e INSTAGRAM AND IMAGERY
DEMOCRATISATION AND HOMOGENEITY
Instagram has become one of the foremost
platforms for artists to show their work, but has its
ubiquity been a force for good or is it, in and of
itself, effecting the very nature of our creativity?
It appeared on our mobiles in October 2010
and rapidly became successful with users lapping up
the notion that you could share yourself with the world
and get 'liked' back for it - yes love could conquer all at
the touch of a screen. You could stare in the 'mirror' all
day long and no one would dare to call you vain. Why
observe your environment or even watch television when
you could ensconce yourself in a
hermetically sealed environment that you and you alone
appeared to have such control over. In this context,
artists proliferated showing off their work and obtaining
the instant gratification and the rewards, but ultimately
they acquired something else - the addiction to the
'mother's milk' of Instagram, but as we all know,
everyone must be weaned one day. However this is not
the end of the story - many have already deleted their
Instagram Accounts, but the question remains, how has
it shaped and determined the art world itself. Into this
confluence of art and technology the pandemic arrived and it
is still unclear where we are being taken,or should I say
driven. Ask any artist about their relationship with
Instagram and I'm sure that the word complicated would
come up at some stage.
We have seen dramatic changes to society from the
excesses of corporate capitalism, the extremities of
climate change and species extinction. Has posting our
artwork ultimately fallen victim to the distortion of the delicate
dialectical process of our world,where so called
democratisation has induced a state of homogeneity? posting
YESTERDAY TOMORROW AND TODAY THE CHILLI IN THE ICE CREAM
JULY 5TH 2021
Danny Boyle’s ‘Yesterday’ was aired on the BBC last night which perhaps was the first opportunity for some to see this deceptively dystopian film all nicely wrapped up as a rom-com with the most irresistable soundtrack ever. Heart–rending and mind-bending in equal measure it did strike at the autocracy that has become the scenery to our lives. Apparently Paul loved it and the editorial team at the Beeb must have thought what a winner. But beneath the lyrical renditions by Hamish Malik was a sharp, if not savage critique of contemporary society.Titled Yesterday, it was set in the Tomorrow but pertained to Today. Aldous would have clapped at the end and nodded his head vigourously throughout.This was the film world where cigarettes, the Beatles and Coca Cola had been wiped from the collective memory by the omnipotent search engines, when what we are facing in the real world are arguments for History as a subject to be dropped from school curriculas and university degrees because it is not seen as being ‘useful’ anymore.
Boyle uses the everyday ordinariness and pits it against the surreal- which is partly the point. Everything looks pretty much the same, from people’s front doors to the suburban street and the garden pub – you wouldn’t know there was anything really wrong. Except of course everything is wrong. We have bots and algorythms and god knows what else anyone has come up with, but like the virus that stalks us now – you can’t see it and for some that means it just isn’t there.
Beneath was a tick a tape constantly on the go, that informed you that the actors were themselves so totally informed, so totally up for the Project. I’ve read the other reviews and was surprised that everyone really seemed to miss the point.This is a satirical film mascarading as the candifloss – increasingly the only ítem on the menú. Sarah Lancashire from Happy Valley kept her dead pan face in the way only she can and Kate Mckinnon played Debra in a ‘’Patsy Cruella de Ville’’ pastiche without letting herself go entirely over the top. However the chilli in the bowl of ice cream has to go to the un-credited role of Robert Carlisle playing a reincarnated John Lennon, our angel in heaven, on his bleached out beach, who notes that you can still tell the ruling elite to f***off – he should know, he paid with his life trying to remind us.
24th February 2022
To inspire and to be inspired is a little like ‘to love and to be loved.’ They are essential experiences that one can look back on and appreciate that life has been kind enough to give you these precious jewels.The world of course, is littered with such bounty, but the stumbling block seems to be whether or not your eyes, ears and emotions, recognize the wonders amongst the white noise of crap that fills our world. Crap is crammed into to every nook and cranny of our cells and synapses, stealing the space with which to think, absorb and generally consider, let alone go on to appreciate and possibly créate.
