Posts Tagged ‘discrimination

21
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point’ at Four Corners, London

Exhibition dates: 10th June – 10th September 2022

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Adler Street, London E1, 14 May 1978. The start of the march behind Altab Ali's coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attack' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Adler Street, London E1, 14 May 1978. The start of the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attack (ACARA)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

1977-1978 were tumultuous years in Britain. In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee but the disaffection and alienation of large sections of society were evidenced in the numerous riots, strikes and protests that spread across the country. There were many “youth cultural movements in the late 1970s in the UK – namely skinheads, punks, and soulboys – along with the social, political, and cultural tensions between them.” Racism and homophobia were rife in both West Indian and white British communities.

Punk ruled the airwaves and the streets, the “Yorkshire Ripper” was running amok and undertakers went on strike in London, leaving more than 800 corpses unburied. “On 7 June, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and the record label Virgin arranged to charter a private boat and have the Sex Pistols perform while sailing down the River Thames, passing Westminster Pier and the Houses of Parliament. The event, a mockery of the Queen’s river procession planned for two days later, ended in chaos. Police launches forced the boat to dock, and constabulary surrounded the gangplanks at the pier. While the band members and their equipment were hustled down a side stairwell, McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, and many of the band’s entourage were arrested.”1

On the 13th August 1977, the Battle of Lewisham took place took place, “when 500 members of the far-right National Front (NF) attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham in southeast London and various counter-demonstrations by approximately 4,000 people led to violent clashes between the two groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police.”1 On the 30th January 1978, then opposition leader Margaret Thatcher says that many Britons fear being “swamped by people with a different culture”.

And on the 4th May 24-year-old Bengali leather garments worker Altab Ali is murdered in East London in a racially motivated attack which mobilises the British Bangladeshi community to protest. These photographs pay tribute to the activists who mobilised around the rallying cry of justice that followed.

Socio-documentary photographers like Paul Trevor are vital in recording the roiling emotions and feelings of people during periods of great stress, protest and change. What is striking about his documentary photographs of the local Bengali community’s mobilisation against racist violence and institutional police racism is their power and directness – the grim determination of the people and their anger against what was and had been happening to them for a very long time comes across in the photographs with visceral force, perhaps even their anger against being photographed as well. The looks of defiance aimed at the camera lens is an act of defiance toward racism itself – no more they are saying. Never again!

We can see it in they eyes of the elderly gentleman in shirt and tie (with the protective, open hand across his chest) and the women at right in the photograph Adler Street, London E1, 14 May 1978. The start of the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attack (ACARA) (1978, above); we can observe it in the stare of the man underneath the placard at left in the photograph Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Rally following the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA) (1978, below); and we can feel it in the gaze of the man at right in the photograph Leadenhall Street, London, 14 May 1978. Thousands of Bengalis follow the coffin of Altab Ali from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA) (1978, below). We can feel the emotion, outrage, and passion in all of these photographs. We are human beings and we don’t deserve to be treated like animals…

Today, arm in arm, we still need to march to protect our freedoms and rights as human beings. And we still need photographs to document our resistance toward right wing ideology, discrimination and racism. Which reminds me – in the recent Commonwealth Games, “In 35 out of the 56 Commonwealth nations homosexuality is considered a crime, with some countries still punishing it with the death penalty… Seven Commonwealth nations have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for being gay.”3 Still this, in the 21st century. It’s barbaric. And none of this hiding behind the cloak of religion and religious dogma … for religion is just a salve to the conscience of the unconscionable.

Brothers, we need to protest against discrimination and racism of any form around the world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 21/08/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Battle of Lewisham,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 21/08/2022
  3. Benjamin Butterworth. “Commonwealth Games 2022: Tom Daley and protesters criticise anti-gay laws in 35 Commonwealth countries,” on the iNews website, July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/08/2022

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Many thankx to Four Corners for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

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Martin Luther King Jr.

 

“Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.”

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Kofi Annan

 

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”

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Angela Davis

 

“Freedom is never given; it is won.”

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A. Philip Randolph

 

 

On display at Four Corners: an exhibition of photographs by Paul Trevor, celebrating east London’s Bengali activists of 1978.

This exhibition reveals the dramatic events which were sparked by the racist murder of Altab Ali, a 24-year-old Bengali leather garments worker, and pays tribute to the activists who mobilised around the rallying cry of justice that followed.

Local East End photographer Paul Trevor documented how members of the local Bengali community endured racial abuse as a constant factor of everyday life, and the moment at which they mobilised against racist violence and institutional police racism. The exhibition brings together 75 of Trevor’s photographs for the first time, alongside oral history recordings by original activists.

The show marks the culmination of a major heritage project led by Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust, in partnership with Paul Trevor. With the help of volunteers and original activists, the project is creating a record of this watershed moment as told by local people. The exhibition, alongside project oral history interviews, short films and podcasts, will be available as a touring show, and will be lodged at the Bishopsgate Institute Archives.

