Category Archives: Miniluv

Bulletins from the Ministry of Love

Their Spirits Gone Before Them

A provoking piece of art has sailed into the International Slavery Museum in the Port of Liverpool. The mesmerising installation, ‘Their Spirits Gone Before Them’ is a five metre-long cottonwood canoe with 1,357 resin figures. Each figure represents the loss of a life to the slave trade.

Resilience resonates from the canoe and the stoic figures represent universal traits that underpin all humankind.

It’s not about ropes, chains or torture but rather, it is a sculpture that communicates transcendence, reverence, strength and unity,

cites the artist, Laura Facey.

This unsettling installation is part of Their Spirits, an exhibition showcasing the portfolio of the acclaimed Jamaican craftswoman and running until 7th September 2014.

redemption-song-monument-in-emancipation-park-in-kingston-jamaica-1600x1066

In conversation, Facey reveals the story behind the creation,

The inspiration for Their Spirits Gone Before Them has a bit of history. The piece began with the Redemption Song Monument, which I was commissioned to do by the Government of Jamaica. I won a blind competition and in 2003 that piece was unveiled at the ceremonial entrance to the Emancipation Park in Kingston in Jamaica.

And after that piece was unveiled the Government asked me to make miniature souvenirs pieces of the monument, which I duly set about doing. And partway through that project I became rather frustrated, but then I started to see these miniatures in a cotton wood canoe. We have these wonderful cotton wood canoes that fishermen paddle around the island and I just kept seeing these miniatures in the canoe and I went, though I had a little bit of a struggle, how can I take my healed figures and make them… put them back into a slave canoe.

And then my husband was reading a book called The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson and he just read a little passage, which said “though the slaves were in the valley of the ship their spirits had gone before them into the Blue Mountains” and that was my permission. You know I realised of course we are eternal and that’s what I believe and so I set off looking for a canoe. And as soon as I found it I installed 1,357 of the miniatures into the canoe.

So I took these exact Redemption Song figures and put them in the canoe and made them face each other because I’m carrying the same message as the Redemption Song into the canoe. The Redemption Song piece is prayerful in its essence or I think of it as such: two people in communion with the divine and also with themselves.

My piece is, though it’s initially as you look at it, it is about slavery but it’s, when you look closer and you see that the people are actually whole, the little figures in the canoe are whole and full and you know in a divine sort of feeling space, they are proud, they have come through it, above it and that’s what’s important. We touch on the past but we need to heal the patterns of the past, break from the past.

Their Spirits Gone Before Them was awarded the UNESCO Slave Route Project logo in 2013.

their spirits gone before them faces

The artist hopes that the vessel will continue on its journey to other destinations, particularly those ports that were directly involved with slavery.

I would love people to take away hope, change, that we can change our lives that we can heal, that we are in fact healing and the fact that the canoe is even being shown here is a statement about that.

their spirits gone before them

It’s a poignant reminder that, of all the many thousands who sailed to and from the Liverpool Docks, not all did so willingly.

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To Russia With Love

John Maguire brings a message of love to thaw the most snow-covered of hearts…

When Cupid draws back his bow this year, I am firing the arrow right into the heart of Mother Russia. I am dedicating my Valentine message to Vladimir PUTIN.

I am not going to write a lyrical ballad of love.

I am not going to try to pen a rhyme crime of the roses are red style.

I am going to state plainly how deeply disturbed I am at the human rights abuses and discrimination against LGBT people in Russia.

I spent the entirety of the weekend in Paris, wandering, mulling over the whole controversy around Sochi 2014. Like a true flaneur, I was trying to assimilate what I want to say about the Winter Olympics. In particular the attitudes to individualism and sexuality that are as bitingly cold as the necessary elements for this sporting event.

John Grant sums it up in his emotive ballad Glacier.

