Traditions: ‘Traditions’ is the beautiful exhibition that I am a part of at the moment (organised by ArtCatcher www.artcatcher.co.uk), at the beautiful Mile End Pavillion, – it’s
on until the 19th February – and Tricky Times are the times we live in at the mo…! And there is a link of opposition between the two! My exhibit ‘Interim Tradition’ is my triptych on the peace movement – as mentioned in my previous post. Why I did it is because I
wanted to show what the background in society was when I grew up. As a child the peace movement permeated society and I liked that, and I think it was healthy and progressive too, and it would help in our present day! There was a unique atmosphere in multiple layers of the whole of society which was on the move for peace and togetherness – backed by the remainders and gains of the Civil Rights Movement, the Hippies, 1968 and all that, the Socialists and, very importantly, Second Wave Feminism and the Ecology Movement.
So we had a lovely confluence of energy and activism for inclusive change. And I remember how all this lovely atmosphere waned and crumbled. It was an observation from age 10 to age 15: when I was 10 the peace movement was in full swing, and when I was 15 it had gone. Not gone of course, but layers of it had crumbled, such as the commitment to peace beyond just the protesters, i.e. the spreading of peace into the schools, the churches, politics and other official and community-institutions had receded.
The end of the Miners’ Strike might have put an end to it all, the end of Greenham Common as a focus of attention, for example. That was in Britain, and in Germany where I was, the ebbing away of social peace activism was very similar. Ever since the late 1980s time we had lived within an atmosphere where the desire for change, peace and justice was reduced to a smaller group of people. As I had witnessed the activism of the 70s and early 80s as a child, I consider this to be my tradition.
And now, since last year especially, we have an even more tricky situation: far-right groups have become popular across many countries, desire for isolation is rising, Brexit and Trump seem to want to erase the liberal framework that had been enshrined into our societies since after the War. We were never liberal enough of course, there has always been racism and too much aggression, but Brexit calls into question our very togetherness, as well as the possibility of exchange – which we had until now so much taken for granted that those who voted for Brexit do not seem to realise that it’s a possibility we are putting at risk now. Thus, our very traditions – peace, co-operation, being part of a bigger (European), i.e. regional framework – are being called into question.
There is a lot of activism to defend those values now too, and we are, also, the current peace movement, but what surprises me is that there are vast parts of the population where the far-right has become popular. So we are in different worlds, with different values, and therefore divided. But how sustainable is this division? Can we therefore give up on liberalism, liberties, freedoms and equalities? No, I think it’s time for the alarm.
Tricky Times: So, I have to reconcile myself with these energies that are going around now, energies that are trapping us into an unwanted situation and separation. I am fighting for freedom, I am not compromising, but I have to reconcile myself with having to work with uncertainty, unrest and insecurity in the air, and consider how to make use of this constructively.
We are in a weird situation because many of apparently us don’t see the threat of colonialism: of us being colonised by Trump-America, through Brexit, which enables us to be signed up for the obliteration of our sovereignty. The leave-voters claim the opposite of course, they fear an erosion of sovereignty through the EU, but fail to see how the US means much stronger dependency.
So this lack of foresight – that Brexit will mean loss of sovereignty, togetherness, security and co-operation – is what puts us in a weird and sad situation. We are at this really boring point where we, the EU-enthusiasts, have to say to the leave-voters: “you don’t see the danger of this situation, you don’t see the danger of being colonised!”
And that is getting weirder and sadder because it implies there’s an ‘us’ and ‘them’. And that’s upsetting to admit, and also could be misleading: it presumes that ‘us’ and ‘them’ have different opinions: and that might not necessarily be true, it might just mean a different attitude towards foresight. All the same, lots of sad splitting is occurring, and the idea of separation is being multiplied: what started for some as a separation from the EU, is now amplified as a separation from each other as well! So there’s a danger in wanting separation, because it might backfire, or spread.
Therefore those of us – who do see the trouble and the loneliness ahead when co-operation and togetherness is under threat – cannot but warn them and all about this danger, and it’s not an easy situation to be in because it suggests that we have thought further ahead than they have. So therefore we might come across as arrogant or embarrassing in their eyes, it’s ugly, but we cannot keep quiet about so large a danger looming. We have to take a stand and a lead. In the end not everything is relative: two and two don’t make five, so in the same way our foresight cannot just be ignored.
It’s getting very ugly and tricky here: it’s .not nice to admit but we might indeed have thinking skills that seem to be lacking with leave-voters. And yes, I have asked myself how come that about half of us can see the danger of Brexit and the other half can’t. How can that be? It’s a question of philosophy! And maybe also that’s where the answer lies: not all are interested philosophy, into thinking, and don’t seem to understand us who are! But also, it’s a question of the colonial mind-set. After all, this country was a colonising power, so the mindset of being coloniser has survived with quite a few – and that mind-set assumes superiority and therefore does not see when it might itself be in danger of being subjugated!