There are thieves after our precious jewels and they stop at nothing in pursuit of consummerist colonisation.The ‘many’,are the hosts of the ‘few’, offering them opportunities to enrich themselves and feed from our stores, depleting and depleting till there is little left - ‘’you can survive but you cannot inspire’’.Monetisation is the quiet killer on the block – it stalks and strikes at will, hollowing out our minds and blinding our eyes. It is another kind of impoverishment, apart from the one that many people suffer from, through sheer lack of sufficient funds.
‘You don’t know what you are missing’, they snigger
‘you wouldn’t appreciate the wallpaper, let alone the art that’s hung there.’ And snigger they do.
Divide and rule has been taken to its ultimate conclusión – it really can go no further. We are now pitted against each other as individuals and any form of collectivity that we may have enjoyed has been eroded out of existence. The lie, is that the individual reigns supreme, perpetuating a myth that you have total control over yourself and your destiny. Juice that celery, eat from the forest floor, keep taking the little blue pills and you can rule the world. Selflessness somehow belongs in a different century .This has to some extent come back to bite us with the pandemic, but it has not stopped the ‘loco-motion’ - its not the light at the end of the tunnel you think you are seeing, it’s a very large train coming towards you with its headlights on.
We are caught in a vortex of truth and lies that swirls faster and faster by the day. And today, 24th February 2022 the Russians have well and truly invaded Ukraine.Will this day be one that goes down in the history books or not? So many factors to consider it is hard to tell, but
hang onto to our sense and sensibilites we must do. The work to preserve our future as humans depends on all of us continuing to contribute to a collective endeavour and not least the creative community to always challenge, sometimes lead the way, but if posible to enlighten. It can be done!
THE ART OF WAR
12th March 2022
This post comes rather hot on the heels of the last one, which only goes to show how compelling and awful current times are. One cannot help wondering whether Xi Zinping is wondering whether his counterpart Putin has taken on board all three hundred and eighty five pieces of advice, yes I have counted them, of Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War, written somewhere between 500 – 430BC. It is apparently still quite a popular text in some quarters and has to be a better read than just doomscrolling on a wet Sunday afternoon. Or is he going to be miffed that his Belt and Road Initiative might have to take a different route? Options, odds – the chinese have been perfecting that art for more than a millenium.
However, despite the maelstrom, I have been going through a process of self – examination, not physically you will be relieved to know - it’s a little late for that, but in terms of the effects on the work I attempt and the thought processes that impact upon it. With our fingertips now glued to one form of keyboard or another it’s not hard to let one’s mind wander in miliseconds with the ability to search for information deploying a delicate click here and there. Cick/scroll click/scroll and before you know it you have lost a full two hours of your life to a magic box which is actually costing the earth. This did begin with good intentions. What is the purpose of a blog other than to entertain and inform – or at least it should be, but maybe narcissism and masturbation come closer to the truth. Am I straying from the point here – maybe – but perhaps not as much as one might think.
It all began, on a dark and stormy night, when I thought of what everyone else might be doing.We are curious creatures after all, amongst many other things. I mean, when you wake up each morning having counted off fire, flood, desease, not forgetting east african locusts and now a cruel and absurd war, where do you begin if you are in the business of ‘art’, depicting or representing, in one way or another, the world around you or the inside of your own head? There is only interior space and exterior space and they have a horrible and uncanny way of interacting with each other which is not always under one’s own control. Barring of course the third dimensión of an extra- terrestial being commonly known as ‘god’. I hesitate, as an atheist, to bring myself to use a capital letter here.
