Observing

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If you stay in a tiny hotel room with ‘Do Not Disturb’ for too many hours in too many days you are in danger of frying the brain circuitry. At least you are if you are me. My room is a fine little writing nest. Although having a mirror facing you while you type on your laptop is a bit  disconcerting. (I wound up throwing my Tibetan shawl over it.  And tonight I will wear it to the theatre. I love multi-tasking travel wardrobe items.)   A colleague, Ita, has a similar layout in her room. She’s used the mirror facing her desk as a trigger for a poem.  In search of further writing triggers I joined the main group on an outing to Manchester Art Gallery yesterday.  Time for some fresh air, see this Manchester sunshine and get some inspiration.

I have to say that I love getting to know a city by the civic art collections in their art galleries.  It tells you a lot about the people who got wealthy and endowed their city with their art collections instead of leaving them to relatives who probably don’t appreciate them and would sell them, breaking up what they collected over a lifetime.  I’ve lived in and visited many cities over the past 58 years and the ability to browse art galleries spontaneously is probably the only real disadvantage of living in a rural area.  But then I do get to look out on some pretty awe-inspiring landscape from my desk at home. And when people used to dump defunct cars my husband and I would  joke that they were Tate Prize art installations.

Wandering around the galleries in my memory I revisited other galleries with Old Dutch art. I always seem to gravitate towards the Dutch art masters.  It’s a sentimental choice now. I love looking at the faces and scrutinising all those interiors.  Once, in the Dublin Art Gallery I came face to face with a portrait that so reminded me of my Aunt Betty it practically conjured her ghost. There is some multi-generational, colonial Dutch heritage but I never really thought she favoured her maternal line. But there she was looking me in the eye from a 17th century portrait. Which, come to think of it, would have been around the time the ancestors would have been bravely leaving Holland for the New World.

There were several pieces that grabbed my imagination but this is the one I’ll share with you.  It is by a British artist, Hew Lock,  who grew up in Guyana.  As a school child he learned that it was a huge crime to deface the Queen’s head that stared at him from his school jotter.   Then he made Medusa in 2008, a piece using plastic, metal, textile on plywood, and MDF.

Medusa, Hew Lock, 2008, Manchester Art Gallery

Medusa

It’s Queenie! It’s Lilibet!

Sprouting a black baby doll

A thought form snaking

right out the top of her head

(but  that was Zeus

who birthed babies that way)

Empire surrounds her-

a gorilla peeks from jungle,

there behind her left ear,

the last ibis on Gibraltar,

rhino horn out of Africa,

wasp nest of England,

a scorpion at her breast,

beads are waterfalling her cheeks,

(an exotic Mata Hari touch that),

plastic teardrop jewel moustache,

gold flashes, her coronet

edible flora and fauna.

The colonials have colonised

Her Majesty.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices.

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