand more. Maybe George has read it and been inspired?
The question is…how do I respond. Having produced my own series of paintings called “World Leaders” is it time I came clean and made 19 defaced portraits of Mr Bush?
Prime Minister, David Cameron has flown back to the UK to address what he says are “increasingly serious concerns” over his relationship with Downing Street cat, Larry. Breaking away from him crucial role of negotiating a truce between the US and German governments over high profile phone surveillance, his return to the UK is amid media speculation of a rift between the pair.