Take Dali’s painting, ‘The Enigma of Hitler’ ending his membership of the surrealist movement which depicts the futility of diplomacy over the phone, the inevitability of war and Hitler himself, the size of a torn postage stamp.The prescience of art in full flow you would have to say – not withstanding that Dali himself did admit to a strange sexual fascination for that curious little man. He did however describe Hitler, and you might want to remember this, ‘’…….as a masochist who would unleash a world war solely for the pleasure of losing and burying himself beneath the rubble…..’ Dali is crazy but maybe there was method in his madness.
But on to to Guernica – one of the most profound artworks of the 20th Century by Picasso. It is a huge monochrome painting completed in three weeks, where rage abounds at senseless destruction – no time for colour here – for war is singularly colourless. We are reduced to the sheer motivation of to kill or be killed – nuance nullified. Subsequently he was to say: ‘’ I didn’t paint the war ( WW2), but there is no doubt that war exists in the paintings I made then’’. He resolutely painted portraits , nudes , still life – well life in all its glory – he would not be deterred. War he declared could not kill art.
Meanwhile a fascinating artist from Cuba none other than Wilfredo Lam had come to Europe and found a home amongst the community of the time, taken up by Picasso, Matisse and the surrealist movement. Forced by the circumstances of war, he returned to Cuba to paint another profoundly important painting of the time -‘The Jungle’. Not the jungle as you or I might imagine, but the raw jungle of the suger cane. Another jungle of survival, slavery and exploitation. If he had stayed in europe would we have had this return to his cultural heritage bequeathed to him by his family?
Serendipity versus despotism - a terrifying prospect currently experienced by pregnant women being bombed in a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Will any one consider this a motive to apply oil to canvas? Art in the time of war – what will this latest incursion bring about and will we view Damien Hirst’s wrinkly fishes and Minnie Mouse’s as a complete aberration or the creative desert before the flood of cherry tree blossom?
WHAT WOULD PAOLO DI DONO (UCCELLO) THINK TODAY
April 19th 2022
It was an inevitability that I would study the History of Art. Form, shape and color fascinated me from an early age, where as numbers, certainly presented in the configuration of questions that referred to quantities of men collecting so much of something in such and such time, or walking so many miles and carrying so many sacks on their backs, would send me scurrying from the room in a state of serious confusión. I put it down to my lack of oxygen at birth – apparently it was a bit touch and go whether I would make it into this world. But one part of my brain survived in tact – not that anything very much would be different ,had I not got a good gulp of air into my lungs.
I drew endlessly as a child and was fortunate enough to go to a school that encouraged the Arts and didn’t give much attention to the Sciences. We wern’t supposed to do much of anything when we left school except find suitable husbands, know how to lay a table correctly and maintain a calm exterior in the face of any upsetting behaviour on the part of anybody else. There have been certain aspects to my education that have stood me in good stead, but it left me with an indelible stamp with regard to a long lived interest in the arts, which really started with my love of the painter Paolo Uccello from the Early Renaissance.
We learnt of his contribution to the developement of perspective and his profound influence on subsequent artists, not least Piero De La Francesca – another of my favorites. It was his interest in geometry that led to his sketches that gave us the representation of three dimensional forms. Although Paolo Uccello, thus named for his love of drawing birds ( uccello in italian means bird) also loved the animal kingdom in all its forms from dogs to dragons. Recently though I thought I would go back to the beginning and take another look at this source of inspiration. Vasari was quite dismissive in some ways of Uccello.Whilst admiring his dogged detirmination to present the world to us as he thought it should be there was another aspect to his work that is worth re-examining that does not get much of a mention until I came across the book ‘The Jew in the Art of the Italian Renaissance' by Dana E. Katz.
