Walls tumble at the Whitechapel
A unique international gathering of poets, translators, scholars, artists, human rights campaigners, musicians, theatre producers and directors as well as political and environmental activists came together at the Whitechapel Gallery in London’s East End on December 2.
They both marked the 1989 revolutions in Europe and discussed where we go from here. Those present also became for two hours part of the installation by Polish artist Goshka Macuga entitled The Nature of the Beast.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of a tapestry of Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece Guernica, the round-table installation encourages discussion on culture and political issues, with the Whitechapel providing the space for free. The event was organised by A World to Win and chaired by its secretary, Corinna Lotz.
Those present tried to address the question posed by the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in one of his poems read at the event, have ideas become wingless in this age of winged rockets.
From their many different standpoints, they agreed that 1989 and the Year of Revolutions demonstrated that things can change, that systems that appear eternal on the surface can be suddenly overthrown and that it is people themselves, with their leaders, who make that change.
The event also represented a conscious alternative to the events in Berlin, where the leaders of world capitalism gathered to congratulate themselves on the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In fact the change came from WITHIN not from outside, as AWTW communications editor Paul Feldman pointed out. A group of leaders – Gorbachev and his supporters – opened a crack and the mass of the people poured through it, unstoppably.
As well as poems by Yevtushenko, performed by actor Anirban Roy, the London-based poet and translator Stephen Watts read poems from Turkey and Hungary and one of his own poems. The Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh read two moving and harrowing poems in Arabic.
Photos: Peter Arkell & Alf Löhr
Performance poet Bros Grim shook the room and Cristina Viti contributed a poem by Italian poet, film director and anti-Stalinist Pier Paolo Pasolini. This was not the limpid subjectivist voice that dominates Britain’s “official” poetry world. These were poets IN the world, and expressing diverse aspects of the universal and powerful inner desire for freedom, self-determination and justice.
There was also a significant contribution from Bill Bowring, professor of law at Birkbeck College and leading human rights activist. He spoke of the importance of the struggles for self-determination as the background to the 1989 revolutions.
American scholar Mark Bartlett put forward a series of propositions as part of a strategy for breaking the movement from “left liberalism”. Ansar Ahmed Ullah, convenor of the European Action Group on Climate Change in Bangladesh, also contributed to the discussion about the tearing down of walls.
AWTW is preparing a Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions that will take these and other ideas and develop them all the way up to the General Election in May and beyond. Everyone is invited to add their voice to the swelling sound – what we might call the rumble of revolution.
A Living History Project
sponsored by A World to Win in Whitechapel Art Gallery’s Guernica Project Space 12-2pm, Wednesday December 2