A few days this too dawned on me: the ability or failure to see the dangers of Brexit might have something to do with left-brain and right-brain thinking. Those of us who think more with their right brain might be adept at thinking of consequences in the case of grand topics – whereas others shy away from the grandness of things, and maybe therefore also are not worried about the prospect of becoming an isolated country. This dimension doesn’t seem to be available to all of us
So maybe we have to assume our role, like the traditional African griots, and talk to the leave-voters about the dangers of our future – yes, maybe indeed we are made for this job.
So this is the heart of the matter: where there is such a great danger, how can we not sound the alarm? We’re now, to some extent, at the point where the Native Americans were, when they were dispossessed of their land. And now we are being dispossessed of our land. We are also like a second Alaska: Alaska once belonged to Russia, until the US bought it from Russia in the 19th century. And now Britain: we were once part of Europe, until Trump- US will buy it.
So let it not come to this! Colonialism is entirely different from and antithetical to co-operation. And this is where the difference lies between being part of the US and being part of the EU: US membership for Britain would mean being colonised, whereas EU-membership has always meant co-operation!
It’s tricky times when only some of us can see the danger, but remember back in history this is how people were colonised: treaties were made with those naïve enough to sign them. How can you have an anti-colonial movement if you are not being listened to or too scared to speak out? I agree, it is scary, but it’s even more scary not to speak.
And, as I always say, there’s a beauty in speaking: there’s a beauty in pointing out that our concern for Europe also has to do with defending immigration, and thus those of us who are immigrants have the chance to come closer together, black and white. New solidairities arise. We realise hopefully more widely now that our situations are more closely tied together than previously imagined. Our solidarity now comes together, as if on a super-continent, like Pangea perhaps, thus going back closer to the roots of our togetherness. But in order to remain in the EU, this solidarity also has to go beyond immigrants, and so it all comes together into this fact: we all belong together, and should not deny this ever.
Tricky times if we do not recognise this! Traditions of togetherness under threat! And change? What about change?
Tradition, Change: Taking this back to the exhibition: Tradition, Change, Tradition: Change sounds good of course but we seem to think that change is always aiming at progressive change, with the echoes of the Civil Rights Movement in mind: “a change is gonna come”. But what if there is change that goes the other way? Then we have to look at positive, nurturing traditions, and uphold them.
Change, on the other hand, is needed when a tradition is not positive. Here I am coming back to the Traditions exhibition, where my Peace Triptych is. The Peace Tradition is a great one. but we also wanted to point out that traditions can also be problematic, such as FGM: and my point here is that the origin of the violence that underlines FGM may be colonialism! (so once again we are back at this problem that denies mutual respect). So we have to ask ourselves where a tradition might come from, what has caused it! I have written this poem back in 2010, after an FGM event. This poem is also in the exhibition and will form part of a w orkshop on this on the 18th February:
FGM: Female Genital Mutilation
How could you have
How could we have
Act of disempowerment?
First of all
The transatlantic slave trade
Is to blame
And now slavery continues
In the form of FGM
Or do you think
People would hurt one another
Without any reason
Without any disempowerment
Without the obstacle of poverty?
Do you think
People would have hurt one another
In the days of African Empire?
Maybe they did
You might say
But I dare to say no
Why would anybody hurt somebody
Without any reason?
When the inexplicable
Forces of evil
Enslavement across the sea
The African Empires were mutilated
Yes, when Europe
The African Empires were mutilated
And the African traditions were mutilated
And now women
Are supposed to carry this mutilation!
Being told this is tradition
Instead of having a discussion
On the confusion
Of tradition with mutilation
Became a way of being
With all that had happened to Africa
So please don’t let the women suffer
It’s not their fault
It’s not our fault
And even if it is women
Who perform FGM on other women
Then we have to wake up
And see how we hurt one another
Because of poverty
Because of colonialism
Please let us think and see
That FGM is an effect
Of a mutilated tradition
Mutilated by slavery
Which caused impoverishment
So FGM is the effect
Of a mutilated tradition
So let us not continue
The damage that has been done
To say that FGM is an African tradition
And therefore is alright
Is as if you say
That racism is a European tradition
And therefore is alright
It might be
A European tradition
But it needs to stop
And FGM might have become
An African tradition
As a response to colonialism
But it, too, needs to stop
We have to stop
Hurting one another. © Ursula Troche, 3.10