Text from the Four Corners website

 

Altab Ali Day is held each year on 4 May. It commemorates the racist murder of a young Bengali man in 1978 and the transformative events that followed. East London’s Bengali community mobilised with mass demonstrations, meetings and sit-down protests. Their actions were a turning point in resistance against racism and discrimination in Britain.

Photographer Paul Trevor captured the dramatic events of that year. Guided by these photographs, Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust are working with local volunteers to record the memories of people involved at the time, creating a vital record of this watershed moment.

 

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Altab Ali's coffin departs for Downing Street' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Altab Ali’s coffin departs for Downing Street
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“On the week after that murder had taken place, maybe … six or 7,000 people, all different backgrounds, came to the park. And we walked behind his coffin in a black… van… We walked to Downing Street to protest and appeal for help. That was an extraordinary gathering of people from different backgrounds, from the mosque, from the churches, all sorts of people, different politics, Anti-Nazi League then joined us, but it was done at no notice, very just quickly from the heart. And it was yes, an important turning point I think.”

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Dan Jones

“It was cold and wet and horrible, and a lot of people went home before we left Altab Ali Park as it is now… it was you know predominantly Bangladeshis that went, a lot of the men who’d normally be working but would have Sunday off were on it. It was quite remarkable like that… there was a great sense of solidarity in that.”

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Claire Murphy

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Rally following the march behind Altab Ali's coffin from Whitechapel, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Hyde Park, London W2, 14 May 1978. Rally following the march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Downing Street, London SW1, 14 May 1978. Bengali delegation outside No 10 after delivering Petition' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Downing Street, London SW1, 14 May 1978. Bengali delegation outside No 10 after delivering Petition
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

The hard facts about the resistance movement of the 1970s in East London are that different umbrella organisations at different periods of time were formed to mount the resistance movement in the 1970s in East London. It was never ever a national organisation and certainly not an individual, but the local community groups who mobilised the Bangladeshi community to mount the resistance movement. When the community was under attack by the far-right National Front (NF), we looked to the authority to protect us from the vicious racist attacks. However, the police turned a blind eye to the situation. Various local Bangladeshi organisations and the anti-racist individuals felt the necessity of forming an umbrella organisation to protect the community from racist attacks. The first such umbrella organisation was the ‘Anti Racist Committee of Asians in East London’ (ARCAEL). The ARCAEL organised a mass meeting at the Naaz cinema Hall in the middle of Brick Lane on 12th June 1976 and convinced the Bangladeshi community that we could not rely on the authorities to protect us and we had to fight back and defend ourselves. ARCAEL organised vigilante groups and confronted the NF thugs who would run their stall at the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane every Sunday to sell their filthy propaganda literature and to recruit new members. The police took notice of these confrontations. However, this resulted in increasing numbers of arrests of the Asians. At one point the police told us that whichever group went to the spot first would be allowed to have their presence. We started mobilising ourselves early in the morning and the NF tried to be there before us. We then decided to start gathering at the corner of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road on Saturday evenings and kept on occupying the spot overnight.

It was the entire community under the leadership of ARCAEL engineered the resistance movement in East London in the 1970s.

After Altab Ali was brutally murdered on 4th May 1978, the Bangladeshi community vowed to stamp out racist attacks once and for all. We took to the street and we shouted slogans, “Enough is Enough” “Come What May, We Are Here to Stay.” “Here to Stay, Here to Fight” “Black and White Unite and Fight”. Immediately, after the death of Altab Ali, another umbrella organisation, “Action Committee Against Racial Attacks” (ACARA), was formed for the specific purpose of organising a national demonstration. In just 10 days preparation, ACARA successfully organised a National Demonstration to highlight the lack of police action to protect the victims of racial attacks in East London. We marched from Brick Lane to Hyde Park for a rally and then went to Downing Street to give a petition to the Prime Minister demanding a full investigation into the police handling of racist attacks in East London and more protection of immigrants. The petition was given by the chair of the ACARA, Mr Taibur Rahman who was accompanied by the General Secretary, Jamal Hasan and five other committee members, namely Shiraz Uddin, Shoeb Chowdhury, Gulam Mustafa, Akikur Rahman and Zia Uddin Lala.

One can see the news coverage with a photograph in front of 10 Downing Street in the East London Advertiser, dated 19th May 1978. This is available in the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, 277 Bancroft Rd, London E1 4DQ (near the Queen Mary University). Two days before the national demonstration, ACARA issued a press release which appeared in the East London Advertiser on 12 May 1978, “… In a joint statement, committee members Taibur Rahman, Jamal Hasan and Shiraz Uddin told the Advertiser: ‘This march condemns the death of Altab Ali. It has been called to publicise what is happening to Asians in East London so that everyone can learn of the attacks which make us daily victims…'”

From these two newspaper articles, it is obvious that it was the umbrella organisation ACARA which mobilised the community and organised the national demonstration. There were a few more umbrella organisations since 1978. Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee was another important umbrella organisation which organised a one day strike by the Asian and black workers in East London and had a sit-in protest in front of the Bethnal Green Police station demanding the release of some of our members who were arrested in the demonstration. The police had to give in to our demand and released the three of our members arrested earlier.

