September has been a momentous month in the UK, with three major events, in the first week alone, shaking the country into a new era.
The same week as tory party members – i.e. 0.2% of the UK population with a majority of white men over 65! - selected their next leader, Liz ‘we import two thirds of our cheese’ Truss, the other Liz, the head of the imperialist state, died at 96 – after 70 years on the throne. Also that week, on 5th September, as the new tory leader was unchained, in the streets of Streatham, South London, a young unarmed Black man, 24-year-old Chris Kaba, was chased by the police and shot dead through the windscreen of his car. The latter received barely any media coverage – even less so after the queen's passing a few days later. How we value human life differs enormously.
On Saturday 10th September, a few days after his murder, crowds gathered in Westminster in front of New Scotland Yard in solidarity with Chris Kaba’ s family to demand accountability and justice. It is a well-evidenced fact that people of colour, especially Black men, die disproportionately at the hands of the police. So much so, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have now launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death and enquiries remain ongoing – but this is only happening under pressure from family and campaigners calling for #JusticeForChrisKaba.
There is so much to unpack from these two weeks – and so much of it centres around imperialism, colonialism, and racism: the legacy of the British monarchy – as system of power and injustice that continues to shape our lives and that of so many people around the world. It’s been astounding to watch individuals and businesses falling over themselves in acts of patriotism, to the point of ridiculousness; not least standing for hours in the (world’s longest) queue. Dwelling briefly on ‘the queue’, a rather flabbergasting phenomenon, it reminded me strangely of The Procession by Hew Locke (at Tate Britain until 22 January 2023) – a critical display of colonial history - the antithesis. Those who dared express dissent were silenced, reprimanded, or even arrested – a move that seems so 'un-British', for a country that prides itself as the beacon of free-speech. Nor have many people risked talking about the cost – to the taxpayer! - of this whole extravaganza, which on top of the jubilee, back in June, is likely to have set us back a bob or two. Being in the middle of a spiralling cost of living crisis – that the current government is planning to solve by capping bankers’ bonuses – doesn’t seem to be troubling the mostly obedient masses. But of course, the real cost of the monarchy runs far higher.
Another world is possible
Last March, at WOW global, Patrisse Cullors spoke about her latest book, An Abolitionist Handbook, a how-to guide on becoming a modern-day abolitionist and looking to a future without police and prison systems are effectively abolished. In a country where the police have now acquired worrying new powers, where they strip search young girls in schools, openly discriminate against people of colour, stop and search, arrest, taser or shoot them, it is an urgent conversation to be having. What is particularly inspiring about Cullors is how she encourages her audience and readers to dare imagine a different future.
In the face of exacerbating crises, reimagining our world has never been more important. It is therefore timely that a ground-breaking nationwide project is dedicated to just that. The World Reimagined takes you on an incredible journey through nine themes – Mother Africa; The Reality of Being Enslaved; Stolen Legacy: Rebirth of A Nation; Abolition and Emancipation; A Complex Triangle; Echoes in the Present; Still We Rise; Expanding Soul; and Reimagining the Future – depicted on a total of 103 globes, and aims to transform how we understand the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and its impact on us all – so we can make racial justice a reality. It is a fantastic opportunity to explore areas of London (and other participating cities) through an anti-racist, decolonial lens and discover hidden stories, history and herstories that are conveniently buried away. The World Reimagined website provide a handy set of maps which include interesting reference points, as well as background information about each globe and the artist who created it. It finishes at the end of October 2022 - Black History Month in the UK.
Exploring the trails
There is no one way of going about this. You might come across a globe serendipitously on a walk, or you might choose to follow an actual trail, or part of one, in any direction. Whichever way, it’s bound to be a rewarding learning experience enhanced by thought provoking, stunning pieces of art.
I've always held the conviction
that Visual Art ought to be
"experienced" rather than explained.
Summer is officially over … but a sunny afternoon on the River Lea, even with a little chill in the air, is hard to beat - and now you have an extra reason to head that way. Get the train to Hackney Wick – an area of London that underwent rapid gentrification in the run up to Olympics and has left people locally with very mixed feelings about the ‘legacy’. Many people who lived in the area prior to 2012 were forcibly ‘rehoused’ – often out of London, because council flats / houses are in short supply, and promises of affordable housing never materialised. Artists who rented cheap studio space were evicted, making place for pricey post-Olympic hipster hangouts.
Right on the edge of the park you’ll find Windrush 1948, Kim Thompson’s tribute to the British Caribbean community that came over to rebuild the UK after World War II and Olivia Twist’s These Roots Run Deep, in bold letters 'STAND FIRM', inspired by activism in Hackney. If you fancy a quick pit stop by the water, Grow is a good spot.
From there, walk to Hackney, crossing the northern edge of Vicky Park, to St John’s of Hackney Gardens. For decades, Hackney, has been known as one of the most deprived local authorities in the country with a reputation for violence and crime – but underneath the ‘bad girl’ image, and something people outside the borough seldom care to mention, is Hackney’s highly diverse population bunched together into a tight-knit community. Today, little Caribbean eateries, 90's squats and underground rave venues have been replaced by coffee and craft beer shops for the white middle class families who have colonised the place – effectively erasing much of the cultural and physical presence of London’s immigrant communities. It is thus unsurprising that one of London’s four trails is located here.
Past Sutton House and Sutton Place’s Georgian terrace, you’ll find two globes on display in the very quaint St John’s of Hackney Gardens. Andrea Cumming’s Rise Up shares the story of the campaign for abolition through key events, heroes and allies, and Kazvare’s Someone’s Been Stealing Our Things, seeks to 'subvert the imperial gaze and remove Europe as the centre of one’s frame of reference''. As you come out of the park, make your way to Dalston for Ras Akyem’s The Geography of Memory, nestled inside the lovely Dalston Eastern Curve Garden located right by to the beautiful peace mural. Nearby, halfway up the indomitable Ridley Road market - In Their Own Words (Mostly) by Lucy Edkins focuses your attention on the theme ‘The Reality of Being Enslaved’ with stories of former enslaved people, mostly from the United States, who travelled to England as part of the abolitionist movement, including Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince. A stone’s throw from here is the Ridley Road Social Club for well-deserved refreshments and, if you're in luck, someone might even be spinning some tunes.