Gabriel Ellison – artist, writer, designer and extraordinary woman

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Books, Zambia14 Comments

 

Gabriel Ellison

Gabriel Ellison, MBE and Grand Officer of Distinguished Service, was a very private person. You would never have guessed from her manner what an important role she has played in Zambia or that she was decorated by both the British Government and the Zambian government for her services to the arts in Zambia. She worked tirelessly all her life and did everything to the highest standards possible. She was a writer, artist, designer and loved to cook. Zambia was the country of her birth and she was devoted to it and known all over the world for the beautiful Zambian postage stamps that she designed.

 

 

 

The artist and designer

I personally, never knew Gabriel well but I did know that she was greatly respected by my friends in the arts in Zambia and that they valued her friendship enormously. In spite of her quiet, and rather reclusive life, her art is to be seen everywhere. Gabriel had painted murals at the Lusaka Airport and in many other public places. Every time you saw the Zambian flag or the Zambian coat of arms or any Zambian stamps you were looking at a design made and executed by Gabriel Ellison.

 

 

Celebrating Zambia and its women

For years I assiduously collected her stamps, Read More and Comment …

And still we rise…! 84%! – Tanvir Naomi Bush

Ruth HartleyFamily, Racism, Society, Storytelling, Writing5 Comments

Dear Readers – introducing my extraordinary novelist daughter, Tanvir Naomi Bush, who is crowdfunding through Unbound for her next novel – please read her post for a flavour of the story. If you like you can help through Unbound.

CULL has hit 84% of total and is on a roll!

A woman is lying on her back, hair curling out around her head. She has a big grin on her face and her eyes are shut. She is covering her face with one hand

84%! Yikes!

For those of you unsure about what this is all about, what the hell kind of novel it is and why on earth you should pledge and become part of this wonderful project, please allow me to shed some light!

CULL is my second novel, a literary fiction set in ‘another England’ where austerity has set the country’s teeth on edge. Hate crime is on the rise and the government has just passed The Protect and Care Bill as a cost- cutting method demanding the elderly and vulnerable, no longer able to afford care, are housed in huge residential centres for their ‘own good’.

Alex, a hard-bitten journalist, has fallen on hard times and is struggling to find enough work to pay her bills and keep her off the street. She is visually impaired and lives with her wonderful and compassionate canine companion, her guide dog Chris . . .

Read More and Comment …

A journey in France with story books, a donkey and in the company of wolves

Ruth HartleyBooks, Storytelling2 Comments

Two grey wolves sniff the gound

Siberian wolves at the wolf park

Companionable books and dangerous travels in the wild

One of the greatest pleasures that anyone can have is that of making a journey with good companions.

Some of the best travelling companions are pages of paper stitched and bound into storybooks – or the wizardry of a Kindle! One of the delights of both travelling and books is discovering that those magical places that you experienced as a reader are also the wonderful and extraordinary places that you are visiting.

Magical Realism and Cuba

In 1987 I went to Cuba and the Havana Biennial on a very long and roundabout journey from Lusaka to London to Madrid to Shannon to Gander, Newfoundland and finally to Havana in the company of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García  Márques and was transported to a world of magical realism and artists all the time I was there. I have posted a video from a later Biennial because there was no video of the earlier one but it has the same spirit.

The bottom half of an immense brick tower

Albi Cathedral 12th century

a red-haired woman in black dress and hat with ayellow bearded man behind her in a top hat by the orchestra pit

Lithograph by Toulouse -Lautrec

Moulin Rouge

Last week we went to Albi to see the art of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and of course I thought of Guy de Maupassant and his often sad and bitter tales of Gay Paris. Albi has the most wonderful brick cathedral and palace

 

 

 Land of wolves and myths

Also on this trip across France we visited the Wolf Park of Gévaudon and found ourselves in the land of wolves. So we remembered Little Red Riding Hood – Le Petit Chaperon Rouge by Charles Perrault and then of course Angela Carter and that terrifying and marvellous film of her stories by Neil Jordan – The Company of Wolves.

Of course there are many fables as well as children’s stories about wolves from The Jungle Book to  The Three Little Pigs. I am sure all my readers can think of a story or a film about wolves that made them laugh or scream. Please put them into the comments so we can enjoy them too.

Ah I ask – why are wolves so threatening – why are the monsters that live inside us even more terrifying than the ones we meet each day in the press and on TV. Read More and Comment …

Its Jim and Jenny’s Book Swap on Sunday 9th July at 3pm – Don’t miss it!