Jamal Hasan. “The big lie,” on the Altab Ali Foundation website May 2019 [Online] Cited 05/08/2022

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Leadenhall Street, London, 14 May 1978. Thousands of Bengalis follow the coffin of Altab Ali from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Leadenhall Street, London, 14 May 1978. Thousands of Bengalis follow the coffin of Altab Ali from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, organised by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks (ACARA)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

Exhibition reveals a dramatic struggle for justice in east London A major exhibition of photographs by Paul Trevor documents a dramatic struggle for justice.

Following the racist murder of Altab Ali in May 1978, east London’s young Bengali community took to the streets in protest. Four Corners’ new exhibition, Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point, brings together seventy of Paul Trevor’s images alongside accounts of pioneering activists, to produce a powerful narrative of the time.

The show marks the culmination of a major heritage project led by Four Corners and Swadhinata Trust with a dedicated group of volunteers, and who have interviewed many people involved in these momentous events. The exhibition pays tribute to a generation whose actions changed the course of civil rights in the UK.

Julie Begum, Chair of Swadhinata Trust, said, “It is important to commemorate Altab Ali Day to remember the racist violence the Bengali community faced in the East End of London, and to celebrate the community’s united defence to defeat the evils of racism.” Paul Trevor said: “They say a photo is worth a thousand words. But sometimes, as in this case, words are essential. This project is an opportunity to add the voices of those who made history to the images of that story.” Carla Mitchell, Artistic Development Director at Four Corners said: “This history is highly relevant today, with an increase of racist attacks and violence making the headlines. Thanks to National Lottery players we will be able to ensure that this powerful heritage is made publicly accessible for a wide audience of current & future generations.”

 

Historical background

1978 began with opposition leader Margaret Thatcher on ‘World in Action’ television programme saying that many Britons feared being “rather swamped by people with a different culture.” Her comments were seen as a direct appeal to would-be National Front voters in working class neighbourhoods. Racist violence was endemic in east London, and particularly around Brick Lane recently arrived Bengali migrants worked in the local rag trade, as had the Jews before them.

The National Front’s newspaper pitch at Brick Lane’s Sunday morning market attracted skinheads who harassed the local Bengali community. They were a target for far-right groups, who wrongly blamed them for high unemployment and bad housing. East London has always been a haven for migrants, from the French Huguenots fleeing 17th century religious persecution, to the Irish poor of the 19th century, and Jews escaping Cossack pogroms in Russia and Poland. It also has an equally long history of racist violence and resistance to it. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists tried to march east to the docks in 1936, but were stopped by Jews, Irish dockers and communists in the famous ‘Battle of Cable Street’.

Altab Ali’s murder on the night of the May 1978 local elections in which 41 National Front candidates stood, marked a turning point for the Bengali community. 7,000 people marched behind his coffin to a rally in Hyde Park, then to Downing Street where they handed in a petition demanding police protection. That year young Bengali people mobilised in a community-led, anti-racist struggle which brought about a radical social transformation both locally and far beyond.

Anti-racist protests against the electoral threat of the far right National Front party were supported by a grass-roots, multi-cultural movement – Rock against Racism – which held open-air concerts in nearby Victoria Park, headlined by The Clash, Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson. Community protest and music radicalised a generation, and helped destroy National Front support.

Local photographer Paul Trevor documented the dramatic events of the era in over 400 photographs, many of which will be on show for the first time in this exhibition. His photographs show how the local Bengali community endured racial abuse as a constant factor of everyday life, and how they united to end violence and institutional racism. Trevor was also a member of the Half Moon Photography Workshop collective, whose work focused on socially-committed photography. Some of his images were covered in their Camerawork magazine: Exhibition Poster for Brick Lane 1978 A Community Under Attack; Review of the exhibition Brick Lane 1978. A community under attack.

By the end of 1978, the National Front was forced to leave its headquarters near Brick Lane, though far-right racist attacks in east London persisted into the 1990s. To this day the name Altab Ali remains linked with the struggle against racism and for human rights in London’s East End.

Press release from Four Corners, London

 

Paul Trevor

Trevor was born in London (b. 1947) and grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. He studied at the National Film & Television School, and was a founder member of Camerawork, the UK’s first radical photo magazine. In 1973, together with the photographers Chris Steele-Perkins and Nicholas Battye, he formed the Exit Photography Group. Their largest project, Survival Programmes documented life in the inner cities, both in photographs and recorded interviews over a period of six years. Works from the project were shown at the Side Gallery, Newcastle in 1982 and brought together in a book; the photographs here are drawn from this project. The works were as much about documenting the squalor of the inner cities, as they were about recording the process of poverty – inadequate housing, unemployment, overcrowding, illness and old age. The Exit archive is now housed and administered by the LSE.