Looking through this work I started to take a closer look at the series of six panels called: ‘The Miracle of The Desecrated Host.’ Once I got past my admiration of his drawing skills I did begin to wonder what the significance of the story was. Why was a woman wielding a piece of bread in return for what appeared to be a rather handsome coat condemned to death by hanging and the chap who gave her the coat, burnt at the stake? Brutal stuff you might think. The penny started to drop when I found that the series had been commissioned to go beneath an altar ( a predella) - right at ones eyeline if you were sitting down in the church. They were the first early examples of cartoon propaganda when most of the population was illiterate. Before the time when you went to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon, to remind you who were the ‘goodies’ and who were the ‘baddies’, there was some heavy influencing going on in the only communal space – the church. The bread that the woman exchanged for a coat was consecrated bread, representing the body of Christ, which her Jewish vendor attempted to burn. Such heretical sins was seen as highly reprehensible and the panels were a warning to the Jewish diáspora, that whilst they were tolerated to a degree and permitted to exist in certain áreas of society, particularly money lending, there were offences that could lead to death and a gruesome one at that. For women it was also a reminder to remain in their place with the threat of hell for those that chose a little independence.( The fifth panel depicts angels and devils fighting over the future of her dead body!) Food for considerable thought on a Sunday morning.
Where then is our communal space currently? Well it isn’t exactly anywhere, that you can put your finger on. Thanks to Tim Berner Lee’s historic act of generosity, the communal space is everywhere and nowhere baby. The internet is a chaotic free for all, where you can be what you want, do what you want and turn yourself into an avatar if that's what gets your rocks off.
As for propaganda we live in an entire sea of it – its so ubiquitous that no one knows what is the truth and what is a lie. It’s so, just, ‘there’ its no longer visible. The irony of it all is that the church often commissioned art work for the illiterate to maintain the hegemony of the ruling elite, now we are subject to AI running amok for the same purpose, but we are supposed to be literate. We have almost come full circle, which brings us back to Paolo’s drawing of the infamous Mazzocchio, circular headgear depicted with a complex form of thirty two octagonal sections, that became an examination standard. Today, I think it would be safe to imagine that Paolo would be a software engineer for somebody like the monolith iTechArt, creating virtual realities of infinite complexities for people who have ceased to think for themselves.
ART,THE BBC & THE PERSUASION PROJECT
5th May 2022
I like the Antiques Road Show as much as the next aging anachronistic woman, but nevertheless, arts appreciation at the BBC seems to have come down a peg or two. Now squeezed somewhere between dubious costume jewellery, a tattered teddy bear and a rifle (God Forbid that Fiona Bruce is found face down on the grass at Fiddleford Manor in her favourite culottes)
brandished about by a stringy little man with a moustache as wide as he is tall. The visual arts appear to have been archived into a folder marked – ‘’that which is not relevant’’. And yes, we do have Suzy Klein’s flagship programme The Art That Made Us’ but that is precisely what it is - a flag to wrap us up in. I’m surprised they didn’t call it ‘The British Art That Made Us’ to appeal to all Mary Berry fans and nurture the homely/ blitz/all in it together stuff that is supposed to bind us together as a nation but actually blows our brains out to some unattainable place from which, terribly sorry, they cannot be retrieved. In addition it should be said there is quite an undertone to the ‘Us’ in the title, because subtly, it reminds everyone that us means us brits, and not ‘Them’ over there – where ever there is, which is, in effect, everywhere except here.
So what has happened to the Arts programming on this revered ( or not so) institution that lends it self to being the best educator in the visual media? The answer is pure and simple. Successive year on year cuts have undermined any effort to offer the public a serious and broad ranging appreciation of what is not just one of the greatest pleasures of life but the litmus paper of the times. Funding is to be frozen according to Nadine Norries until 2024. All this in line with the funding for university arts course being cut from 36 million down to 19 million pounds. As the The Art Historian James Fox puts it, “I have no doubt that these proposals, should they be implemented, will have very damaging consequences not just for the BBC but for the wider cultural life of our nation. Since its foundation, the BBC has played an essential role in commissioning talent, and making art and ideas accessible to the public. If it is allowed to go, it will leave us all immeasurably poorer.” And it should be added - more IGNORANT - every one is poor enough as it is.
It has become apparent that whilst successive Tory governments have instituted cuts so severe that people are riding around on buses twelve hours a day for the sole purpose of keeping themselves warm, there has been a long term project to undermine
any rational purpose at all. I don’t know if any one gave it a name and I don’t know how it was conceived or by whom, but conceived, hatched, drawn up and implemented it certainly has been. You could say that the purpose of this project has been to inure purposelessness into our treasured institutions of education and media and as a consequence, into vast swathes of the population.
There was a time, I won’t call it The Time of Milk and Honey, but perhaps we could call it The Time of Peoples Progress, when there was an understanding that ‘going forward’ was an expression applied to the improvement in everyone’s health, education reasoning and general quality of life. Now everyone says ‘going forward’, referring to the future, to cover up the fact that we are very much going backwards. In The Time of Peoples Progress there was a consensus of opinion across the political divide that all this improvement was in everybody’s interests. No longer. I have perceived a gradual implementation of a policy to replace heads of departments, deans, editors, commissioning bodies, lecturers and anybody else with any clout, with those that tend to the right of the political spectrum. It has been an invidious and almost imperceptible trend, including the the transformation of Polytechnics into Universities and subtle changes to degree courses. I took the plunge to see what my Alma Mater (Polytechnic of Central London – now the University of Westminster) was up to currently. The course leader is presently Andre Pinkowski, whose exhibition ‘A Reconstruction of Codes’ ( see accompanying photographs) takes images of celebrities going about their business and via an algorithm, turns them into graduated colour images of, well, how can one say this nicely, pretty much nothing at all. Who, on the planet earth, is interested in Stephanie McMichael, from Big Brother no less, on a night out at the Chrystal Club - either the original snap or the continuous tone print of purple and pink? Purposelessness in all its morning glory.
‘A Reconstruction of Codes’ as a title I thought looked promising alluding to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or perhaps Judith Williamson’s book Decoding Advertisements – but not a bit of it.
There is a sense in which we have been nudged, hoodwinked and persuaded into a critical no man’s land where any theoretical moorings have been cut loose. Put this into the context of the programming priorities at the BBC, the fact that Tim Davie used to be a marketing manager for Pepsi Cola and an active member of the Conservative Party and I think you might just begin to get my drift. So, unfortunately, I don’t think that Andrew Graham-Dixon is going to be holding his phone in the vain hope that the beeb is going to offer him a series anytime soon.
IF YOU ARE TIRED OF ART, ARE YOU TIRED OF LIFE? THE CUTE AND THE CREEPY.
27th May 2022
Sadly, or not, depending on the shape of your life today, Samuel Johnson’s adage about London is no longer true, but we can say that art still springs eternal. There are billions of examples on Instagram. I took a moment to see who were the best selling artists on this platform and this too, I found it sadly depressing. Sad, sad and yet more sad. I’m not a sad sort of person in the normal way of things, so does this say more about myself than the art? There were much of the best sellers, that reminded me of a book my brother gave to me one Christmas, when I was a mere four years old. It featured a pink train on the cover that I found seriously underwhelming, but have never forgotten it as it was given with love from a sibling who called me his little ‘swampduck’. A pink train on a children’s story book should be more than appropriate, even if I had somehow developed some early aversion to pastel pink, but would it be out of place today on the gallery wall in New York’s Chelsea or Tribeca?
So let us turn to an example of the ‘high art’ of today and consider - have we reached the summit of infantilisation or should we call it the nadir of something else? I admit to the crime of being bemused, but perhaps I should just honestly say confused. Take Takashi Murakami, the most famous Japanese and globally vaunted artist who has propelled himself into the art market and celebrates his relationship with the fashion world. Keep those Nikes on your feet you may be able to exhibit them one day or exchange them for some crypto currency that buys nothing that is actually real. He is the embodiment of consumerism quite literally in his own human form, with that imitable smile on his face whilst hurtling though the metaverse. Does making degraded art because society itself is degraded, a worthwhile and laudable endeavor? Is the inspiration of manga and anime a plausable precursor to artistic endeavor even if you have invented a new word - ‘superflat’? The very fact that he articulates his work in terms of a brand instantly sets me on an edge of equivocation. The questions are perhaps best asked in the context of a quote from Jerry Saltz :
“I don't look for skill in art - skill has nothing to do with technical proficiency... I'm interested in people who rethink skill, who redefine or reimagine it… I'm looking for what the artist is trying to say and what he or she is actually saying, what the work reveals about society and the timeless conditions of being alive."
So what does the work of artists like Murakami and Damien Hirst tell us about the timeless conditions of being alive other than we have been made fools of in more ways than one. The capitalist regime has rendered us incomplete and and senseless but so does the artwork and the art practice itself. Does this justify the practice of making, ‘trashy’ work? I do, have an unconfessed regard for the critic Jerry Saltz. It must be to do with the twenty years as a long distance lorry driver prior to his more illustrious career that gave him attitude and a chance to really consider the human condition – I mean what the hell else is there to do on the road for that length of time if you have half a brain. So I would love to know his take on this. Am I wrong when I look at some current artists and think to myself – ‘’ do I seriously want to continue on this planet? Is this planet for me – have they imported new works from the planet Mars made by interstellar people of limited functioning parts? ‘’It is hard to tell and I would be glad to sit down for an hour during in which time someone could explain it all to me. Personally I blame it all on Walt – he created another world for us out of the back of his fantastical cerebral mind and then made it all too real for us. We just never left the park. Maybe that’s the point. Warhol would probably agree! There have been of course the uses of Disney characters for example Lichtenstein’s ‘Look Mickey’ in 1961 and Karin Hassan’s ‘Approach’ in 2007. All of whom were playing on the same riff of taking the mickey, if one can say that, out of the nihilistic nature of capitalism and consumerism. But how do we assess the work of these current industrial ‘junk’ art creators if you compromise your self to the same degree as the society that you seek to critique? If we live in a junk society, should we accept junk art? Meredythe Cole - in a recent article wrote: ‘’It is impossible to tell if Murakami, with his canvases reminiscent of commercial graphic design and the booming merchandise business, is exalting consumerism or knocking high art down a peg.’’ Personally I just think a look at his bank balance would help to define his contribution - maybe someone should suggest a series of earthenware mugs to him instead of trainers or Luis Vuitton bags, just to really hit home with the irony.
Surely if you wanted to be truly super super flat about the art world, would you not be campaigning for the expansion of the arts in education, for the possibilities for financial support for those wishing to work in this field and for the deconstruction of the art market for investment purposes of the super rich instead of going flat out to make your self into a brand that enables your own enrichment on an excessive scale?
p.s. compere and contrast with Howardina Pindell -still creating AND teaching at seventy six years old - never sought exposure in her life.
ART, CULTURAL CODIFIERS AND THE ROYAL FAMILY
I have to start by saying that I was going to write an article on something entirely different – namely Las Cuevas de Piletas ( in my backyard of Andalucia) and the origins of art –all worthy stuff and absolutely gripping when you get deep down and dirty, thirty metres undergound to examine the drawings. But an image popped up in the The Guardian Newspaper a few days ago and I could not resist the opportunity to comment. ( They have been busy - its now in the July Issue of Vogue ) I had it all pretty planned out in my head from the outset, but as I am wont to do, I was getting ahead of myself – making assumptions along the way that fitted my republican view of the world. Not that this has changed, but I did find myself on a trail that was more interesting than I had anticipated.