Ruth HartleyBooks, Imagination, Storytelling2 Comments

 

A woman in a Turkish dressing-gown reads a book sitting on  a chair draped in a yellow cloth in front of an exotic wall hanging

Felix Vallaton La Liseuse 1922

 

Free books and free drinks

A wonderful opportunity to indulge yourself for a whole afternoon searching out those fantastic books that you’ve been dying to read while you have a free drink. It’s too hot to go outside and garden – all you can do is lie in the shade and read and read. Bring the books that you have enjoyed to swap for another few hours and days of pleasure reading and reading.

There are over 6000 books to choose from all carefully sorted out by Jim so that you can find them easily. If it rains you’ll find the books in the Foyer Rural but otherwise outside in the garden at Jim and Jenny’s home at 5 Chemin des Ecoliers, Labatut-Riviere. Remember the books are free but its an opportunity to make a donation to those good causes Les Amis des Animaux and Chat 65.  You’ll also meet all those other readers who’ll give you their recommendations about the best books to look out for. Jim has been sorting out the books for over 12 years now. Its a great service to English readers. Decorate your home with books. (Perhaps you can be tidier than I am – this is my current pile waiting to be read). Delight your mind with stories from the great storytellers!

Bookshop and photographs

The small bouquiniste in Maubourguet has made a delightful window display  connected with Robert Dellerue’s photographs, The Republic which interrogates democracy. The photographs are part of the exceptional festival of photography, the”Quinzaine de l’image” organised by Peleyre Association in Maubourguet and Madiran. It is also not to be missed – its fantastic, thought provoking and some are very beautiful. You will find the photographs all over the villages, on the streets, in the shops, on the fences, at Peleyre and at the Maison des Associations in Maubourguet.

 

Quinzaine de l’image – photographic exhibition  in Madiran, St Lanne, Maubourguet and Peleyre

The sound and colour of an authentic African voice

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Art Process, Colonialism, Learning, Nuanced Thinking, Racism, Slavery

Slavery and Slavers, Black and White and Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B

A young black woman naked from the waist up sits on a bed and looks at herself in the mirror. She has an iron collar and chain around her neck and a number fastened to her clothes.

Racism or critique? … One of the installations in Exhibit B at the Barbican.

A similar debacle to the recent Whitney event mentioned in my previous post, took place in London in September 2014 when a South African artist, Brett Bailey, showed  Exhibit B. Did Bailey want to make the descendants of white colonists and  slavers think about their historic involvement in this history of slavery and abuse? Was it a forum for debate about current practise of slavery? Was it about race? Was it only white people who were slavers and black people who were slaves? Protestors said that it degraded black people so it was closed down.  Bailey answers his critics in this Guardian article.

 

Inside my skin: ‘white’ Madam and ‘Black’ art.

I posted about Exhibit B in my blog  Surviving Monsters where I quoted Tim Minchin, an intelligent comedian  who says:

“A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined. We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat.
Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.”

Nuanced Thinking

Nuanced thinking is needed when we consider the banning of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B. Like many of those writing about it I haven’t seen it. I have read  the arguments however and they are important to me and my art. Dividing the world into black and white is plain silly because the world is not divided into simplistic opposites and never has been. Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B raises questions for artists and humans with both thin skins and thick hides of whatever shade they are on the outside. Art is supposed to shake up ideas and not fix them into one position.

The Single Story – one point of view – fixed or authentic

I am also impressed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of a single story. She explains it here:

Read More and Comment …

Grenfell Tower

Ruth Hartleyjustice, Regulation, Society, Truth2 Comments

Grenfell Tower burning against the night sky above the city, one side is completely aflame

Grenfell Tower on fire

Smoke

rushing

skywards

screaming

swirling

burning

blackening

poisoning

roaring

roiling

sprinkling light spreading debris sparkling

fire-wrapping the homes flaming

flaming the living core fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping the furnace of families flaming

flaming choking the children fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping blinding the babies flaming

flaming closer to the crying fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping the people who perish flaming

flaming suffocating the souls fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping searing the skins flaming

flaming shriveling the hopes fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping the black skeleton tower flaming

shaming blaming underneath blaming shaming

Mail-ing shaming blaming Mail-ing

lying regulation stuff “get-stuffed” stuff regulation lying

underneath ha-ha ha-ha “get stuffed” ha-ha ha-ha underneath

ash and cinders cinders and ash

Ruth Hartley

19th June 2017

This poem is about the people who lived in the tower. Underneath it lies the refusal to make good fire regulations and a willingness to blame the victims. I do, however, want to honour those men and women of the fire brigade who undertook the desperately dangerous task of saving people’s lives and will always remember with grief and agony those they could not save. You can read about their experiences by clicking on the link above.