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'New Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL' 1976

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
New Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL (Anti Racist Committee of Asians in East London)
Left: Chomok Ali Noor. Centre: Mala Sen
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“… the Bangladeshi workers who used to work in sweatshops by and large in the East End, experienced a lot of what they called Paki bashing… People would just for fun… they would beat isolated people walking on the streets.”

“And there was of course, the death of Altab Ali which caused the huge huge meeting, which of course we went to the community centre and we said we ought to call a protest and get the government to see that this stops because the police are not paying any attention… So from the Altab Ali meeting from the meeting of Anti-Racist Committee of Asians in East London, we called it ARCAEL… huge meeting in a cinema in Brick Lane. And when we called the meeting, we thought we’d get you know fifty people – thousands of people turned up, the cinema was full, and the entire Brick Lane was packed with people listening through loudspeakers outside… and the emotion poured out, the determination to do something poured out.”

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Farrukh Dhondy

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Whitechapel Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Whitechapel Road, London E1, June 1976. Demonstration organised by ARCAEL (Anti Racist Committee of Asians in East London)
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

The banner at left refers to Enoch Powell (British, 1912-1998), “politician, classical scholar, author, linguist, soldier, philologist, and poet. He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament (1950-1974) and was Minister of Health (1960-1963) then Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP (1974-1987)…

Powell attracted widespread attention for his “Rivers of Blood” speech, delivered on 20 April 1968 to the General Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre. In it, Powell criticised the rates of immigration into the UK, especially from the New Commonwealth, and opposed the anti-discrimination legislation Race Relations Bill. The speech drew sharp criticism from Powell’s own party members and the press, and Conservative Party leader Edward Heath removed Powell from his position as Shadow Defence Secretary…

Polls in the 1960s and 1970s showed that Powell’s views were popular among the British population at the time.[35] A Gallup poll, for example, showed that 75% of the population were sympathetic to Powell’s views. An NOP poll showed that approximately 75% of the British population agreed with Powell’s demand for non-white immigration to be halted completely, and about 60% agreed with his call for the repatriation of non-whites already resident in Britain.

The Rivers of Blood speech has been blamed for leading to violent attacks against British Pakistanis and other British Asians, which became frequent after the speech in 1968; however, there is “little agreement on the extent to which Powell was responsible for racial attacks”. These “Paki-bashing” attacks later peaked during the 1970s and 1980s.

Powell was mentioned in early versions of the 1969 song “Get Back” by the Beatles. This early version of the song, known as the “No Pakistanis” version, parodied the anti-immigrant views of Enoch Powell.

On 5 August 1976, Eric Clapton provoked an uproar and lingering controversy when he spoke out against increasing immigration during a concert in Birmingham. Visibly intoxicated, Clapton voiced his support of the controversial speech, and announced on stage that Britain was in danger of becoming a “black colony”. Among other things, Clapton said “Keep Britain white!” which was at the time a National Front (NF) slogan.

In November 2010, the actor and comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar recalled the fear which the speech instilled in Britons of Indian origin: “At the end of the 1960s, Enoch Powell was quite a frightening figure to us. He was the one person who represented an enforced ticket out, so we always had suitcases that were ready and packed. My parents held the notion that we may have to leave.”

Whilst a section of the white population appeared to warm to Powell over the speech, the author Mike Phillips recalls that it legitimised hostility, and even violence, towards black Britons like himself.

In his book The British Dream (2013), David Goodhart claims that Powell’s speech in effect “put back by more than a generation a robust debate about the successes and failures of immigration”.

“Just when a discussion should have been starting about integration, racial justice, and distinguishing the reasonable from the racist complaints of the white people whose communities were being transformed, he polarised the argument and closed it down.”

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Text from the “Enoch Powell” and “Rivers of Blood speech,” on the Wikipedia website

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Outside police station, Bethnal Green Road, London E2, 17 July 1978. Sit down protest' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Outside police station, Bethnal Green Road, London E2, 17 July 1978. Sit down protest
Bengali Youth Movement Against Racism sit-down protest outside Bethnal Green Police Station, 17 July 1978

1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“I thought Britain would love us. But in fact it was the opposite, they hated us. So the reason I never had my childhood teenage I was frightened. I was living in fear. We never had a place to go to apart from Brick Lane.”

“… people got beaten up in streets, people used to get mugged… after work coming home by racists. Then we came into the realisation that we… have to fight back. Then all some of the young teenager we named we set up an organisation called Bangladesh Youth Front.”

