Rhodes Must Fall

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Politics, Racism, South Africa, Zambia10 Comments

I was 37 when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980 – 40 years ago. I was in Zimbabwe then and I rejoiced at that change. Rhodesia had lasted a surprisingly short time. Now, as I watch the Rhodes Must Fall campaign I wonder if we will learn from this past history if we remove it from our view or if we will be doomed to repeat it? We are already living in the future – we are the history we are making – what statues and symbols of flawed heroes will we erect in the future?

My Rhodes Centenary souvenir teaspoon on a page of outdated history

In 1953 I was 10 and living in Rhodesia

My sister and I. My mother cut the toes out of our shoes because our feet were too big for them

1953 was the centenary of Rhodes’s birth in Britain. Cecil John Rhodes, I was taught, was the hero who had founded Rhodesia a mere 60 years previously. I was taken on a school train trip to Bulawayo for the celebration event held inside the new Comet aeroplane hangar.  I came back with a silver teaspoon decorated with an Africa almost all covered in red enamel. Rhodes had been dead for 40 years. Less than 30 years later Rhodesia would become Zimbabwe. My grandfather was born before Rhodesia existed and my grandmother died after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.

In 1962, I went to art school in Cape Town

The Republic of South Africa was one year old. The1960 Sharpeville massacre had taken place. Martin Luther King Jr was alive but hadn’t yet spoken of his Dream. Enoch Powell had not yet spoken of Rivers of Blood and the first black British MP, Dr David Pitt, had not yet been elected. Apartheid and the Group Areas Act were coming into force in South Africa. Nelson Mandela had not yet been convicted and sent to prison on Robben Island. The Windrush had berthed in Britain 14 years earlier. That year President Kennedy sent thousands of troops to stop riots when a black student, James Meredith, enrolled at the University of Mississippi. The US had started to spray Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. Bob Dylan was singing “The times they are a-changing!”. James Baldwin had not yet won the debate about the American Dream and the Negro at the Cambridge University Union.

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BLACK LIVES MATTER and Zambian art history

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Art, Art Process, Colonialism, Creativity, Freedom Fighters, Human rights, Mpapa Gallery, Politics, Power, Printmaking, Race, Racism, South Africa, War, Zambia2 Comments

Henry Tayali “The Fight for Freedom” Oil on Canvas.

Black lives have always mattered – not just since the crisis of George Floyd’s murder. Everyone I worked with in Zambia had always felt the same about the fight against racism and it was fundamental to my own art and my work with Zambian artists. Black lives have mattered for centuries

Mpapa Gallery and the best art possible

Blanka Novotny Pen and ink drawing of Mpapa Gallery

In 1984 I was invited to manage Mpapa Gallery in Lusaka. Two idealists, Joan Pilcher and Heather Montgomerie had started it in 1978. They believed that Zambia should experience the best art possible and took the advice of Henry Tayali, a Zambian artist, and Barbara Masekela of the South African ANC, (African National Congress). Joan suggested that I ask two printmakers, Patrick Mweemba and Cynthia Zukas, the wife of Simon Zukas, a Zambian Freedom Fighter to join me. We were artists with shared political beliefs. We all worked as volunteers.

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What I do all day when I’m writing

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Art Process, Books, Children's stories, Feminism, Imagination, Mpapa Gallery, Poetry, Publication, Reading, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Shaping of Water, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Women's Rights, Writing, Writing Process, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Some problems faced by writers

What are writers’ problems and what about yours? What do you all do when you’re writing? Please – do comment and tell me how you do things. If you’re a reader then you’re exactly what I need. Writers love readers. Readers, however, are often curious about the habits of writers. As both a writer and a reader I am, and so I decided that it was time for me to use both this blog and my Facebook Author page to talk about the process of my writing and tell you some of what I’m doing at the moment. I don’t have a set routine for writing, but I’ll tell you more about that later. First, consider some of the expectations that people have about writers and writing.

Other people’s expectations

Image shows a rose bush in bloom
The writer’s life is not a bed of roses.

As we’re social creatures we all have to meet the expectations of other people. I don’t know if all writers face similar expectations from friends and family, but I am pretty sure there will be some that we share.

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Writing, art and the rewriting of history

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Art, Art Process, Colonialism, South Africa, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, Truth, War5 Comments

I’ve had to learn a different history

8 drawings are arranged on the gallery wall they show a woman with 5 arms, 5 breasts each containing a drawing of a child. She has wings but is rooted to the earth. Her head is that of Medusa and she holds scissors, a gun, a thread and a lead attached to a dog who is biting her thigh.
Charcoal and mixed media drawings on cotton rag paper titled ‘The ‘true’ History of my Body’ by Ruth Hartley

I grew up during the British Empire when Cecil John Rhodes was the hero of school history but I had a great teacher. She was a cynical idealist who toed no party lines. At Cape Town University under the Rhodes Memorial, I followed up her questioning style and explored a more radical history opposed to racism and oppression. That enabled me, in 1973, to rewrite the South Africa long-distance learning course used by my Zambian students. My personal history has been rewritten without my agreement but that is life and happens in every family. None of us sees our history or our world from exactly the same angle. History can be twisted to disadvantage or to denigrate other people so it’s a human requirement to keep on asking questions of history that take us closer to the truth. So for that reason, I’ve come to use my art and writing to interrogate my history and my experience. The drawing above, for example, is titled ironically “The “true” History of my Body”, It’s about the way my experiences feel to me and not about my real body just its mythical meaning for me.

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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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