Inspiration, sharing, genius and intellectual property

Ruth HartleyApartheid, Art, Creativity, Human rights, Mpapa Gallery, Slavery, Uncategorized, Writing, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Heroes and Scapegoats

Jane Austen
Napoleon

As you can probably tell I’m unimpressed by the idea of male genius in art and male heroes in political history, when its written by men. It’s a useful trick to focus on a key individual in an epoch when there’s an exam looming but it leaves women out and falsifies history. it also allows people to punish a single scapegoat instead of looking at collective responsibility. Slavery in the Caribbean plantations, for example, was so deeply embedded in British society in the 1800s that it was possible for a vicar’s daughter who never saw an African or a sugar crop to profit from it. Jane Austen’s novels describe middle class ladies in a world in which its wealth originated in slavery and its wars were fought for control of that trade. If compensation had not been paid to slave owners when slavery ended all of British society might have crumbled into poverty. The French Revolution ended slavery and Napoleon reinstated it to save the French colonial economy. A bitter irony for the revolutionaries. (And another bitter irony for votes for women!)

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Zambian Art 1964 -1994 – a lost history

Ruth HartleyArt, Mpapa Gallery, Women's Rights, Zambia1 Comment

Mpapa Gallery, Women and Art in Zambia

In 1984 when I started working at Mpapa Gallery with Joan Pilcher, Cynthia Zukas and Patrick Mweemba, there were many women making art, but few were Zambian and none were black. Most women artists were the expatriate wives of businessmen, diplomats and aid agency officials. Colonial domination of Zambian culture before 1964 is one factor, but the reality is more complex and reflects the low status of both women and art in all of western culture as well as solely the British colonies. In this post, I want to explore some of the reasons for this misogyny and how it still needs to be changed.

Watercolours for ladies and fame for men

Marian Arnold’s 1996 book on women and art written after Mandela became President of South Africa

When I went to the Michaelis Art School in 1962 about 70% of the students were women, but the few men there were noticeable for their high marks and status. Schoolboys weren’t encouraged to study art, so these men had to be both passionate and focused. In contradiction, art was seen as a ladylike occupation for a girl who would inevitably marry and might need a hobby when her husband was busy. Women, however, were just as determined as men to make art and to make it well. Many women artists in the Southern African region fought apartheid and worked with black African artists as did Sue Williamson, Marian Arnold, Bente Lorenz, Cynthia Zukas, Helen Lieros and myself.

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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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