 

 

 

Do writers and artists think about the colour of their skin or what is inside and outside it?

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Art Process, Racism2 Comments

The body of a young black man in a coffin. His face is beaten beyond recognition. His head rests on a halo-like pillow. there is a red rose at his waist

Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket,” a 2016 painting in the 2017 Whitney Biennial MATTHIAS KOLB 12355 BERLIN / Collection of the artist

Right and wrong writing and art

My last post had some very interesting comments made about it. I also had follow-up by email and I was sent this NBC News article from the USA which contains a quote that seemed very important for me personally. Thank you to those who sent and forwarded this article. Here’s the quote but the whole article is worth reading. I thought that the most valuable contribution to this debate was made by Lisa Whittington and the least useful was made by the person blocking the painting instead of talking to the artist.

 

 

 

A portrait split down the middle - the left side shows a handsome black adolescent in a neat shirt. The right side shows him naked, his face pulped and his eye missing. The background is blue on the left and dark on the right

“How She Sent Him and How She Got Him Back” (2012) by Lisa Whittington Courtesy Lisa Whittington

“Art professor Dr. Lisa Whittington, a Black artist who has created two paintings of Emmett Till, says she doesn’t have an issue with a white artist taking on the difficult subject matter, but questions Schutz’s perspective in making the painting.”

“I would ask her, why she did not paint the Emmett Till Story from a white woman’s point of view? Is there nothing that as a white woman that she would want to say? Especially in recently knowing that the woman who accused Emmett Till has admitted that she lied. Where is the artwork that represents her lies?” Whittington said. “The two men who lynched Emmett? Where is the artwork about them? Does she have nothing to say there?”

Whittington continued, “As artists—responsible artists—we are to speak and to document history. We are to tell about life from our point of view from where we stand.”

This story made me once again question myself in relation to my own work. Must a white artist limit themselves to their own culture or their guilt and wrongdoing in relation to other cultures? Who says that this must be so? History? Culture? Society? Can I explore injustice and oppression as I assume Dana Schutz intended to do, only if I have the identical experience? This post has become so interesting, complicated and long so I have decided to split it into two and carry on with the ideas it raises next week as well. I hope that you’ll want to read it and to comment on it. Next week I’ll start with the Brett Bailey Exhibit B. which you can see below. I did want to ask readers what they thought of Dr Whittington’s suggestion to Dana Schutz. Should Schutz respond as a person or as a white-skinned person? Does she have to identify as a perpetrator? Does she have to ask for forgiveness for herself or the whites who killed Emmett Till? How do Germans face up to the Holocaust or South Africans to apartheid? These are some of the questions I want the characters in my next book Hannah’s Housekeeping to face. I don’t know the answers. Read More and Comment …

Is White Writing Black, Right Writing or Wrong Writing?

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Politics, Race, Storytelling, The Tin Heart Gold Mine8 Comments

To the left of the painting are several African workers in a garden in the hot sun. To the right in the shade is a white woman with a young girl laening on her shoulder

Detail of African Garden, an oil painting by Ruth Hartley 1980

Writing black and white people, men and women, good and bad.

This is a rewrite of post on Marginal Scribbling that contains some complicated ideas that need thrashing out with other writers and readers. I intended to repost this anyway but it seemed more relevant after the launch of my novel The Tin Heart Gold Mine because I was asked by Nick Inman how I, as a white writer, wrote Black or African characters. My original post, written in response to a Thought Leader article in the South African Mail and Guardian, raised some of the issues around that question but the answers aren’t straightforward. It’s true to say that I hesitated at first about writing about black characters out of personal and political sensitivities and experiences. I then decided that even if the plot was about skin colour or racism, I was writing about people first and what they think and feel, so I simply went ahead.

Is White Writing wrong?

The South African writers who inspired me to write questioned racism and white superiority, Alan Paton, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, André Brink and J M Coetzee, opened doors onto new perceptions and empathies. They continue to illuminate the road to change. They were writers, not white writers.

