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Thursday, 1 December 2022

The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas

 A revolutionary in the true sense of the word, the American graphic artist Emory Douglas created strong, eye-catching imagery for the Black Power movement in the United States during the late 1960s and into the 70s, mostly for the BPP's newspaper The Black Panther. He wasn't just an artist who served the cause of Black Liberation through his art, but also served as Minister for Culture in the party from 1967 until the 1980s when the party was dissolved within a new climate of reaction.

Born in Michigan in 1943, Douglas was politicised at a young age after being caught up in the juvenile detention system, but found opportunities to explore his talent for print-making, and later more formal arts education, a skill he brought with him when he joined the Black Panther Party for Self Defence in 1967.

I cannot help but reflect upon how, growing up years later across the Atlantic, all the books I could find on the comix and art of the 1960s counter culture, including all of the reprints, would tend to focus on sex, drugs, music and mysticism. Growing up in the 1990s the comix of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton were still very popular, including with teenagers my own age. The political satire discussed in both reprints of classic underground comix and histories of the period and the form however tended to focus on the anti-war movement or women's liberation, with the artists and journalists associated with the openly socialist Black Liberation movement barely mentioned.

This oversight is a shame, as there is a power to this imagery which should not be forgotten. I am encouraged that at the time of writing I understand Emory Douglas is still alive and some books and websites are certainly available about his fierce, revolutionary work.

For now, bathe your eyes in the revolutionary art of another time.

These savage cartoons make the editors of Private Eye look like the Cambridge-educated toffs they were (and, as much as I enjoy their work, Shelton and Crumb look like bourgeois liberals):



A  common theme in Douglas' work is the desire to link civil rights struggles within the USA to the wider anti-colonial struggle taking place at that time in Africa and Asia:

The title of this piece reminds me of a quote attributed to Ahmed Sekou Toure, the revolutionary socialist who was the first President of independent Guinea-Conakry:


In this powerful image Douglas brings together the imagery of Black Power with Women's Liberation. This woman is clearly not about to be forced to choose between motherhood or the revolutionary, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggle, as capitalism today tries to make women feel guilty for having to prioritise motherhood/career:


Here is a traditional newspaper-style cartoon that pulls no punches in its depiction of the cops:


It's always important for a new generations, especially those of today whose own struggles may have been shaped by the Black Lives Matter movement, to be able to see and draw inspiration from the language and imagery of past struggles. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Lost Art Available to View and Own for the first time!

An image that has been sitting forgotten in my files for over two decades, waiting for some future time when I could be free to inflict my demented scribblings directly upon the unsuspecting public without having to pass under the disturbed glances of the gatekeepers of the publishing world, is at long last publicly available for YOU the general public to view or own.

I hope my madness fits in neatly with your own.

Enjoy!

https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/118117512?ref=studio-promote



Monday, 27 June 2022

The Bloody History of the City of Love

 

The perception of Paris as a city of romance and high fashion may be little more than the result of a sustained and very successful PR campaign. The reality is that, from the Place du Concorde (where the guillotine was raised during the revolution of 1789) to the south-west wall of Pere Lachaise cemetery (against which many of the communards of 1871 were executed by firing squad), the streets of Paris are not just tinged with the rosy red glow of romance, but are also drenched with the blood of countless generations of rebels.
The number of buildings you see dotted around the city that now carry memorial plaques listing every resident arrested and sent to concentration camps during the collaborationist Vichy regime of WW2 is indeed a sobering sight for any visitor to the city. 
Most people alive today will recall the recent ISIS-inspired atrocities carried out at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and music venues like the one close to the Place du Bastille that shocked the world in 2015.
In 2018 and into 2019 the streets of Paris, especially around the Place de la Republique, as well as many other towns and cities around the country, exploded in popular protest organised by the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests), essentially fuel protests which saw some extreme instances of police brutality. The streets were drenched in tear gas and some protestors were partially blinded by rubber bullets.

The French are good at preserving their heritage. The Cafe du Croissant, at 146 rue Montmartre in northern Paris, is where the socialist politician and anti-war activist Jean Jaures was assassinated on July 31 1914 by a nationalist. Both the cafe where he was murdered and the newspaper he founded (l'humanite) still exist to this day.
Paris is also the city where one of the leading Moroccan opposition politicians, an anti-colonial activist named Mehdi Ben Barka, was disappeared after speaking to a couple of gendarmes outside Brasserie Lipp (still there) and murdered on 29 October 1965 for his key role in the anti-colonial struggle both in Morocco and the wider Arab world. Details of his murder remain largely classified, and speculation about the involvement of Moroccan, Israeli and US intelligence in his murder is still rife.
Another atrocity of the same period that is rarely discussed in the west, and has only recently been subjected to more rigorous historical analysis, occurred towards the end of the Algerian war of independence. It is an event that will make you look at the waters of the Seine in a whole new light, and may also provide a deeper insight into contemporary Islamophobia in France.