“… 1978, I was 18 or 19 at the time… Then I came to know the name of Altab Ali… We organised a demonstration to march from Whitechapel St Mary’s Churchyard to Hyde Park Corner… And that was the day gave us the strength after seeing all these people supported us. All these people was chanting. ‘Here to stay. We are here, here to stay’… and there was… slogans saying ‘black and white, unite and fight. We are black, we are white, we are united.'”

.
Rafique Ullah

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Brick Lane, London E1, 17 July 1978. Bangladesh Youth Movement Against racism march' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Brick Lane, London E1, 17 July 1978. Bangladesh Youth Movement Against racism march
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Curtain Road, London EC2, 20 August 1978. Hackney & Tower Hamlets Defence Committee & ANL march' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Curtain Road, London EC2, 20 August 1978. Hackney & Tower Hamlets Defence Committee & ANL (Anti Nazi League) march
Left to right: Syed Mizan, Jamal Miah, Abdul Manik
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

 

“We wanted to defend our community. We wanted to show the world that Altab Ali was a very simple and innocent garments worker who was murdered by racists for no reason. He was simply working in rag trade, and on his way from work to home he was murdered.”

“We marched from Brick Lane to Hyde Park corner, we marched to House of Commons, we marched to major roads in London protesting the murder of Altab Ali.”

“… there were a huge number of people that needs to be recognised by the community, by the next generation, by the future generations, by the history that you are involved. I think these people need some recognition.”

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Syed Mizan

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947) 'Brick Lane, London E1, September 1978' 1978

 

Paul Trevor (British, b. 1947)
Brick Lane, London E1, September 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Trevor

 

 

Four Corners
121 Roman Road
Bethnal Green
London E2 0QN
Phone: 020 8981 6111

Gallery hours:
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05
May
19

Exhibition: ‘Erwin Olaf’ at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Fotomuseum Den Haag / the Hague Museum of Photography

Exhibition dates: 16th February – 16th June 2019

Curators: Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography)

 

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Joy' 1985

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Joy
1985
Gelatin silver print

 

 

As a storyteller, Erwin Olaf is a contemporary photographer whose work addresses most current concerns of the world – discrimination, gender, sexuality, taboo, climate change, reality, equality, power, racism, freedom of expression and democracy – through staged studio and outdoor photographs of incredible technical and visual skill.

The key to his work is the twist that he gives his cinematic, perfect worlds – the hidden crack in the facade, the unhinging of the link between reality and representation. These not so perfect worlds are often inspired by stories of the past, whether those stories may be present in the works of Vermeer, the still lives of the Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th century, Caravaggio, the Olympic Games of 1936, Norman Rockwell paintings, film noir, or clothes of the 1950s and 1960s.

The stillness and silence of the photographs subjects let the viewer examine the details of the mise en scène… the perfectly placed Coke bottle and apple, the shredded American flag in Palm Springs, The Kite (2018); the bandaged knee, the dripping ice cream in Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour (2004); and also admire the beautiful textures and lighting of the finished “product”, for Olaf’s aesthetic riffs on subverting theatrical performances and magazine fashion shoots.

Olaf let’s the viewer’s eye move without restraint across the terrain of the photographs, letting them soak up the atmosphere of his hyperreal tableau vivant. Both seductive and disturbing, his photographs challenge us to interrogate our own story – who are we, what do we really believe in, and what can we do to change prejudice and bigotry in a hostile world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Gemeentemuseum den Haag for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“What I want to show most of all is a perfect world with a crack in it. I want to make the picture seductive enough to draw people into the narrative, and then deal the blow.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“In 1982, I saw an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe in Amsterdam that blew me off the socks. I just had a Hasselblad, I was inspired by his craftsmanship and the beautiful prints, and I thought: this is what I want too. In the series ‘Squares’ (1983-1993) you clearly see his influence. I started asking people that I knew from the nightlife if they wanted to pose for me in my studio, which I had decorated in a squat of a friend. For example, the boy with the champagne bottle worked in the wardrobe of my favourite disco.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

“My earliest work reflects my life in that time. I was a moth – I really loved the nightlife. In the late seventies, the early eighties was a hedonistic period: Disco and the beginning of the punk, the sexual revolution. I loved watching people play with gender, the theatrical of the nightlife, all the roles they could take.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“The camera offered me a possibility to enter a world that was not mine. I was able to hide behind the camera, but also be part of what I saw. As a photographer, you can look at people. You’re observing. I wanted to focus my gaze on groups that were outside the ‘normal’ society. One of my first photography assignments for school had as a theme ‘what’s normal?’. I still ask myself that.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography are to honour one of the Netherlands’ most famous photographers, Erwin Olaf (b. 1959), with a double exhibition. Olaf, whose recent portraits of the royal family drew widespread admiration, will turn sixty this year – a good moment to stage a major retrospective. The Hague Museum of Photography will focus on Olaf’s love of his craft and his transition from analogue photojournalist to digital image-maker and storyteller. Olaf will himself bring together some twenty photographs by famous photographers of the past who have been a vital source of inspiration to him. Gemeente Museum Den Haag will show non-commissioned work by Olaf from 2000 to his most recent series, including the work he produced in Shanghai and his most recent series Palm Springs, on display for the first time. Olaf will be showing his photography in the form of installations, in combination with film, sound and sculpture.