The world, however, has changed enormously since the end of apartheid. Identity politics concern us and I too have to ask myself who I am and who I am writing about. Writers who write about people different from themselves are questioned as to their motivation and authority. That may be as it should be. We want to hear an authentic voice. Do we also want to prescribe limits to a writer’s imaginative and creative abilities?

Somerset Maugham says

Well, by an ironic coincidence, my latest book club read is  The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. Maugham, the novelist, is a character in his own book but says he can’t write American characters because they are foreign to him and therefore known only from observation. “You can only know them if you have lived them . . . if you are them.”1  In his view, even Henry James failed to create an Englishman after living in England 40 years. I have also heard arguments that a man can’t create a realistic woman and vice versa but in today’s world is it possible to leave out one gender completely or write a book in which there are not people of different skin colours?

Intuitive leaps

If writers don’t make their intuitive leaps into other states of being and other worlds then we’ll never understand each other. Read More and Comment …

Photo Children

Ruth HartleyFamily, Marriage2 Comments

A row of chairs sit below a row of transparent family photos lined up on a wall marked by the stains made by the removal of previous photos. The eyes of all the people in the photos are lined up so that one can see the family resemblances between the children and the photos of their parents as children

Installation of House Ghosts 1996

I don’t change

but the photos of my children

grow younger all the time.

My children are ageless too

but their recorded images

alter every year

The photo children become thin or fat

They wear braces or smiles,

spectacles or scowls.

Their hair is straight or curled,

but in their present flesh

they are constant.

My heart holds them so,

As my eyes hold them loved.

Note on the photo of the House Ghosts installation for Cambridge Open Studios

One day I moved some pictures from my dining room wall and saw that there were faint marks around the places they had been. This stirred my heart. I thought of removals and changes and the germ of an idea for this installation was born. I made transparencies from the photos of myself and my husband and all our children and framed them so that the marks on the wall behind could be seen through them when they were hung up.  There were many emotions stirred up by this installation. Every home, every house has ‘ghosts’ in it even when the same people live all their lives there – the ghosts of themselves as young, as infants, as adolescents. What I also found as I looked at the photos were the genetic ‘ghosts’ that haunt us in the physical appearance of ourselves and our children. This was also an homage to my family that was riven by divorce that year 1996.

Cambridge Open Studios is a wonderful idea started by people I knew there many years previously. Artists exhibit every year in their own studios or homes and the organisation coordinates with a catalogue and maps. I took part for many years till I left Cambridge and took part in the Artists Network Bedfordshire Open Studios.

 

All the world’s a wedding

Ruth HartleyMarriage13 Comments

A man and woman in evening dress holding champagne glasses by the front door of a ruined chateau in a bed of nettles

Ruth and John among the nettles Photo by Marianne Pascal http://www.mariannepascal.com/

What is a Marriage?

Marriage- a formal agreement between two people – the ceremony in which this agreement is made – the state of being married.

Wedding – a marriage ceremony.

Women and men are equal in law and in marriage.

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time,  made new” Ursula K Le Guin The Lathe of Heaven

 

 

A man and woman holding champagne glasses stand in front of a tower with a tree shadow on it

Ruth and John in the shadow of the 12th century tower. Photo by Marianne Pascal http://www.mariannepascal.com/

What makes a marriage?

Love – chemistry, biology, hormones, culture, social conditioning, need, divine and genetic input woven throughout our being. A strong feeling of deep affection. Passion.

Comfort – help, kindness, relief, ease, consolation

Trust – a good marriage is based on trust as are all good human relationships

Intimacy – closeness – sex.

Time – all the years of the past, present and future.

 Who is married?

Helpmates – supportive and critical partners.

Companions – those who travel together.

Lovers – people who look at each other

Different people – people who do not know each other.

A couple in evening dress with champagne glasses in front of a ruined chateau.

Ruth and John and the ruined château of lost dreams. Photo by Marianne Pascal http://www.mariannepascal.com/

All marriages are mixed

You can share the same pillow but not the same dreams.

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages”. Friedrich Nietzsche

“To keep your marriage brimming with love in the wedding cup, whenever you’re wrong, admit it; whenever you’re right, shut up.” Ogden Nash

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” John Steinbeck Travels with Charlie: In search of America

 

What is essential for a couple are good friendships – those they each have and those they share with other people. Here’s a toast to our friends.

Families are complex and changing. Marriage makes individuals into families. Love, generosity, and kindness make them function.

Here’s a toast to our families.

The lovely, but ruined chateau in these photos is in our village on the banks of the Adour River. We live in a cottage nearby. Marianne took these photos.