Listening to the debates around the brutalities that are currently taking place fills me with a deep sadness. The gut reaction I used to feel when someone mentioned a queer in school, a shirt lifter, a queg, a fanny…… (fill in your own derogatory term). I knew what was coming next.

But I am not going to rant, I am not going to state the obvious. I welcome Putin’s Draconian philosophies, his take on the modern jungle. Like the leader of the BNP, another dinosaur of a man, Putin’s views only serve to make him look like a Les Patterson-esque figure, a crass, crude caricature, his words and actions serve to highlight idiocy. But I don’t know the Russian translation.

russian-profile-pic
A man who sadly I thought in these more enlightened times had become  extinct. Yet I am lucky to live in the United Kingdom, knowing other countries do not always have the luxury of free expression.

WISH YOU WERE NOT HERE

A is for Antigua, where its fifteen years.

B is for Barbados, lifetime for all the queers.

D is for Dominica, ten years or sectioned for life.

G is for Guyana, prison for those who choose not to take a wife.

J for Jamaica, hard labour there.

K for Kenya, fourteen years thrown away without care.

Mauritius just five, Morocco just three.

St Lucia and St Vincent, a decade is robbed from thee.

Seychelles and Solomon Islands, jail for fourteen.

Singapore two, being ever so lean.

Trinidad and Tobago, a quarter of a century to eradicate the disease.

United Arab Emirates, deportation or the death penalty for living the life you please.

Social Networking has often been criticised, but over Sochi, it has been used positively, to show support, broadcast outrage and create a digital community to generate positive messages to LGBT Russians. From the ‘How to ask for a Rainbow Flag in Russian’ tutorial, endorsed by Derren Brown, Stephen Fry, Paloma Faith, Rupert Everett and  Neil Gaiman, to the Canadian tongue in cheek response to Russia’s Anti-Gay laws.

What is normal anyway, how is it measured? We are all different and there is no such thing as normal, just the people you don’t know that well. The United Kingdom may well be drowning but the good thing about this country is its happy to let people be. Thank the Universe for freedom of expression and speech in the place that I call home.

The thing I do find extremely disturbing is what will happen once the world’s media turn their attention away from Russia.

sochi image

Progressive change is not going to suddenly occur. Yet small drops make the ocean. Let us not forget it has taken 25 years to get to where we are in Britain, so we need to support activists worldwide on their long journey to equality. What goes on between consenting adults should be left to consenting adults. It’s an often quoted cliché but it really doesn’t matter who you love. Ignorance is not bliss.

I think of Jack Nicholson as President Dale in the film Mars Attacks! (1996)

Why can’t we work out our differences? Why can’t we work things out? Little people, why can’t we all just get along?

So I send my message with a kiss, Happy Valentine’s Day, Comrade Putin!

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Once by Morris Gleitzman

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Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

John Maguire with an evocative review of a book that demands space on any ‘to read’ list…

Edvard Munch - Anxiety, 1894

Edvard Munch – Anxiety, 1894

Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Grey, has the inquisitive strapline brandished on the front cover, “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?” But please do not be put off by this somewhat cliché, tugging at the heart-strings sentiment. The tale focuses on Lina, a young intelligent Lithuanian girl who has a passion for drawing and art, heavily in awe of the painter Edvard Munch and his ideas,

From my rotting body flowers shall grow, and I am in them and that is eternity, isn’t that beautiful?

One night in 1941, Soviet guards usurp Lina and her family out of the family homestead. The clan are separated from Lina’s father, an Academic, and hurled into a dilapidated cattle cart shamelessly labelled Thieves and Prostitutes. So begins their savage journey northward bound, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the desolate land of Siberia. The book highlights the cruel psychological, mental and physical torture that forced labour brings. The barbaric pain that the people suffer emanates off the very pages. The verisimilitude is indubitable.