 

 

Erwin Olaf – Palm Springs: behind the scenes

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Squares, Pearls' 1986

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Pearls
1986
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XVII' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XVII
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“Chessmen was inspired by a chance meeting with my former photography teacher at the School for Journalism. A few years after I graduated there, I met him on the street. When I showed him my work in my studio, he said, “Say, would you like to publish a book?” He had recently taken over a publishing house for a pittance. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough work for a book. “Oh,” he said, “you only need sixty-four pages. And if you leave a page white next to each photo, you will need thirty-two photos. “At home I thought about it while listening to the radio – a chess program was just going on. At one point the presenter said: “This is an attacking game with thirty-two pieces. A war game. “I knew immediately: I’m going to make chess pieces. Those few words on the radio were all I needed; I had a clear picture in mind. Earlier I had been thinking about how I could do something with the theme of power. Power is something weird. Why do people abuse their power? Or why do you want it? Why do some people allow others to exercise power over them? From those questions came the idea of ​​a power game and the people who play it. ”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XXIV' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XXIV
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Blacks, Esmeralda' 1990

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Blacks, Esmeralda
1990
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“The Blacks series is largely inspired by Janet Jackson’s album Rhythm Nation 1814. In one song, she sings: “In complete darkness we are all the same / It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us / Don’t let your eyes deceive you.” A few years earlier I had been hitchhiking to Paris and southern France, together with a friend with an Indonesian background. I was admitted without problems in all kinds of clubs, but they refused him at the door. At that time I became much more aware of the fact that the amount of pigment in your skin can have serious consequences. So when I heard Janet Jackson sing, I thought: this is my theme. I can create a group of people where everyone is equal.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

 

Journalistic training

Erwin Olaf was studying journalism in Utrecht in the 1980s when, having noticed that he was unhappy, one of his lecturers pressed a camera into his hands. ‘I loved the thing right from the word go,’ says Olaf, ‘the weight, the cool metal in my hand. It felt so natural. And when I took my first photographs, I knew I had found my calling.’ Olaf began taking journalistic photographs of theatre performances, worked for progressive magazines and volunteered for COC Nederland (which represents LGBTI interests). In his early work Olaf often depicted the human body quite graphically, breaching the restrictions on sexuality, the body and gender. He describes himself at that time as an angry adolescent, though his taboo-breaking work was highly significant in terms of visual freedom in the Netherlands.

 

Early work at The Hague Museum of Photography

The exhibition at The Hague Museum of Photography will start with his early work. Chessmen (1987-1988) was one of Olaf’s first non-commissioned series, which came about when he was given the opportunity to produce a photobook. He had to fill 32 pages and he wanted to focus on the theme of power. He had heard an item on the radio about chess, a game of war consisting of 32 pieces. Olaf portrayed the game in a series of provocative images, featuring visible genitals, small half-naked people with kinky attributes, and extremely fat women in bondage outfits. The series did not go unnoticed. He received criticism for it, but also the Young European Photographers Prize.

 

Skill

Another early series shows the engagement that has remained important throughout Olaf’s career. Blacks (1990) is based on a song by Janet Jackson with the line, ‘In complete darkness we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us’. The series reflects Olaf’s battle for equality, and also his technical skill. In these baroque portraits, literally everything is black as coal, yet Olaf managed to give the images a rich tonality, both with his camera and in the developing process. A self-taught photographer, he has shown himself to be a master, not only of old-fashioned darkroom processes, but also of new techniques that have emerged in rapid succession since the digital revolution. He did pioneering work with Photoshop in the famous series Royal Blood (2000). Thanks to this new technique, he is even better able to experiment to his heart’s delight in his staged photography.

 

Sources of inspiration

Besides his own work, at The Hague Museum of Photography Erwin Olaf will be bringing together some twenty photographs by photographers who are his most important sources of inspiration, ranging from a vintage still life with roses by the late nineteenth-century photographer Bernard Eilers to self-portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra. The work of these photographers inspired him, made him look in a different way at his own artistic practice, or pushed his photography in a new direction. By showing these pictures alongside his early work, which is imbued with his love of his craft, Olaf will give visitors to the Museum of Photography an idea of what has shaped him as a photographer.

