Four British Turner Prize nominees

This video from Britain says about itself:

21 March 2017

Artist Lubaina Himid discusses work from her exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford, Nottingham Contemporary and Spike Island, Bristol.

Born in Zanzibar in 1954 and brought up in Britain, Himid was a pioneer of the Black Arts Movement. Her work examines the experience of people of the diaspora and their contribution to history and culture.

Trained as a theatre designer, Himid went on to curate several important exhibitions focused on the work of Black British artists, alongside her own work as an artist.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Over-50s reap the rewards of relaxed Turner Prize rules

Friday 5th May 2017

TWO black artists aged over 50 have made the shortlist for this year’s Turner Prize.

Lubaina Himid celebrates black creativity and the African diaspora in paintings, prints, drawings and installations.

A key figure of the Black Arts Movement, the 62-year-old was born in Zanzibar and now lives and works in Preston.

Birmingham-born painter Hurvin Anderson, 52, who lives and works in London, is known for his vibrant still-life pictures and landscapes with an overarching theme of community.

They will compete against German artist Andrea Büttner and Palestinian-English artist Rosalind Nashashibi, both of whom are in their forties.

The upper age limit for those eligible for consideration for the prize was set at 50 in 1991, but the rules have been changed this year to reflect “the fact that artists can experience a breakthrough in their work at any age.”

The winner of the £25,000 prize will be announced on December 5.

This video from Britain says about itself:

17 October 2013

In this short film, produced exclusively for Ikon and filmed on location in Handsworth Park, Birmingham-born artist Hurvin Anderson talks about the inspiration behind his work and the personal connections with Handsworth itself.

This video from Britain says about itself:

16 May 2014

The work of Andrea Büttner includes woodcuts, reverse glass painting, sculpture, video and performance. She creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, vulnerability and dignity, and the belief systems that underpin them.

This video from Britain says about itself:

7 January 2014

Artist Rosalind Nashashibi introduces her video work Lovely Young People (Beautiful Supple Bodies), commissioned by Scottish Ballet and Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012.

British government support for dictators

Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, meets, greets Hosni Mubarak, then dictator of Egypt

By Callum Alexander Scott in Britain:

The strange bedfellows of British foreign politics

Saturday 8th April 2017

Steadfast support for dictators of all hues and all over the world has been the norm in British foreign policy, writes Callum Alexander Scott

Like all prime ministers, May presents herself in public as a person of integrity and principle — she claims to uphold “British values,” to be a feminist, a champion of working people and equal opportunity, a proponent of freedom and democracy, she’s apparently against unnecessary wars, repression, torture and injustice (unless it’s for “defence” purposes, of course).

Donald Trump, however, seems a world away — he is a public showman, a billionaire, an obvious misogynist who’s bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy”, he has repressive, warmongering and authoritarian tendencies, and he has shamelessly harnessed racism, xenophobia and division to win the presidency of the US, among other reprehensible things.

So when asked about how she’ll manage the differences between herself and Trump, what might we expect May to say? “He’s a despicable man,” “I intend to avoid him at all costs,” “Britain will refuse to do business with him because we are a nation of principle?” No, of course not. When asked this very question in January 2017 she responded: “Haven’t you ever noticed, sometimes opposites attract?”

Opposites most certainly do attract, especially when it’s in the commercial interests of Britain for them to do so. In fact, Britain’s commercial interests have always trumped its principles.

This is why May and her predecessors have supported the royal family of Saudi Arabia, a repressive, authoritarian, human rights abusing regime of billionaires who permit the beheading of [alleged] criminals, the stoning of women and the funding of Islamic terrorism around the globe.

They’re also engaged in a campaign of terror in Yemen right now that’s killed over 10,000 civilians, a campaign that May’s government supports and has continued to provide weapons for.

How are “British values” being upheld here? Or how are they being upheld when May visits Turkey and brokers a £100 million arms deal with its authoritarian, human rights abusing, free speech suppressing, misogynistic, Isis sympathising president Erdogan? And then there’s British support for Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt under Sissi (and previously Mubarak) — all are repressive, authoritarian human rights abusers who the British government happily trades with (particular commodities include oil and weapons).

Or lest we forget Britain’s collusion with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi under Tony Blair, which helped broker a £550m deal for Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell to explore for gas in Libya. Or Britain’s support for Saddam Hussein under Margaret Thatcher, who continued selling him arms despite knowing he’d used chemical weapons against Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war between 1980-88 and had committed genocide against the Kurds in 1988.

Or Thatcher’s faithful support for the brutal and murderous Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who she affectionately described as Britain’s “true friend.”