Lithuanians deported to Trofimovsk, Siberia, 1949

Lithuanians deported to Trofimovsk in the region of the Laptev Sea, Siberia, an area with permafrost north of the Polar Circle. The photo is from 1949. These deportations started in 1941. In 1942-43, a third of the deported people died, mainly children and elderly people. Photo: The Museum of Genocide Victims, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Lina’s escape is through her creativity and the story illustrates the redemptive power of art, the way it can turn negative experience into positive. The very impact it can have on the human soul. Beauty in amongst horrific chaotic conditions of wrongness. It reiterates the words of Albert Camus,

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

By using first hand family accounts and the memories scarred in the minds of the survivors from Stalin’s atrocities, Sepetys makes real an epoch in history that one would definitely like to think was unreal. Lina’s imagination allows her to vent her spleen,

I painted a rug being lifted and a huge Soviet broom sweeping us under it.

It is estimated that Josef Stalin killed more than 20 million people during his reign of terror and Lina’s story is one of many unspoken. In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Shortly after the Kremlin came up with lists of people, lawyers, teachers, doctors, military servicemen, writers, musicians, artists and librarians  all accused of being anti-Soviet. These people would be sent to prison, exterminated or deported into slavery in Siberia.

The Baltic States lost more than a third of their population during this season of annihilation.

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Those who survived ten to fifteen years in Siberia returned in the mid-fifties to find their homes pillaged and occupied by Soviets. The returned people were classified as criminals and put under surveillance by the KGB (formerly the NKVD).

To discuss the past atrocities would result in immediate incarceration.

The horror stories were kept silent. In this modern life, there are many current continual pressures, but I would suggest consuming this provoking piece of literature, just to refresh you on how lucky some of us are in this world.

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Sex crime

John Maguire reports on an insightful lecture on an often-overlooked piece of recent history.

A surge of creative electricity charged up the University of Liverpool last week.

To conclude LGBT History Month for 2013, the academic institution invited celebrated author John Sam Jones to deliver a lecture as part of their Flagship series. The talks are created by LGBT staff and the postgraduate student network, designed to facilitate dialogue with the local LGBT community and advocates. To provide enjoyable yet thought-provoking activities that engage people with LGBT issues.

LGBT Flagship logo

The discourse titled, ‘Don’t compromise yourself, you are all you’ve got’, saw the author read from his autobiographical/fiction novel describing the therapy in use in one North Wales asylum in 1975, to help cure him and unlock his heterosexual potential.

John Sam Jones opened with abstracts taken from newspaper articles and journals from the Sixties discussing the contagion of homosexuality. A blatant derogatory rhetoric embedded deeply in the social-scape. Themes of moral corruption, mental illness, abnormality, destruction to morals and public health, echoed around the theatre and seemed almost antiquated. The not so complimentary extracts were from diverse sources ranging from The Church Times, psychiatric periodicals and even The Guardian.

John Sam Jones Sam Heath LGBT History Month

Aversion therapy and behavioural disorder was to cure and assist to ‘repress the deviance’. In the 1930’s this type of ‘help’ started to be used to treat and cure male homosexuals with chemical and electrical treatments. Jones highlighted how in the nature of experimentation the Nazi’s kindly assisted with surgical castrations and injecting individuals with female hormones. The depiction of a penis transducer sounded like something out of a sadistic sci-fi movie, straight out of the stills from a darker version of the flick, Barbarella. This nifty device was used to measure penile erections, to gain so-called objective data, patients would receive painful electric shocks in fifty-second blocks, with a maximum of five shots given to assist with the cure.

The novel Crawling Through Thorns, describes his personal testimony with a very graphic, yet not sensationalist approach; literature that shocks the reader with its raw honesty, making it at times an uncomfortable read.  The descriptions could have been catapulted from the pages of a gothic horror or trickling straight out of the medieval history books detailing barbaric torture.  Behaviour not expected in a democratic society. The doctor’s insistence that ‘We need to see your responses’, sends a shudder down the spine and the details of the sessions depict an almost sexual ballet with the learned medical monsters in the role of sadomasochistic voyeurs, probing and observing the patient. The irony is that the therapy requires the individual to be ‘turned on’ to be ‘turned off’, to execute the homosexual identity.