Documentaries about the 17 October 1961 atrocity

17 octobre 1961, un crime d'Etat (dir. Ramdane Rahmouni; 2021)

This is a recent 51 minute documentary (in French with Arabic subtitles) in which historians, activists and witnesses describe the massacre of Algerian protestors that took place in Paris, France. Conservative estimates suggest at least 200 people were thrown from the Pont Saint-Michel into the Seine. For Algerians it is regarded as a “colonial crime”, which was carried out by French police in order to silence Algerian voices during the final stages of the liberation war. It can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HquI833DNCk

Octobre à Paris (October in Paris) (dir. Jacques Panijel; France; 1962)

One of the first detailed accounts of the atrocity, the distribution of this film was suppressed by the French authorities until 1973, when it was granted a limited “visa d'exploitation”, and it would have to wait until 2011 to receive a full theatrical release. Other films have been made about this dark and bloody phase of modern French history, including:

Le silence du fleuve (The silence of the river) (dir. Mehdi Lallaoui; 1991), and

Ici on noie les Algeriens (Here we drown the Algerians) (dir. Yasmina Adi; France; 2011).


Books

Jean-Luc Einaudi was a French historian and socialist activist. He remains largely unknown in the English-speaking world (try searching for an English translation of any of his books). Much of his work was devoted to extensively researching the events of 17 October, as well as other crimes and abuses committed by the French authorities in their efforts to put down local support for the Algerian independence struggle. A couple of his books are cited below:

Einaudi, Jean-Luc La bataille de Paris, 17 octobre 1961 (Seuil, 1991)

Einaudi, Jean-Luc Le dossier Younsi. 1962 : procès secret d'un chef FLN en France (Tirésias, 2013)

This article is a draft. Let me know in the comments below how much of the history mentioned above you were aware of. Personally, I only became aware of the events of October 1961 from Arab commentators and Arabic (specifically Algerian) media, so I would be very interested to hear other peoples' experiences.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

London Music History Walks

This is part of a series of walking videos I have been making in which I visit significant locations in the musical history of London.

First up, I visited Eel Pie Island in Twickenham.



Monday, 25 October 2021

The Life in Exile of Angel Parra




Often overshadowed by his famous mother Violeta, one of the leading influences who helped shape the sound of the Chilean Nueva Cancion (New Song) movement, Angel Parra's life is in many ways just as interesting, taking him far beyond Chile.

His exile was originally involuntary. Due to his left-wing political ideals and his links with the Popular Unity party of Salvador Allende, after the 11th of September 1973 coup d'état (documented by Cuban film-maker Santiago Alvarez in his film The Tiger Leaps and Kills, but it will Die...it will Die) Parra was initially held at the National Stadium, before being transferred to the Chacabuco prison camp, where he was kept until February 1974.

He used his time there to help set up a committee to organize cultural activities for the prisoners. Before being released, Parra sang to the rest of his inmates, in a performance that was recorded covertly by Luis Corvalán and released in 1975 on an album titled Chacabuco. It was also during his time in prison that he wrote "La pasión según San Juan, Oratorio de Navidad" (The passion according to San Juan) which was eventually recorded and published in Europe.

After his release, he fled first to Mexico to avoid further persecution, before moving to France, which was at that time home to the largest worker's party in western Europe, the Parti communiste français (PCF). It was here that, in addition to being able to record and release his music again, he shared his testimony about the human rights violations he suffered under the US-backed military dictatorship.

One of the first albums he recorded after settling in France was Angel Parra a Paris, which was originally released in 1978 as a double LP, being Angel's most extensive production to date. Most of the songs are composed by Parra himself, some of them drawn from previous albums and combined with studio versions of songs previously only recorded live. There are also some cover versions of songs by his mother Violeta Parra as well as others composed by people like the Cuban troubadour Carlos Puebla. Other albums Parra released around this period are the Chilean popular guitar album La prochain fois (The next time) along with the last album he recorded with his sister Isabel in 1981.

