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Politics and Art: The Role of the Arts in Promoting Human Rights and Exposing Injustices

L-R: English Pen president Maureen Freely, photographer Lesley McIntyre, Lacuna editor Andrew Williams, Keats House poet Laila Sumpton and ice&fire artistic director Christine Bacon.

L-R: English Pen president Maureen Freely, photographer Lesley McIntyre, Lacuna editor Andrew Williams, Keats House poet Laila Sumpton and ice&fire artistic director Christine Bacon.

Frontline Club’s audience was taken from laughter to tears on Wednesday 26 March, as four artists described their experiences at the event “Politics and Art: The Role of the Arts in Promoting Human Rights and Exposing Injustices.”

Chaired by English Pen president Maureen Freely, the discussion included excerpts from panellists’ works, which included pieces from the fields of poetry, drama, photography and literary non-fiction.

Organized by Lacuna: A Writing Wrongs Project, the event served as the new online magazine’s launch pad. In an interview afterward, panellist and Lacuna editor Andrew Williams said the event was moving, adding that it was a way of celebrating the scope of what the magazine does.

“Because we’re online, we can present films, make films,” he said. “We can write features, we can do interviews, we can do all sorts of things. It was shown here tonight, the scope of what we’re about.”

The night opened with a short film documenting Lesley McIntyre’s photography. Looking at her politically oriented works at first, it shifted focus to photography where her daughter was the subject. It described how McIntyre raised Molly, who was born in 1984 and suffered from a muscular abnormality. Photos of Molly’s life came together in McIntyre’s series The Time Of Her Life.

“There’s a great American photographer called Imogen Cunningham, and I loved one of her quotes, which I probably won’t remember absolutely accurately, but she said, ‘You’re no damn good if you can’t take a photograph in your own backyard,’” McIntyre said. “And I thought, right, okay, you don’t have to travel . . . and you don’t necessarily have to go all over the world to be able to make an image that resonates.”

Keats House poet Laila Sumpton presented poems from In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights, which she co-edited. One poem looked at the Tiananmen Square protests from the perspective of a child learning about them in school; the other was a humorous piece which spoke about 50,000 farmers who stood up to a corrupt official, protesting through laughter.

“There are a lot of very harrowing poems in here, but there are also a lot of poems which stand up and say, ‘No we’re going to show you how ridiculous you are by using humour,” Sumpton said.

Williams presented a few pages from his book, A Very British Killing: The Death of Baha Mousa, which won the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2013. After reading the excerpt—which detailed abuses of the British military on Iraqi prisoners—Freely pointed out how much anger just reading the words aloud seemed to stir in Williams.

“If I was honest, I’m extraordinarily angry,” he said. “I don’t display that, but there’s an intense, deep-seated anger—at who I am within this country, who we are, who we pretend to be—and in the sense that we don’t look. We don’t look for what we do. We don’t look at how it’s done in our name. We don’t even accept that it’s in our name.”

ice&fire artistic director Christine Bacon explained that she was an actor living in Australia when the government’s actions against asylum seekers opened her eyes. She said she was pushed to get involved and increase awareness about the issue when she realized she her views were in the minority.

“How do we find a way to make this vivid—as vivid as these stories were for people who really have no idea it even happened—and to fill in that black hole in history?” Bacon said.

She also presented a theatrical excerpt from ice&fire’s upcoming production, The Island Nation.

Lacuna launched on 24 February 2014, and releases a new issue every two weeks, promoting human rights through literature, art, photography and creative multimedia content.

*Written as a test post for Frontline Club Blog*

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This entry was posted on March 31, 2014 by in Journalist Diary and tagged , , , .
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