Shoreditch Paintings

Emmy

The image above is of my good friend Emmy. We went on a trip to Shoreditch in London when it was FREEZING cold near the start of this year. I really love to work from photos I’ve taken, I think the memories associated with the photograph come through in the painting (or perhaps that’s just me!)

The illustration below is from the same trip, of the Gherkin taken on a misty morning.

London

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Florence

Florence

I painted this for my mum all the way back in August! I recently touched it up so I thought I’d finally scan it in to show you.

Tragically for me, I’ve never been to Florence, but I so enjoyed painting it! I’ll look forward to getting there one day.

Have you been to Florence?

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Figure 22: Laxmi Agarwal

Laxmi.pngLaxmi was fifteen when she was attacked with acid on the way to a music lesson. She had rejected a marriage proposal, and the 32 year old man stalked her and attacked her for this decision. This is a similar story to many other victims of acid attacks in India, where acid was readily available and cheaper than milk.

But Laxmi doesn’t want you to call her a victim. Laxmi is an individual, who knows that her worth is not just skin deep.

“Today I love my face because I realized your face is not the only important thing. I didn’t give importance to my face. I gave importance to my work.”
In 2013, Laxmi brought a petition with 27,000 signatures to the Supreme Court, protesting how readily available acid was. This led to legislation which restricted the sale of acid, as well as providing help and compensation to survivors. She received the International Woman of Courage Award from Michelle Obama, delivered a Ted Talk, and is now a TV host. This is all in addition to her campaigning for Stop Acid Attacks.
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Acid attacks are often rooted in sexism, with 80% of victims being female, often attacked, like Laxmi, by rejected suitors or abusive fathers or partners.
Today, Laxmi is raising a daughter with her partner and fellow activist Alok Dixit. They decided not to marry, which I think is pretty cool, when the fixation with marriage is what resulted in her attack in the first place!
There is so much that could be said about the rising number of acid attacks, not only in India but across the globe. I could comment on the sexist nature of it, the desire to make a woman undesirable, but it’s such a complicated subject and one I can’t pretend to be an expert in. The most amazing thing is the ways in which many women choose to fight against the stigma and push for improvement in legislation. I am inspired by Laxmi’s courage to campaign for change, legally and socially, and her determination to be happy no matter what judgement she faces.
I recommend this article from the BBC and this CNN article, which also has a short video.
Unfortunately I can’t find a translation or subtitles for her Ted Talk – if anyone does, please let me know, I would love to know what she says in it!

 

Getaway Back to the EU

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This was a big brief I worked on recently for the Suffolk EU Alliance. The piece is about encouraging people from all works of life and political alliances to work together to protest Brexit. It was done using Windsor and Newton watercolours on lovely thick, smooth watercolour paper.

There was quite a lot of tweaking in Photoshop afterwards, too, as the client had a lot of new requests for the painting.

Here are some close ups:

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And these are two of the preparation sketches. The first is an earlier one, and the second is the final before I began painting.

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The drawing was on A4 paper, but I wanted to paint it on A3 paper so I could get loads of detail in! So I printed it out at twice the size on two A4 sheets (I only have an A4 printer), and then used a light box to redraw it onto the nice watercolour paper!

(Try playing spot the difference between the final sketch and the final illustration!)

 

Figure 20: Margaret Ekpo

Margaret

Margaret Ekpo (1914-2006) was a Nigerian feminist and politician, Margaret fought against the economic and political inequalities faced by women.

Born in Creek Town, Calabar, Margaret’s first direct involvement in politics didn’t come until 1945, when she attended a meeting when her husband was unable to attend in Aba. She was the only woman there, but the fiery speeches she heard ignited her passion for politics, and by the 50’s she was well known across Nigeria and abroad as a force for change and a fierce advocate for women. She encouraged women to be politically aware; to participate in politics in order to protect their own interests, as well as the interests of their country.

A key example of this is when she established the Aba Township Women’s Association. In line with the views of many of the local men, the organisation wanted to educate the women to support their countries; but evidently the men didn’t like the idea of the women also being mobilised to take care of their own interests, as none of the men of Aba wanted to let their womenfolk join. Margaret thought outside the box; she managed to gain a monopoly on the salt supplies in Aba, which were in short supply due to the second World War, and told the shops that they may only sell to women who were members of her organisation. After that, the men quickly allowed their women to join up, and women voters outnumbered men by 1954.

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In 1949, when protesting the murders of miners leading a wage protest, she and three other important female leaders were arrested, harassed and threatened with deportation. They were eventually arrested after the women of Aba threatened to set fire to the town, which is a pretty impressive display of gratitude!

Hand in hand with her feminism was her desire to help Nigeria to gain independence from the British, a goal that they achieved in 1960. Margaret was one of the Members of Parliament that year, and throughout the 50’s and 60’s represented Nigerian interests, and usually specifically those of Nigerian women, in many official capacities.

Margaret was dignified but willing to take risks. Her political career seems to have quietened down a lot after the 60’s, but Ekpo is remembered fondly as a ‘Giant of 20th Century Nigerian Politics,’ who got involved at a pivotal moment of her country’s history; and her work encouraging 50% of the entire population to get involved in politics can’t have hurt the cause for Nigerian independence!