Also in 1978 he made a small cameo appearance in El Cantor (The Singer), a TV movie produced in the GDR (East Germany) inspired by the life of his colleague, the murdered Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara. The film was written and directed by the US-born actor and singer Dean Reed (who played Jara in the film) who, like Parra himself, had known Jara in Chile before his murder.

With the successful referendum to restore democracy, Parra returned to Chile in 1989, and during the 1990s he began to see some of his albums reissued in his birth country. However, he continued to make his home in Paris, where he eventually died of cancer in 2017. He is buried in Pere Lachaise, along with other famous exiles like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.

You can buy one of my renditions of Parra, this one in pen and ink, from my Red Bubble shop here.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Britain's role in Vietnam


Vietnamese propaganda poster c.1960s
(translator unknown)

When we think of countries that have interfered aggressively against the people of Vietnam over the previous century the Americans are probably the first country that comes to most people's minds, with the French a close second, perhaps followed by Japan, and then China. 
What is less well known is Britain's role in trying to restore French colonialism on the Indochinese peninsula after World War 2 which, like British diplomatic support for US sanctions after the Vietnamese military victory of 1975, is rarely mentioned in official histories.
Most historians, and consequently even some peace activists, tend to look favourably on the stance that Prime Minister Wilson took to the American War, refusing to send British troops to kill and be killed, but preserving the "special relationship" by providing diplomatic support for the US war of aggression. Its image of a cautious approach to foreign policy is as comforting as it is misleading.

This much I was aware of. 

I also knew about the diplomatic support that Prime Minister Thatcher later offered the US during the post-war economic embargo it imposed on the Vietnamese as punishment for their victory. This is less discussed on television documentaries than the period of the war itself and Wilson's stance, and I only know about it because of the work of independent journalists like John Pilger. 
Pilger has also drawn attention to Thatcher's role in lobbying the UN on behalf of the USA to cut shipments of powdered milk to the war-ravaged nation, which Vietnam had been receiving through the UN's food aid programme. (I still wonder why this woman had such a callous disregard for children's nutrition, be they Vietnamese or British.)
On the other hand, I had been far less aware of Britain's role in trying to restore French colonialism to the Indochinese peninsula following the Japanese defeat in WW2. I owe much to the work of historian John Newsinger for bringing this history to light.

The key events happened in the autumn of 1945. 

On September 2, President Ho Chi Minh read his famous speech to a large crowd in Hanoi, proclaiming the independence of the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam and reading from their Declaration of Independence. So grateful were the Vietnamese for the material support the Viet Minh national liberation army had received from the US in order to defeat the Japanese military occupation that large sections of the newly drafted Declaration are modelled after the US Declaration. US intelligence officials have been identified applauding in the crowd, presumably hopeful that the new nation of Vietnam would be a useful client state in the region.

On September 6 however we see the first British troops, commanded by General Douglas Gracey, begin arriving in the southern city of Saigon. Viet Minh control is weakest here in the south of the country, and the British seek to exploit this weakness by proceeding to introduce a form of martial law, disarming the nationalists and arming newly released POWs.
By September 23, with Gracey's support, the French were able to seize power in Saigon by taking over the city hall and arresting any Vietnamese they thought were connected to or sympathetic to the new government in Hanoi. 

The historian George Rosie records one clash that took place between 80 members of the British Indian Infantry Brigade (Gracey, like the author George Orwell, came from that tier of British society born to parents living in British India, but educated at private schools back in the UK) that resulted in the deaths of at least 60 Vietnamese.
It was only due to considerable pressure that General Gracey was forced to open negotiations with the Viet Minh, who he had refused to recognise up until this point. However, this was merely a ploy to buy time for reinforcements to arrive.


English language film poster for Memories of Dien Bien
(source: IMDB)

The rest is pretty well known history. The French continued their attempts to restore their colonial domination of Indochina until they were finally defeated at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954 (a period depicted in the 2004 film Memories of Dien Bien). By this time the Cold War was underway, and the USA was fully in the grip of its anti-communist fervour, so was more inclined to view the new socialist government in Hanoi far more negatively than when it was fighting against Axis-aligned Japan.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

ART IS FREEDOM

This is quite an old comic strip which I created in 2005. At the time I was still producing a lot of work for the groovy people at Hope Street Studios in Glasgow, but it wasn't stoner humour so I kept it on the back burner, and so it has sat hidden in my files for the last few years. I can't remember why I made the guard into a French-style gendarme. I hope you enjoy it.