After a few days in London taking in the sites and doing a little business I spent the day at the Tate Modern. This was a place I had heard mix reports from, however, I’m the sort of person who doesn’t go on other people’s opinion, and will instead make up my own mind with the least amount of expectation possible.
Link: Tate Modern https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern
As it turns out, I ended up spending most of the day there.
One exhibit that got my attention was by an artist from Beirut, a war-torn city from the past. The artist was clearly affected by the war as a younger man and clearly affected by one particular building in the centre. Before the war devasted the city, an office block was under construction. Due to the war, it was never completed, and because of its location, it was used as a “crows nest” for snippers. Following the devastation of the war that had occurred in the city, the government believed the building would be too costly to tear down, so instead they simply left it and over time it gradually became an unofficial monument to the war in some people’s eyes.
Below: Marian Rechmaoui impression of the tower block in Beruit.
I followed the exhibit to a video of the artist speaking about his work. Something he said resonated with me. He stated how the older generations view the building as a monument to the war. The young view it with no importance. It has no meaning to them, it has no purpose, due to the young not having lived through the horrors of the war in the city.
It resonated with me because I often feel that in regards to the domestic fight for LGBT+ rights here in the uk and similar fights elsewhere in the world, the LGBT+ uprising in the 80s against section 28 and other indescrimate legistratration in the UK. The riot in New York in the 60s that led to the pride movement. Partial decriminalisation in 1967 in the UK that led to similar laws in other Commonwealth states, easing the way to fight for more equal rights over the decades. The list goes on and much further back in time.
Are these events that shaped older generations too easy to forget? It may certainly be easy to not to have that emotional connection over time with younger generations.
Pondering this, I left the Tate and made my way over the Millennium Bridge. As I was crossing, I began talking to this lovely lady with three young kids – around 8, 4 and 3 years old. The oldest was getting excited because he wanted to see “CHEWING GUM MAN!”. You could see in the eyes of the 8 year old this man was special to him, almost with a superhero status.
Below: The view from the millennium bridge in London.
My clear confusion led the mother to explain to me that he wasn’t a superhero after all, but in fact, an artist. Every few days this man would go on the Millennium Bridge and find chewing gum that people had dropped, then use them as his canvas. Each gum dropping had a unique look, and he respected that in his work. He had come up with a way of exercising his creativity and making a better world to live in.
He turned something negative into something positive. He hadn’t gone out there to protest about people dropping gum on the bridge, but he added something pleasurable to the bridge. Let’s be frank, if he made one person happy, one small boy excited, he had done a great job.
Link: More about The Chewing gum man….. https://inspiringcity.com/2014/04/18/the-chewing-gum-man-paints-a-trail-of-400-mini-artworks-on-the-millenium-bridge/
Later, I met a friend in Soho and I ventured to The Admiral Duncan – a classic British pub. Sadly, the pub was the scene of a nail bomb in 1998 by a Nazi right-wing extremist. However, after the clean-up from the attack, it was opened in defiance of the hatred toward the LGBT+ Community.
Above: Admiral Duncan plauqe remembering the bombing in 1999
Looking on the wall outside the pub there is a plaque to mark the bomb attack, and inside a piece of beautiful art in the form of a light decoration discretely hanging from the ceiling. Monuments – or memorials – to remind us of the past. Without the emotional memories, the ones that you feel in your gut, it becomes nothing but history, nothing of real connection to the loss. That is, if we are not vigilant in keeping it alive. When we talk about historic LGBT+ issues or for that matter any minorities issues those not within the Community may say “stop playing victims”, because they’ve not experienced what the Community has historically – and still does in some parts of the world.
Without showing others the past, soon we forget, and soon someone is potentially the poor victim once more, and we don’t learn from the past at all. Just like the superhero, the chewing gum man, who used the canvas of the gum to create something meaningful, we need to reach out to the past, embrace it, and learn from it in order to truly move on with no reprisals.
Don’t judge the old for showing us the memorials of a bygone time, but learn from them, and don’t judge the young for not understanding the memorials’ true meaning, instead teach them in ways such as the chewing gum man teaches us. Simple but effective ways.
Written by Darren Maples.
Edited by Tom Wiese.