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will begin, even before the entrance to the galleries, with the life-sized installation Keyhole (2012). The exterior has two long walls with panelling above which framed photographs hang, as in a classic interior. But visitors can watch two films through the keyhole in the doors on either side of the installation. It will be immediately apparent that the Gemeentemuseum is highlighting a new development in the work of Erwin Olaf. Here, he is going one step further, presenting his photography in exciting combinations of film, sound and sculpture.

 

Social engagement

Erwin Olaf’s work has always been highly personal and socially engaged. The clearest influence on the development of his work has been the events surrounding 9/11. Since then, the bombastic, baroque staging of his previous work has made way for more vulnerability and serenity. This has produced images that are very popular with the public: highly stylised film scenes staged perfectly down to the smallest detail, often bathed in light as if they were paintings, with an uncomfortable underlying message. As in the series Rain (2004), which appears to capture the moment between action and reaction after a shocking event. The series Grief (2007), shot in a 1960s setting, is about the first moment of response, the first tear.

Recent events are also reflected in Olaf’s work. He made the Tamed & Anger self-portraits (2015) in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. In other works he addresses issues like the position of the individual in a globalising world, the exclusion and stereotyping of certain groups of people, and taboos associated with gender and nudity. The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will thus afford a glimpse inside Olaf’s turbulent and sometimes dark mind. A visit to the exhibition will be like wandering through his head.

 

Palm Springs: final part of a triptych

Erwin Olaf’s most recent series, Palm Springs (2018), will premiere at the exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum. It is part of a triptych about cities undergoing change, the other two parts being Berlin (2012) and Shanghai (2017). The Berlin series was produced in a period when dark clouds were gathering above Europe. It highlights Olaf’s concerns about freedom of expression and democracy, and the transfer of power from an older to a new generation. Shanghai is a hypermodern metropolis in China with a population of 24 million. The series made in this city explores what happens to the individual in an environment like this. In Palm Springs, Olaf again focuses on topical issues. One of the key themes is climate change, though at the same time the images also recall the America of the 1960s. In a beautiful series of portraits, landscapes – this was the first time Olaf had photographed landscapes – still lifes and filmic scenes he refers to issues like teenage pregnancy, discrimination, religious abuses and polarisation. The series tells the story of people withdrawing into gated communities as reality invades their paradise.

 

Photographs of royal family

A very special addition to the double exhibition will be Erwin Olaf’s photographs of the Dutch royal family. As part of the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum he will bring together many of the photographs that the Government Information Service commissioned him to take of the royal family. He also took the picture that the family used as a Christmas greeting last December. ‘I’m proud of the royal family,’ says Olaf, ‘because they are a binding factor in a democracy that is sometimes very divided. I’m happy to be able to contribute to that.’

 

Successful artist

The double exhibition will show how Erwin Olaf has developed from angry provocateur to one of the Netherland’s most famous and popular photographers. His work now features in the collections and exhibitions of museums the world over, including China, Russia, The United States of America and Brazil. In 2008 The Hague Museum of Photography showed his Rain, Hope, Grief and Fall series. In 2011 he won the prestigious Johannes Vermeer Prize, and in 2018 the Rijksmuseum purchased almost 500 photographs and videos by Erwin Olaf.

 

Biggest retrospective to date

Together, the exhibitions at the Gemeentemuseum and the Museum of Photography will constitute the biggest retrospective of Olaf’s work ever staged, spanning the period from the early 1980s to his most recent work. In the words of Erwin Olaf: celebrating 40 years of visual freedom.

The double exhibition has been curated by Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography), and has come about in close collaboration with Erwin Olaf and his studio.

Press release from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag website [Online] Cited 04/05/2019

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Royal Blood, Di, †1997' 2000

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Royal Blood, Di, †1997
2000
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“I made the Royal Blood series to celebrate Photoshop as the new craft. I wanted to make something that was clearly fiction and would be impossible without Photoshop. A theme that was in the air at the time was that violence was suddenly identified with glamor. I never understood why criminals, even murderers, have fans. People worship them! And every cinema is chock full of people watching violence every week. I wanted to expose the attraction of blood, violence and celebrity – that live fast, that young ideal. Now I could no longer do this type of work. The emotion behind it has disappeared – I have already told that story. But it remains an important part of my legacy.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour' 2004

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour
2004
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Hope, The Hallway' 2005

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Hope, The Hallway
2005
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012 [Masonic Lodge Dahlem]
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Keyhole #6' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Keyhole #6
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2' 2017

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2
2017
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Kite' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Kite
2018
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Erwin Olaf

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Family Visit - Portrait I' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Family Visit – Portrait I
2018
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

Kunstmuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 17:00

Kunstmuseum Den Haag website

Fotomuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 43
2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 17.00
The museum is closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Den Haag website

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19
Aug
09

Exhibition: ‘Intersections Intersected: The Photography of David Goldblatt’ at the New Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 15th July – 11th October 2009

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018) 'Family at Lunch, Wheatlands Plots, Randfontein, September 1962' 1962

