23 November 2010

Beauty and poverty - How can art make these topics palatable?

When I was invited to view the Methodist Church’s collection of modern Christian Art – billed as the ‘greatest collection outside the Vatican’ – I could hardly refuse! In the same month, I went to a packed evening of digital art and photography – ‘Woman – Who’s Canvas?’ – in Brick Lane hosted by FORWARD. These got me thinking about how art and theatre can change minds on issues such as diversity, beauty and poverty.

The Methodist collection has around 50 pieces of art collected since the 1960s, and is currently on tour.

Artists include Elisabeth Frink and Edward Burra, and new artists to me, such as Sadao Watanabe. A Japanese artst, his painting of ‘Christ enters Jeruselem’ is refreshing for its use of Japanese people in the art. Similarly, FN Souza’s Indian images and the art of Angolan John Muafangejo, help balance our Western views of Biblical characters always being ‘white’. I’m sure as a 5 year old child I was only chosen to play Mary in the school nativity play as I was blonde and blue eyed, rather than for my angelic behaviour!

FORWARD UK’s art exhibition hosted by Young People Speak Out Against FGM was billed as ‘Female Beauty? Who Defines It?, And at what cost is perfection attained?’. Artists were asked to consider the influences of media, cultural, health and social implications in the pursuit of beauty.

Artists came from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and USA to offer a global perspective on ‘Beauty’. Some of the images included Aisha Al Junaibi potrayal of ‘Angry’, ‘Hope’, ‘Other Colour’, ‘Pain’ and ‘Cracking Image’. I also was touched by Jane Skinner’s ‘Because I’m Worth It’ the mantra of you-know-who’s products!

Rivkah Helherington spoke of her art in photographing those that have chosen not to have surgical enhancement as they age – check out Gloria Stuart and Marcia Revia (Marlene Deitrich’s daughter) as they age gracefully .

As I know, moving across eight countries in 2010, societies around the world vary in their concepts of beauty and the universal pressure to attain it. Losing weight, surgical enhancements, covering up or removing our least attractive parts, the female form is reshaped and redefined constantly. FGM is one of those issues that is billed as enhancing beauty, yet causes huge trauma to the 3 million girls to whom it is done annually.

I went to see ‘Men Should Weep’, a play written in the 1930s depression by Ena Lamont Stewart, and heard Josie Rourke, the Artistic Director, discuss it’s relevance today. She talked eloquently of what poverty does to women – and that women always need to be strong, being often supported by the community, especially in the absence of a welfare state.

Why should ‘men weep’ – because, if they saw the world through women’s eyes, they would realise there is much to weep about in our society! What makes you weep? Consider taking a strand against it, like I have chosen to do so against FGM.