John Sam Jones started his writing career with a series of short stories, Welsh Boys Too and has published Fisherboys of Vernazza and a novel, Of Angels and Furies. His gay characters are presented in a non-stereotypical way. They are gay, yes, but this is not the principle factor that defines them, they are quintessentially all journeying through life, experiencing what it means to be a homosapien, not just a homosexual.

His tales flow with a passion for nature that enriches the reader’s mind’s eye. He paints a canvas of rural Wales illustrating a sheer beauty, his palette of literary paints cramming with adoration. His subtle, yet evocative sentences employ brush strokes that reveal a storytelling genius. Where Armistead Maupin uses his to pen tales from the city, John Sam Jones’ could be dubbed tales from the country.

It took Jones time to heal before he could face penning Crawling Through Thorns. He wanted to write HIS story to preserve history and act as a stark reminder to this black period of pink history that is somewhat hazy. Many people have not had the courage to discuss the humiliation of this form of therapy. We have advances in equality, fostering and adoption and soon marriage, but we must not forget the lollapalooza of trying to find an elusive antidote to not being you.

Nor should we forget that even in a world now populated with LGBT role models who are out and proud, Gareth Thomas and Clare Balding to name just two, there are still many parts of the world where a lack of deeper understanding is blazingly obvious.

In Barbados same-sex relations can land an individual a lifetime in prison and in the United Arab Emirates in some cases it can bring the death penalty. Closer to home, problems still arise, such as the  cases of Michael Causer and Justin Fashanu. The day before the lecture, Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to quit the Church amidst allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards priests. The same chap who claimed that same-sex marriage was the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and would lead to the ‘further degeneration of society into immorality’.

John Sam Jones’ brave and revealing novel will serve to fit a piece in the LGBT History jigsaw and ensure we do not obnubilate the past.

We must be proud of who we are and we cannot be proud if we hide.

Photographs courtesy of Sam Heath

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Going missing

A grey sky, making it too easy to feel miserable. The heel fell off my boot as I walked into work, leaving me limping all day. Over-tired, I had slept too long, veering from one lucid, unsettling dream to another without any pause, so that I found it difficult to escape from the feeling of having disappointed some faceless authority, failed to measure up to what was expected of me and faced down accusatory tones, even after the alarm had intruded.

Days like today it is impossible to fight the urge to go missing for a while, even if it only is in the virtual sense. Turn off the internets, pick up a book, a notebook, a pen. Write letters, listen to music loud enough to have the neighbours cursing your name and hope that tomorrow the sun will shine again. Perhaps that is enough.

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Top 5 doomed literary loves

Perhaps it isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the season, as everyone loves a happy ever after, but sometimes it has to be acknowledged that the really great literature lives elsewhere.  With that in mind, and with Valentine’s wishes to all readers, here are ten minutes hate’s favourite star-cross’d lovers…

1. Anna and Vronsky – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The fairytale prince (though really a Count) escapes his destiny to marry the sweet-as-sugar Princess Kitty and skips off with the more captivating Anna instead.  Russian society at the time taking its cues from Paris, they might have been forgiven for carrying on behind her husband’s back.  Yet it is when the pair decide they can’t breathe without the other in the room and decide to throw career (him), family (her) and sanity (both) on the bonfires of love and lust that all hell really breaks loose.

Anna watching her lover fall from his horse mid-race and having to contend with his possible death under the suspicious eye of her husband is one of the finest scenes in the book, or possibly ever written.  And while the parallel story of Kitty and new love Konstantin provides a more realistic portrait of the early years of a marriage as well as acting as counterpoint, it is the raging, ultimately destructive, passions between Anna and Vronsky that linger long after reading.