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Family at Lunch, Wheatlands Plots, Randfontein, September 1962
1962
Gelatin silver print

 

 

One of the greats.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the New Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

David Goldblatt. 'A new shack under construction, Lenasia Extension 9, Gauteng' 1990

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
A new shack under construction, Lenasia Extension 9, Gauteng
1990
Gelatin silver print

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018) 'Monuments celebrating the Republic of South Africa (left and JG Strijdom, former prime minister (right), with the headquarters of Volkskas Bank, Pretoria. 25 April 1982' 1982

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Monuments celebrating the Republic of South Africa (left and JG Strijdom, former prime minister (right), with the headquarters of Volkskas Bank, Pretoria. 25 April 1982
1982
Black and while photograph on matte paper
Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

 

David Goldblatt. 'Man with an injured arm. Hillbrow, Johannesburg, June, 1972' 1972

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Man with an injured arm. Hillbrow, Johannesburg, June, 1972
1972
Black and while photograph on matte paper
Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018) 'Mofolo South, Soweto, September 1972' 1972

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Mofolo South, Soweto, September 1972
1972
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Over the last fifty years, David Goldblatt has documented the complexities and contradictions of South African society. His photographs capture the social and moral value systems that governed the tumultuous history of his country’s segregationist policies and continue to influence its changing political landscape. Goldblatt began photographing professionally in the early 1960s, focusing on the effects of the National Party’s legislation of apartheid. The son of Jewish Lithuanian parents who fled to South Africa to escape religious persecution, Goldblatt was forced into a peculiar situation, being at once a white man in a racially segregated society and a member of a religious minority with a sense of otherness. He used the camera to capture the true face of apartheid as his way of coping with horrifying realities and making his voice heard. Goldblatt did not try to capture iconic images, nor did he use the camera as a tool to entice revolution through propaganda. Instead, he reveals a much more complex portrait, including the intricacies and banalities of daily life in all aspects of society. Whether showing the plight of black communities, the culture of the Afrikaner nationalists, the comfort of white suburbanites, or the architectural landscape, Goldblatt’s photographs are an intimate portrayal of a culture plagued by injustice.

In Goldblatt’s images we can see a universal sense of people’s aspirations, making do with their abnormal situation in as normal a way as possible. People go about their daily lives, trying to preserve a sense of decency amid terrible hardship. Goldblatt points out a connection between people (including himself) and the environment, and how the environment reflects the ideologies that built it. His photographs convey a sense of vulnerability as well as dignity. Goldblatt is very much a part of the culture that he is analysing. Unlike the tradition of many documentary photographers who capture the “decisive moment,” Goldblatt’s interest lies in the routine existence of a particular time in history.

Goldblatt continues to explore the consciousness of South African society today. He looks at the condition of race relations after the end of apartheid while also tackling other contemporary issues, such as the influence of the AIDS epidemic and the excesses of consumption. For his “Intersections Intersected” series, Goldblatt looks at the relationship between the past and present by pairing his older black-and-white images with his more recent colour work. Here we may notice photography’s unique association with time: how things were, how things are, and also that the effects of apartheid run deep. It will take much more time to heal the wounds of a society that was divided for so long. Yet, there is a possibility for hope, recognition of how much has changed politically in the time between the two images, and a potential optimism for the future. Goldblatt’s work is a dynamic and multilayered view of life in South Africa, and he continues to reveal that society’s progress and incongruities.”

Joseph Gergel, Curatorial Fellow

Text from the New Museum website [Online] Cited 15/08/2009 no longer available online

 

David Goldblatt. 'Wreath at the Berg-en-Dal Monument' 1983

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Wreath at the Berg-en-Dal Monument which commemorates the courage – and the sarcophagus which holds the bones – of 60 men of the South African Republic Police, who died here 27 August 1900 in a critical battle of the Anglo-Boer War. Dalmanutha, Mpumalanga. December 1983.
1983
Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

 

David Goldblatt. 'The swimming bath rules at the rec, Cape Blue Asbestos Mine, Koegas, Northern Cape' 2002

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
The swimming bath rules at the rec, Cape Blue Asbestos Mine, Koegas, Northern Cape
2002

 

David Goldblatt. 'The mill, Pomfret Asbestos Mine, Pomfret, North-West Province, 20 December 2002' 2002

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
The mill, Pomfret Asbestos Mine, Pomfret, North-West Province, 20 December 2002
2002

 

David Goldblatt. 'Johannesburg from the Southwest' 2003

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Johannesburg from the Southwest
2003

 

David Goldblatt. 'Incomplete houses, part of a stalled municipal development of 1000 houses. Lady Grey, Eastern Cape, 5 August 2006' 2006

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Incomplete houses, part of a stalled municipal development of 1000 houses. Lady Grey, Eastern Cape, 5 August 2006
2006

 

 

New Museum
235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002
212.219.1222

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm

New Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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