 

 

Figure 19: Grace Lee Boggs

Grace

Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) was a Civil Rights activist who advocated for social change, and was a philosopher, writer and feminist.

She grew up comfortably; her parents were very successful in the restaurant business, her father being described as “the king of the restaurant businessmen among the Chinese.” She studied Philosophy at College from the age of 16, earning a doctorate by 1940, and she became involved in Socialism, even translating some of Karl Marx’s early letters from German. Unfortunately, after graduating she was unable to get any work even in a department store, as they would not hire ‘orientals.’

She eventually found a job in the philosophy library of the University of Chicago, which paid $10 a week; she had to live for free in a rat-infested basement. The irony of this terrible situation is that those rats helped her get involved with the Civil Rights Movement! Walking through her neighbourhood one day, she saw a group protesting poor living conditions – including living with pests. Something must have clicked for Grace, and this was her first step to being involved with the black community and the struggles they faced.

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In 1953 Grace moved to Detroit, where she helped to edit the radical newspaper Correspondence.  a hub for the type of ideas Grace had been cultivating; especially about black worker’s rights and revolutionary thinking. The same year she married a fellow activist and inspiring speaker, James Boggs, who she met in Detroit.

They became the city’s most noted activists, hosting Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and the couple tackled issues including Civil Rights, feminism, the environment and Asian Americans. She believed in peaceful protests, and was a firm believer in the ability of the individual to change their own life. As the world changed and they moved into the 1970’s, and as Detroit declined, with rising rates of murder, issues with drug addiction, and theft, Grace got involved in finding peaceful ways to improve the city, with organisations which helped school children and planted community gardens.

Grace also wrote several books and went on to guest lecture at universities, even at 97 years old. She died at the age of 100, and never stopped trying to help others, changing the world in smaller ways than she and her friends dreamed of in her earlier years.

“I don’t know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it if your imagination were rich enough.”

You can more about Grace’s life and her activism here and here!

Figure 15: Rigoberta Menchu Tum

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Rigoberta Menchu (1959 – ) is a Mayan woman from Guatemala. Growing up in the midst of civil war between the rich landowners against the native Mayans, Rigoberta became involved in activism at an early age. She would work with her family, especially her father, to travel between rural communities to teach people their rights and how to organise, in addition to being involved in feminist organisations.

The Menchu family encouraged fellow Guatemalans to protest the Government led mass atrocities. They were punished gravely for their activism. In 1980, at a peaceful protest, Rigoberta’s father was murdered alongside 37 other activists, and his death was followed not long after by the torture and murder of her brother and the torture, rape and murder of her mother. At 21, Rigoberta fled her home country into exile.

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Even abroad Rigoberta continued to oppose the military regime back home, publishing her story and gaining global attention to her cause with her book I, Rigoberta Menchú in 1983. She also joined and led several organisations involved in the liberation of Guatemala, and even returned to the country three times, although she had to leave for her own safety.

In 1992 she received the Nobel Peace prize as recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples. Four years later the civil war finally ended, and Rigoberta finally returned home. She continues her work to support and seek justice for Mayan victims of the genocide, and founded the first indigenous-led political party in Guatamala.

Rigoberta’s commitment to seek justice and speak out against the regime that murdered her family and her people is no surprise; but what is remarkable is her willingness to speak loudly against the cruelty and injustice, despite the very real threats to her own life. Rigoberta is a testament to her family and the Mayan people, and I hope that she is forever remembered her bravery in the face of such brutality and danger.

Figure 14: Rachel Carson

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(1904-1964)

Born and raised near the industrial hub of Pittsburgh, Rachel Carson was an early environmentalist. Obtaining a degree and masters in marine biology, she began a fifteen year career in public service, writing about conservation and rising to the role of editor-in-chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Beginning her personal writing career with her first article in 1937, she used her knowledge gained from her education and career and turned it into lyrical prose which was accessible to the general public with it’s use of non-technical language.

With the publication of her award-winning second book ‘The Sea Around Us’ in 1951, Rachel was able to quit her government job and had financial freedom; this must have been a relief, as she worked to support her mother, and her orphaned nieces.

Rachel wrote about the joy and beauty of the living world, but also emphasised that human’s were only one part of this, and damage to the environment would effect us, too. Her third book, ‘Silent Spring,’ was the result of her investigations into the effects of chemicals and pesticides that were used to excess in agriculture and around the home. She spoke about the possible long term effects of this use and asserted that ‘biocides’ (her name for pesticides, as she pointed out that their effects were not limited to insects) were deadlier than manufacturers were willing to admit.

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The book lead to a presidential commission looking into her accusations, and it’s findings were mostly in agreement with hers; some pesticides were banned, and her work had a major effect on the public consciousness and our ideas about our ‘ownership’ of nature.

Two years after the publication of Silent Spring, after receiving awards and accolades, Rachel lost a long battle with cancer. Rachel’s passion and genuine concern for the sake of the wellbeing of the planet and all of it’s inhabitants must have shone through in her work, and has no doubt made the world a safer place than if companies had been able to continue with their indiscriminate use of dangerous and cancerous chemicals. Despite their efforts to discredit Rachel as a communist or ‘hysterical woman,’ people listened to her, and she used her voice for the benefit of everybody. Even so, I had never heard of her, so I’m delighted to continue the legacy of this peaceful and thoughtful woman who changed the world.