2. Helene and Jean – The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir

Few things are more tragic than the discovery of crucial knowledge too late to do anything useful with it.  Witness reluctant hero Jean Blomart’s night of remorse and reflection as he only realises how deeply he cares for on-off girlfriend Helene after she has taken a bullet helping her ex escape from the Nazis.

The long vigil allows him the chance to reflect on the choices he has made in his life, politics and behaviour towards Helene – while wrestling with the decision over whether to send others out on a similarly dangerous mission – all in a suitably existential manner, of course.  But the philosophy never detracts from what is a cracking tale of betrayal, deceit, love, and ultimately, death.

3. Jake and Anna and Hugo and Sadie – Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Perhaps not since A Midsummer Night’s Dream have the forces of love got it so spectacularly wrong, with emotions in Murdoch’s first novel entangling to such a degree that no-one seems likely to get what (or who) they actually want.  Perfectly capturing the often comic choices of still-young-but-old-enough-to-know-better hero Jake Donaghue as he attempts to sort his chaotic life out enough to get the money, the acclaim and – of course – the girl he deserves.

His continuing mis-steps on that path to contentment, made due to his unvarying misconceptions of his world, are handled with such a light touch that it is impossible not to sympathise, even while desiring to give him a good shake!  A scene where he trails Anna through Paris, seeing her without her ever realising he is there, is beautiful in its longing and sense of loss.  This is another philosophical novel which never betrays the humanity of its central characters.  The inadequacies of language in conveying our perspectives – the ‘net’ of words we are all caught in – will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to tell someone they love exactly how it is and how it’s going to be.

4. Robert and Maria – For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

The whispered conversations, while curled in his sleeping bag, their hopes for their life together, the brutal intrusion of their final goodbye.  It is a short yet grand passion, full of idealism and beauty, despite – or perhaps due to – the death and horror that surrounds them.  The earth even moves.

Yet, like the Republic they are fighting for, it is not destined to last.  As with The Blood of Others, Fascist bullets ultimately prove too strong for even this perfect love to overcome.

5. Winston and Julia – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

What else could it be?

Boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy realises that is because he wants girl really.  Boy gets girl.  Boy convinces girl to join him in overthrowing a ruthless dictatorship.

Fails.

Looking back over my choices I realise that perhaps there is a common theme, that love can’t survive in a world bedevilled with totalitarian regimes, Fascist atrocities and the stern disapproval of a rigid society.  Those structures will always be incompatible with such deep feelings because, as noted by Jonathan Carroll, in his excellent tale of un-doomed love, White Apples:

…real love is always chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective. You lose the ability to protect yourself. The greater the love, the greater the chaos. It’s a given and that’s the secret.

The idea of love as anarchy works better for me than all the diamonds and flowers and chocolates paraded at this time of year.  Perhaps Saint Valentine, killed for his opposition to the Roman Emperor, would approve.

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Hate your job?

Hate your job?  Trying to use that hatred as fuel to propel yourself closer to where you know you should be?  Then you need to read Max Dunbar on The Two, The Five.  Expertly coalescing all those random thoughts you have on the commute to work into one glorious paean to why you should get the hell out of there.

The last line alone should have you running for the door, throwing your coat over your shoulders.  There has to be more to life, if you aren’t too crushed to discover what that could be.

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Worry not, all things are well

I am probably too late getting to The National, as I would bet they already pick up quite an amount of praise in the right quarters, but given that I don’t really listen to any radio stations or music shows these days, I am often to be found a pleasing couple of months behind the hype machines.  When I was a kid it would have filled me with horror not to have an opinion on the latest band on the day of their album release, or at the very least, one day before you had one, but I suppose letting go of all that ‘now, now, now’ crap is one of the true joys of getting older.

