This blog is finally taking me where I wanted to go – towards committed action and away from aimless wandering.
Paul Collier’s book – The Bottom Billion – is not only a page turner but an education and a shocker. Page 24 of my edtion just explodes. He’s talking about the causality of conflict. Nothing is ever black and white and what Collier encourages us to do is temper knee-jerk outrage with some considered assessment of the facts.
In 1999 Fiji elected an Indian prime minister following many years of Indian immigration which resulted in a better educated, richer Indian population outnumbering the indigenous one. The point Collier is making, before I go on, is that not all rebel movements have genuine grievances, although from a PR point of view, making the world at large believe they represent ‘A Cause’ can atone, have overlooked and even provide justification many, many crimes.
So what of Fiji? Mahendra Chaudry decided to put the state mahogany plantations out to International management. Two companies tendered for the contract, one a well known not-for-profit organization the other a well known private US company. The not-for-profit company won the business.
One month later, ‘rebel leader’ George Speight began an armed struggle against the new government using ‘Fiji for the Fijians’ as his emotive rallying cry. He was clearly outraged by the supplanting of native Fijians by the Indians in government. Or was he?
George Speight was also the was the local businessman who had represented the unsuccessful US bid for the mahogany contract. Clearly, “Fiji for the Fijians,” sounds better than “Give the mahongany contract to the Americans”. Speight’s intentions were at best clouded by a conflict of interest.
Sierra Leone is a poor miserable country at the bottom of the Human Development Index, a place where the inhabitants have genuine grievances. When rebel leader Foday Sankoh was offered a settlement that included making him vice president, he turned it down. Why? Because the number two position had no control over the lucrative diamond concessions. Morally, Sankoh was firing blanks and his favoured recruits were teenage drug addicts not averse to hacking the hands and feet from children’s limbs during a campaign of terror.
The population of Sierra Leone needed better living conditions and Sankoh rode piggy-back on that idea to get closer to what he was interested in personally: huge wealth at any cost. It is hard to imagine a more brutal and ruthless pursuit of wealth than his was.
Collier concedes the Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi and Rwanda and the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq led to massive bloody conflict but he is not afraid to point out that, inversely, in Somalia, a place that is completely ethnically pure a bloody civil war was followed by persistent governmental breakdown. Therefore ethnic strife can not always be cited as a cause for conflict.
You have to read Paul Collier’s book!
ART? What can I say about art today? My bug bear is that art made with financial gain as a primary or sole objective is not art. What about the artist? Surely they have to eat? And what about the markets? If your work doesn’t sell then you will not be able to survive and there will be no work at all. I know, I know, there are so many contradictions. I don’t know where I came to the idea that art should exist outside the expediencies of the market place. Is it that art should come from the subconscious which in turn comes from God? Maybe.
I like painting because it exists on canvas and there is no side to it. What you see is what you get. Conceptual art is the externalization of a subliminal impulse but for me the problem is always poor execution. The work is either badly made or portentous beyond the sum of its parts. Just having an idea and writing it on the back of a cigarette packet and making millions from it may smack of glamour but it is not art but rather a new direction for that the art establishment can use to seduce art collectors in to hand over their wallets. In other words: its a con.
I haven’t read Boris Groys but I’m ordering him in. Clearly, when it comes to conceptual art and even on the subject of what art is, I am a weak commentator but I do know the difference between good and bad art and I exist outside the safety of repeating what the right magazines have to say. I don’t trust them and it is that freedom that I wish everybody would grasp. The homogenization of culture is a bad thing.
Art should not be social glue. Art should be revolution.
If art is revolution and revolution usually has something to do with self-interest then the artist is very much like Foday Sankoh. On the one hand the artist is saying ‘I represent your cultural freedom’ and on the other they are muttering ‘I want a house in Trinidad by the end of this show’.
Can art change the world? What good can revolution do? And where is the middle ground? All I can offer is questions and more questions.
Check this out on contemporary painters: