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All The World Is Now Richer at Greenbelt

Good morning from Greenbelt again! On day two and with a decent night’s sleep under my (Green) belt, the dust has settled somewhat and I am now able to look at the art that we have spent 4 days hanging with a more detached eye.

Each artist’s work is genuinely great this year, but one of the highlights has to be Sokari Douglas Camp CBE‘s set of sculptures entitled “All The World Is Now Richer”.

The work consists of a series of six figures made from steel, a little bigger, taller and prouder than life-size.

From Sokari’s website:

” ‘All the World is now Richer’ is a sculpture to commemorate the abolition of slavery. The sculpture hopes to show that the people of slave heritage are brave and have dignity and strength.”

The series shows the journey from indigenous robed figure, rich in ancestral heritage, to contemporary person in jeans and t-shirt via plantation workers and everything in between. However, as troubled and complex as all those issues are, the work is also about strength and survival, even dignity.

Politically engaged on a social and racial level, Douglas-Camp is Nigerian, trained in Britain from a political, high-born family. Drawing on a culture that utilises masks, masquerades, dance, and uniform, her work shares a part of Nigeria, that has to deal with oil companies, and live with the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The work comes from responses to a series of poetic words which can been seen on a maquette, also included in the show.

Most importantly, I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from various people who have been through or past. I’ve already met many people who have walked past and drawn into the room.They have told me that it looks AMAZING and want to go back and spend some more time there. Bringing an art show to a Racecourse, and especially making it look good within a festival is not easy. However I think we’ve achieved it, particularly in this case.

Fine Art venues (especially when the weather is good) don’t always get a big crowd, but conversely that can be their greatest strength. The room becomes a provoking oasis of calm when you want to escape the festival crowds.

I may well see you there.

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President Obama, In Seven Days & Greenbelt


Once again I find myself writing a once-in-a-blue-moon blog, and once again I find myself at the Greenbelt Festival, hanging artwork for the Visual Arts stream. It’s been it’s usual slog, but the work is up, the punters are trickling in, and the visual arts team nervously wait to see whether the work is as enjoyable to everyone else as it has been to us choosing it and working with it.

One of my particular favourites this year is Nicola Green’s “In Seven Days”.

Nicola had the great privilege of being able to follow Barack Obama’s journey from accepting the nomination as candidate for the Democratic party, right through to his inauguration as President of the United States.

The images are a distillation of various key moments along that journey. At first glance the images appear to be very simple but as with most work that reduces the various elements to distilled constituent parts, the volume of significance increases dramatically.

The gestures, poses and symbols are versatile enough that they can stand rigourous enough interpretation. The cruciform gesture in sixth image (“SACRIFICE/EMBRACE”) is particularly loaded with messianic symbolism, the air-punching fist of the second image (“STRUGGLE”) echoes both olympic triumphalism and black power – all lend a tension to the seven works taken as a whole, almost a narrative journey. The work, as Green says become about more than just him, and are the story of the people of America.

Questions of power are particularly pertinent at this point in Obama’s second term of office, as the tide of opinion turns, and the legacy of his time as President domes into focus. Will it be “Yes, we did” or have the NSA, drone flights, Gauntanamo Bay blotted the record too far? And what place does this have within the Greenbelt Festival’s remit around social and political justice issues?

It’s not often that you get works like this that see-saw well between political concerns and art practise concerns, but they do seem to hit a moment in time. And like all the best work, there is a timelessness to them that is more than just about Obama, America and now, and become about power, kingship and you and me.

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