Then there was her support for General Suharto of Indonesia, whose dictatorship has been described as “one of the most brutal and corrupt of the 20th century.” After coming to power in a military coup in 1965 his regime tortured and killed around 500,000 people and in his subsequent invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975 he killed around 250,000 more. Thatcher described him as “one of our very best and most valuable friends.” while Elizabeth Windsor received him on a state visit in 1979.

Or further still, how about Thatcher’s problematic stance on apartheid South Africa, in which she opposed sanctions and condemned Mandela’s African National Congress as a “typical terrorist organisation”?

Oh, and then there was Britain’s support for the Shah of Iran from 1953 to 1979. The Shah, another brutal dictator, came to power after the British, under Winston Churchill, helped the US overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh because he wanted to nationalise its oil industry. Where were the so-called “British values” of freedom, justice and democracy then?

Indeed, it’s important to understand, in the light of May’s kowtowing to Trump that the British Establishment has always pandered to, and supported, the most despicable people when it has suited the interests of British business.

A most outrageous example of this, which has been tactfully erased from most British history books, came in the 1930s when a large portion of the British Establishment, by way of finance, weapons and diplomacy, supported fascism at home and in Germany and Italy.

From the royal family to Churchill, fascism was of little concern until it directly threatened British interests. As the renowned British historian AJP Taylor wrote: “Every politician extolled the virtues of democracy, especially at the expense of Soviet Russia. Despite this rhetoric, Labour turncoat Ramsay MacDonald wrote friendly personal letters to the fascist dictator Mussolini; Austen Chamberlain exchanged photographs with him and joined him in family holidays; Churchill sang his praises in newspaper articles.”

Or take Lord Reith, the founding director-general of the BBC. He openly admired both Adolf Hitler and Mussolini. As early as 1933 he declared that “I am certain that the nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again […] They are being ruthless and most determined.”

Dare we even remind ourselves of the following footage of a seven-year-old Elizabeth Windsor giving a nazi salute with her mother, sister and uncle in 1933?

It’s certainly a powerful, if controversial, illustration of just how normalised and accepted fascism was among the British Establishment during that period; that is, before it threatened our own national interests.

Callum Alexander Scott writes about culture and politics. Tweet him @CallumAScott or check out his blog:

British anti-racist Darcus Howe, RIP

This video from Britain says about itself:

2 April 2017

Darcus Howe (26 February 1943 – 1 April 2017)

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Civil rights campaigner Darcus Howe dies at 74

Monday 3rd April 2017

CIVIL rights campaigner, writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe died yesterday, aged 74.

He was central to the British Black Panther movement in Brixton in the 1970s and was one of the Mangrove Nine arrested for protesting against repeated heavy-handed police raids of the Caribbean restaurant Mangrove in Notting Hill.

Mr Howe successfully defended himself against charges of rioting, with the judge acknowledging a level of racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.

In 1980 he organised the Black People’s Day of Action — protesting against police misconduct during a fire in New Cross in which 13 young black people died.

He wrote for the Guardian, the Voice and Race Today, and presented programmes about ethnic minority issues for Channel 4.

In 2009, he spoke about his cancer, saying: “Long live the NHS. The campaign to persuade black men to get tested for prostate cancer starts here.”

Born in Trinidad in 1943, Darcus Howe first came to Britain to study law.

Labour councillor and NEC rep Claudia Webbe paid tribute on Twitter: “So sad to learn of death of Darcus Howe, anti-racist campaigner — never afraid to challenge police racism and corruption, publisher and writer.”

Curlews in trouble

This video says about itself:

27 March 2009

The curlew‘s song is one of the most beautiful sounds of the countryside. … This video shows Eurasian curlews (Numenius arquata) in spring and early summer in the heart of Britain.

From BirdLife:

7 Mar 2017

Curlews in crisis?

New research suggests that the Numeniini – a tribe of large waders including Curlews and Godwits – could be the most endangered birds you’ve never heard about. Indeed, two species may already be extinct

By Alex Dale

To the layman, the curlews are a shy, unassuming family of birds. Their mottled-brown plumage makes for effective camouflage against their marshland and mudflat feeding grounds, meaning they can go about their business unnoticed, prying out invertebrates such as ragworms with their purpose-built curved bills. But if, like the curlews, you take time to dig beneath the surface, you’ll discover that they are beautiful and remarkable birds.

The Numeniini are a tribe of large waders consisting of the curlews, whimbrels, godwits and Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda. They are some of the most widespread and far-travelling of all birds, migrating back and forth from their upland and grassland northern hemisphere breeding habitats to their wetland, often coastal, non-breeding habitats to the southern extremities of all continents except for Antarctica.

