Cruel Britannia

Cruel Britannia (2020)
Found object, string, and acrylic on canvas
39 x 39 x 4 cm

I was thinking about the transportation of slaves from British colonies to Britain whilst making this painting. The painting consists of a found object – a broken pole – attached to the canvas with string and everything painted white. The string and pole form a shape similar to the British flag and are reflections of shipping, oppression and bondage.

The pole could represent a tool of oppression or a broken flag pole. The white represents the white oppression and also the ability to whitewash truth, which provides the state of denial necessary to keep oppression alive. If we look with acceptance at how the past is still affecting the present we can each make the changes necessary to create equality.

There are shadows formed by the strings and these represent how the past is casting its shadows onto us and how we think and act. The thing with shadows is they seem so enduring yet all it takes is for a cloud to move and the shadow changes, becomes less imposing, less imperial. The shadow is potentially there depending on the kinds of lights we choose to use. We can break up shadows in beautiful ways. We can write and email and post things until the surge captures the culture’s attention. We can shout and stamp our feet and make the noise necessary to make them look. We can march and riot and pull down statues.

The British Empire (which is the Empire I know a little about, being British) is built on a foundation of cruelty and inequality. My painting is called Cruel Britannia because we need to look at that cruelty, past and present, and own it no matter how painful it is. Then we can make real change and create societies that meet people’s needs rather than exploit them. Slavery is one aspect of inequality and I chose to focus on it because of the changes beginning to happen due to the #blacklivesmatter movement. I can see what I can do: write to my Member of Parliament to demand black histories be mandatory in the national curriculum for education, educate myself and others on anti-racism, make art to spread the word, have difficult conversations with people who say racist things. Small steps build momentum for change.

Here are process photos and close ups of details:

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