This song I first found via an Andrew Weatherall mix which I wrote about a while ago and so is probably unavailable now (or try searching the internet, you may be able to hunt it down).  I have not stopped playing it since that day, and this beautiful song is one of the many reasons why it remains so essential, never failing to up my joie de vivre.

The next time I fall for someone, I want this to be on the soundtrack.  The search for love essentially does boil down to looking for someone to hide behind the sofa with, in winter, having slept in your clothes.  Right?  What else is there?

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My team is Red

‘It’s all thought out,’ Flavia said.  ‘This [music] and the football stadium – they give us two places to scream and curse and stamp our feet.  They’re not stupid… they’re evil.  They know they have to provide an outlet.  Without a valve to release the pressure, this country would explode.’

- Nathan Englander, The Ministry of Special Cases

To some, a World Cup presents the opportunity for an enjoyable grand delusion, a chance for the skilful to shine, allowing dreams of achieving greatness in front of a global audience to become reality for one fortunate group of players.  As well as the chance to lift the Jules Rimet, there is also the hope of every no-mark with a political theory going spare of seizing the opportunity to get their byline in the paper.

Via Max Dunbar, I learn of Terry Eagleton‘s recent assertions that:

… for the most part football these days is the opium of the people, not to speak of their crack cocaine. Its icon is the impeccably Tory, slavishly conformist Beckham. The Reds are no longer the Bolsheviks. Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished

(emphasis added)

If Mr Eagleton had paid closer attention to the English Premier League team nicknamed ‘the Reds’, he might have found much to love.  Or perhaps not.  His brand of politics is a more ideologically driven variety of the simple socialism proclaimed by Bill Shankly and adopted as a slogan by the fans’ campaign named for him:

The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life

Mr Eagleton might be encouraged by Spirit of Shankly’s progress towards putting these words into practice, as shown at their Independence Day Rally.  We heard from great speakers such as Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, who spoke of his politics having been learnt as much inside Anfield as in his early working life in Liverpool.  Yet the aim of the day was not fine speeches, but the launch of a scheme for future fan ownership of Liverpool Football Club.

The glossy, corporate-sponsored face of football is the aspect of the game that has become the dominant force in recent years.  It has received a lot of attention and, to a casual observer, may appear to be the only one.  There should certainly be disquiet at the way life in South Africa has been presented during the tournament, backed up with support for campaigners who are attempting to change the lives of the population of what is still, for all the first-class stadia that have been built, a Third World country.

That said, to suggest that a love of football and a love of freedom can’t exist side-by-side in the human heart is to miss what many fans take from the game.  It is also to ignore that, even in the so often despised professional game, the lowly can still beat those with greater resources.  Barcelona, with its ‘more than a club’ ethos, can overtake the corporate-backed Red Devils.  For many fans, that alone would be enough to secure utopia!

Unlike other sport football requires no specialist equipment and can be played by two people with a proper ball, or a broken tennis ball, or even a stone or tin can, as the players of millions of worldwide childhood street games can attest.  So the effects of football on our political consciousness should not be dismissed and calls for the game’s abolition should not go unchallenged.  As Carlos Fernández writes:

It’s one of the most wonderful things when we meet someone new at a game, or our bonds strengthen at dinner or a bar after we play. If the football field is essentially a meeting place for play, it must then extend to wherever people enjoy being with each other. That’s where anarchy might start, or at least where it can blossom. When the idea of self-organization can be made obvious by how a goal is scored or how a team trains, anarchism seems like no great feat

It is time to establish football for the fans, not the fat cats.  It is our game and after all, we so often hear that it would not exist without us.   As the over-leveraged owners of our clubs cast around for additional finance, we can come together to build a new model, however long it takes, because we know that what we create will stand for generations.  In football, so it goes in life, as well as in politics:

I am an Anarchist not because I believe Anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal

— Rudolf Rocker, The London Year

(… unless that goal is a last-minute winner against Villa away on the final day of the season to secure us number 19, eh, Rudolf mate?!)

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