It all began with the the Queen’s Jubilee the other week where all The Royal Family were obliged to parade themselves for the public, barring of course he who will remain unnamed, not least because we all know that everyone even with the most distant relationship with the media, knows his name. For those who are non UK residents, let me tell you there are some very concerned people out there who are applying to have their addresses changed – to whit, those living in roads called St Andrew’s Avenue - there are no less than six of them, apparently. Apart from the notable boredom of the grandchildren during the fesitivities, was the extraordinary footage ( how it did not end up on ‘the cutting room floor’ is still a mystery) of Camilla, our future Queen, once Queenie E2 has decided to shuffle off her mortal coil. I say decided, but it could be a case of ‘’ – it’s just a question of timing M’aam’’ from the current incumbant of Downing Street, Boris Johnson. If he can pull off a state funeral and a coronation before the next election who knows the entire British Public might be induced into collective amnesia. I digress. Astonishingly, editors of the coverage of the Jubilee failed to notice the scenes where the prospective consort, seemed, – well how shall I put this nicely - not exactly the full ticket? From the blank expressionless face that went quite beyond ennui to a certain sort of glassy eyedness seen normally in those with an over dependence on certain pharmaceuticals, was the depiction of a woman clearly adrift from her moorings. However someone in PR at the Palace must have picked up on it and thought some suitable articles placed in the press were required. So it came as no surprise to me a few days later that there was the headline : ‘’Camilla Reveals Her Struggles With The Media – and her Love of Wordle’’ in other words por wee thing is frightened of journalists ( I think we might have had that trope before) so please go easy on her and yes it’s OK folks she does have a brain, she can beat her nine year old granddaughter at Wordle.
The photograph that was published along side the article depicted Camilla dressed in royal blue in front of what I at first assumed was a landscape painting in The Garden Room of Clarence House. Mistress of All I Survey/ Lady of the Manor and Beyond/ I’ve Got It and Ya Boo Sucks You Havn’t/ I’m Entitled So Just What Do You Think You Plebs Can Do About It, screamed off the page in all it’s stately glory. But I am supposed to be talking about art and as I looked a little closer I perceived that this was no Landseer, Constable or Turner but something rather different. It emerged after a little research not to be a painting at all, but a monstrous tapestry – and I use the word monstrous advisedly. The piece is actually called ‘The Massacre of Mamluks In Cairo’ woven by a french tapestry factory, Gobelins, in the nineteenth century and was presented to Queen Victoria by Napoleon |||. Firstly it is huge; four meters by five meters, secondly it is ugly and thirdly the subject matter is of one of the worst massacres ever recorded in history. The Mamluks were originally muslim slaves who formed their own army and had gradually aquired considerable leverage. However they were slaughtered on March 1st 1811, at the Citidel in Cairo by invading Albanians who subsequently cut off their their heads, hollowed them out, stuffed them with straw and displayed them to the few muslems soldiers that remained alive. These were men that had defeated the Mongols and the Crusaders and had ruled in Egypt for more than 300 years. It was perhaps a key moment in the long battle against Islam by the Europeans. The French and the British continued their colonial squabble over Egypt because of it’s geographical significance for trade, particularly with India, but in 1882 the french finally withdrew their influence in the country and Egypt became a de facto protectorate of the British on and off until the final demise due to the embarassing debacle over the Suez crisis.
The portrait of Camilla successfully rehabilitates her in the eyes of the public – the use of color, the setting, not least the ownership of a large artwork denotes status and longevity. It is a more muted versión than the ones perhaps previously employed but nonetheless the coded messages are still embedded in the image. I am here, yea even unto the Middle Ages and I reside at the ápex of the societal hierarchy. It is subtle and apparently harmless but none the less, is as vicious and pernicious as the events recorded in the tapestry behind her. The ruling elite no longer cuts off our heads but they do stuff them; they stuff them with lies, deception, falsehoods of every hue, rumours, misinformation and disinformation.
There is however one other alterative narrative to the display of this tapestry in such a prominant position in Clarence House which relates possibly to a slightly more complex and personal scenario. To have one’s second wife in front of the depiction of the massacre of egyptian muslims might just bring more than an ironic smile to the face of the Tampon King - but not quite as much as a few carrier bags from Fortnum and Mason's!