Indeed, one such member, the Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica is holder of the world record for the longest non-stop journey without feeding of any animal – satellite tagging has shown that birds from one population take eight days to fly from breeding grounds in Alaska 11,000 km to New Zealand every year.

Perhaps it’s their wide range lulling us into a false sense of security that means they have been a little overlooked by conservationists until now. Or maybe it’s that their camouflage is a little too effective. Whatever the reason, it’s time for the curlew to be counted, because an eye-opening new study reveals that they could be one of, if not THE, most threatened group of birds on our planet.

The paper, produced in collaboration with the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the International Wader Study Group, and published in the journal Bird Conservation International, collated the views of over 100 wader experts from around the world, who assessed the threats faced by these species across their migratory flyways. Their conclusion: seven of 13 species – or over half – are now threatened with extinction.

Indeed, two species of curlew may already be extinct;  the Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris, last spotted with confidence in 1995, which once migrated between the Mediterranean Basin and its breeding grounds in Siberia; and the Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis, which once travelled between Canada and South America, and is almost certainly a goner, having not been seen with certainty since 1963 (and not in South America since 1939).

The plight of the Eskimo Curlew has strong parallels with the far-wider publicised extinction of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius. The shorebird once numbered in its millions, but widescale hunting and habitat loss in its spring staging areas in the Rocky Mountains has led to, if not the total eradication of the species, then at least its decimation to the point where if it still exists, it does so as a tiny population in some uncharted corner of the Canadian wilderness.

While the hunt goes on for traces of these Critically Endangered species, the paper highlights that attention too should urgently be given to the threats faced by the species we know for sure are still among us.

The study discovers that overall probably the most serious threats to the future of curlews and their allies is the habitat loss or degradation of the coastal wetlands they depend upon to roost and feed across their non-breeding range, including as refuel stopovers during their epic migrations.

While the Numeniini and other waterbirds are encounting this threat all across flyways in Central and Atlantic America, and the East Atlantic, this problem is particularly acute in Asia, a part of the world which is experiencing high levels of coastal development. As a result, a quarter of vital mudflat habitats in the Yellow Sea have been lost since the 1980s, and most of the remainder are badly-degraded, leaving at least 27 species of migratory waterbirds, which depend on these pitstops to break up their epic journeys, at risk of extinction. Besides the Bar-tailed Godwit (assessed as Near Threatened by BirdLife for the IUCN Red List) mentioned above, this number includes the likes of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (Endangered), the latter of which [is] the largest wader in the world, and the closest to following the Eskimo and Slender-billed Curlews on the downward curve towards extinction.

The loss of these habitats – together with illegal and unsustainable hunting – makes the East Asian-Australasian flyway one of the most dangerous routes for migratory birds in the entire world. BirdLife Australia is already supporting the Australian government in the implementation of an intergovernmentally agreed flyway action plan for this species, under the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership and Convention on Migratory Species. Visit our campaign page to discover what else BirdLife is doing to protect these embattled species, and how you can help.

In Europe and North America, the problem appears to be more on the breeding grounds where land use changes, especially agriculture and forestry, and increased fox and crow predation, appear to be driving the declines, especially in the British Isles, which, along with Finland and Russia, hold the bulk of the world’s breeding population of Eurasian Curlew, and the Netherlands which is the most important source of the nominate race of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa.

Curlews travel across some of the most dangerous migratory routes in the entire world

Through the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement of the United Nations Environment Programme, intergovernmental action plans are being implemented for both of these species, coordinated via international working groups.  The one for the godwit is coordinated by the Dutch Government with involvement from VBN, BirdLife in the Netherlands, whereas that for the Curlew is coordinated by the RSPB, BirdLife in the UK.  The RSPB is also leading a major national recovery programme for the species.

These threats,  left unchecked, and together with other identified dangers – which range from pollution to climate change to invasive species and human disturbance – could see this family of birds slip towards extinction. Indeed, for a couple of their members, it may already have happened.

“These large waders with their heart-stirring calls that are an evocation of the wild, are one of the very most threatened groups of migratory birds on earth” says Nicola Crockford, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), and co-author of the paper. “We may already have lost two of the 13 species and we can and we must ensure that urgent, concerted action is taken to prevent any of the remainder from reaching the brink”

The paper identifies a number of actions that need to be taken to protect these birds including, besides addressing coastal wetland loss and degradation and increasing breeding success in the west; the monitoring of both breeding population trends and land-cover change across their range, and better protection of key non-breeding sites, particularly across the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the name Numeniini is beleived to be derived from the Greek for new moon, which does describe the bill shape. Let’s hope that conservation efforts are sufficient to ensure that this charismatic family of long-distance waders aren’t in their twilight years.