Reflections on reflecting screens

Ruth HartleyArt, Art Process, Books, Creativity, Imagination, Power, Reading, Storytelling, Writing, Writing ProcessLeave a Comment

The stories we write or tell about ourselves come from within us. Now in lockdown, we turn to a screen and a digital image to make contact with people. Videophones and Skype seemed normal – I looked at you looking at me. I was still inside myself and our gaze was shared. When I Zoom to the “Screen” to be with friends and family I can see myself as well. For the first time, my own face is a barrier outside me. I once had a dear friend called Wardie who I loved for her straightforward kindness. She was small, bespectacled, with uneven rabbit teeth and a Lancashire sense of humour. She quoted Woodrow Wilson “For beauty I’m not a star, There are others more perfect by far, For my face I don’t mind it, For I am behind it. It’s the people in front that I jar!” That quote makes me realise what a fundamental change is happening to our idea of our “self” by this “barrier” of a digital image on a screen.

The photo shows mirrors, computer screens and a mobile phone with reflections of Ruth taking a self-portrait on her camera
Screens and mirrors
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Cuba, art, installations, Zambia, Africa, and the 1989 Havana Biennial

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Creativity, Imagination, Installations, Mpapa Gallery, Politics, Power, Printmaking, Racism, Slavery, War, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Che Guevara and that famous poster

Che Guevara screenprint by Jim Fitzpatrick from a photograph by Alberto Korda sent to him via Jean-Paul Sartre – international art and artists in cooperation.

Old revolutionaries will remember the importance of Cuban screen prints as propaganda tools for the fight for freedom all around the world. In 1968, my communist friend, Bill, insisted that we visit the Cuban Embassy in London to see this particular brilliant and sophisticated form of art and agitprop. We all remember the poster of Che Guevara. Those were the days of international socialism, demonstrations against the Vietnam war and the London and Paris student uprisings when posters like this one decorated our streets. The Cuban Embassy was open and welcoming. They understood the power of excellent art and cinema. Then and there, I planned to visit Cuba. Soon after by contrast, the nearby Chinese Embassy, in a paranoid frenzy, threatened to use axes against the British press. The1968 Chinese Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong had just begun. It was to end art, music, culture and creative thought in China for decades.

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The Shaping of my Art

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Art, Art Process, Creativity, Mpapa Gallery, Poetry, Politics, Storytelling, Zambia2 Comments

Damaged self-portrait 1971

The world hasn’t stopped turning in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, but most people’s lives have been upended. It’s been a time for self-reflection for me as well as a time of tidying up files and boxes of photos. Some photos record my changing appearance, but the more interesting ones are those that detail how my art has altered and developed. My recent return to Zambia and my meetings at Lechwe Trust Gallery and the Open University art exhibition with artists made me think of the influences on my own art practice, and the debts I owe to other artists. I’ve decided to share some of that experience with you in the hope that you will tell me about your own ideas and developments in your own art practice in the Comments below.

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The Shaping of Water

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Books, Colonialism, Creativity, Displacement, Freedom Fighters, identity, Politics, Power, Reviews, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water2 Comments

Returning to the past to build the future

Daniel Sikazwe interviews Ruth Hartley on the terrace of the Ridgeway Hotel

This year I time-travelled back more than 30 years. I returned to the Ridgeway Hotel in Lusaka to the place where golden weaver birds build their nests above small sun-worshipping crocodiles. Here, there once was the excellent Zintu craft shop, a regular Zambian ladies lunch, an Independence Day National Art Exhibition and gin and tonics on the verandah under the management of Richard Chanter. On this occasion, I was meeting Daniel Sikazwe, journalist, broadcaster and PEN member who was interviewing me about my novel The Shaping of Water. The Ridgeway was as pleasant as ever! As with the Alliance Francaise event compered for me by Daniel, it was a very enjoyable interview. Daniel asked me penetrating questions about the reasons I wrote The Shaping of Water, and the truth of the facts in it. “It’s a book that should be standard reading for Zambians,” Daniel said. “It tells of a part of our history that is not known about.” And so we talked about how I came to write this book and the problems of writing cross-cultural history as a novel.

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Women and art

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Feminism, Learning, Race, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Women’s Art from the Lechwe Heritage Collection

The Lechwe Trust in Lusaka, Zambia, has an exhibition of art created by women from this Sunday, 8th March, International Women’s Day. I’m honoured to be included in it and to share the space with so many other artists I know and admire. There are a total of 32 artists – many with a long creative history in Zambia. There is a list at the end of this post.

Difficult Women

The cover of Difficult Women, A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, by Helen Lewis

At the same time in Gaborone, Botswana, there is an exhibition titled Difficult Women in which two more artists I know, Veryan Edwards and Neo Matome, have their work in a shared exhibition. Yesterday a book with the same title arrived in the post for me. Difficult Women by Helen Lewis is A History of Feminism in 11 fights. I already know that I love this book. As a feminist, I feel very much part of some of the fights that Helen Lewis describes. I’m proud to be a difficult woman too. Difficult women are those who like to solve problems. Working at the task of empowering artists – both men and women – in Zambia wasn’t easy. At first, this task fell to artists and believers in art, like Henry Tayali, Cynthia Zukas, and Bente Lorenz . There was a cost to pay. In my experience working to support artists is done often by other artists and at the cost of having less time for their own work. In my case, I had one solo exhibition before I started work at Mpapa Gallery and another 15 years later after I left Mpapa Gallery. What I did find was that those years working for other artists enriched my art and taught me more than I could ever have learned at an art school

Art and Feminism in Zambia

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