Maps : Finding ourselves and others

Recently I watched a wonderful programme on Channel 4 TV in the UK called ‘Keeping up with the Khans’ about immigration to the UK, specifically to a town called Sheffield. It had wit and charm and made every person into a human being.

There was one man on the programme from Lebanon. He had a problem finding his country on the map and was surprised to see how small it was.

He then could not find the UK. At first he thought that the USA was the UK. He then pointed to Turkey. He thought the UK was a lot bigger than it is. That thought was shared by another immigrant from the Sudan. He said it must be large because the UK is also called Great Britain, which logically should refer to size.  It seemed a good point. In fact, the UK fits into the state of Texas in the USA, not the USA, but just the state of Texas, about three times!

The  blue is the USA, the black is Texas and then it is enlarged to show the yellow, which is the UK, super-imposed on it to show the size of the UK in proportion to Texas and the USA.

The man from the Lebanon did not seem to realise that the UK is an island, a very small one at that. The man from Sudan had come over from Calais and knew the UK was an island.

Having a sense of the size of countries and the size of continents is very difficult if you haven’t seen comparative maps, if you only see your place in isolation, as it appears on a Sat Nav.

This is a map of the continent of Africa with many other very large countries super-imposed on it.

But on the news earlier the Swedish foreign minister when asked about migrant numbers said that the UK should do more as it is much bigger than Sweden. So I went on Professor Google!

The UK is about 94,000 sq miles (241,000 sq km) with a population of about 100 million and Sweden is about 175,000 sq miles (449,000 sq km) with a population of about 8 million. In my humble arithmetic, Sweden is about 2 times the size of the UK. And that is a foreign minister.

What is going on in our schools worldwide? Are none of us looking at maps? Are none of us seeing maps?

The problem with using Satellite Navigators (Sat Navs) in our cars or on our phones is that there is no context. You do not know where you are!

The algorithms of computers are not knowledge. They tell you what to do next so you don’t have to look or know anything much.

But maps reveal place and context. They also show size.


Image result for comparative size of europe and saudi arabia



This is for anybody that knows the above shapes are  a map of Europe with the Gulf states superimposed on it for size comparison. 

We need to look at maps to see where we are in relation to where other people are. It is a disgrace that our leaders cannot find the countries they are talking about or bombing on a map. They have no idea about where it is and what countries are next to them. Those being talked about or bombed also have little idea of where the place is that is doing that to them. Many political decisions rest on maps and we need to see them and understand ourselves in the context of others.

For instance, there is a mantra that many people repeat about a two state solution in the Middle East. But the areas they tend to talk about doing this to are not contiguous; they are not next to each other. They have no idea where anywhere is or the relation of one place to another or the size of the places and whether they are feasible because they have not looked at maps. Maps of the world. Maps of a region. Maps.



Comparison of the UK (in white) and Israel and the West Bank (in blue). The West Bank is the size of Dorset, a county (region) in the UK.

Two State Solutions

For instance: When the Muslim people living  in India fought for their own (Muslim) state the British Government  decided that a two state solution would prevent a civil war. There was to be a Muslim state and a Hindu state. in other words two countries based on religious belief. This process, which happened in 1947, was called Partition.

The British ceded the area now known as Pakistan, a huge, vast area, and another large, but smaller area that  was meant to be East Pakistan, as one Muslim state and India as the Hindu state.

However, Pakistan and East Pakistan are not contiguous. They are separated by a vast country, India, of which both the areas of Pakistan and East Pakistan originally formed a part. So of course the two state solution was geographically ungovernable as two countries (India and Pakistan West / East).

This tragic time ended up, instead, becoming a three state solution:

  • India
  • Pakistan,
  • Bangladesh.

Look at the map of the region.

Eight million people died during this partition. Nobody really talks about it.  Fourteen and a half million people were uprooted.

Not thousands, not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. 14.5 million moved from one state to the other and 8 million died trying to move in 1947.

The disputed territory of Kashmir between the border of India and Pakistan is huge, 222,000 sq km, the size of the UK

Of course if anybody bothered to look they would also find that Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous.

  • Maps can be made showing geographical features such as valleys and mountains, oceans and lands.
  • Maps can be made showing political features, the borders and countries of the world.
  • Maps can be made showing population features, density of humans or other species of interest.
  • Maps can be made showing epidemiological features, the spread of diseases or traits.
  • Maps can be made of economic features showing the distribution of wealth or trade or tourism.
  • Maps can be made showing linguist features, the distribution of languages.
  • Maps can be made showing religious distributions or political-religious distributions as some countries are theocracies.

All countries have some theocratic history to them, when they were mainly one religion or another. Some have remained theocratic. My map, below, shows a religious distribution to the best of my colouring in abilities.

Unlike the man from Lebanon trying to find his mother’s house on a world map, you cannot see yourself on a map of the world. You are not the centre of all worlds. You are only the centre of your own selfie.

Maps give us perspective.

I think, in a world of platitudes and political decisions by people who have no idea where we are talking about, or what we are talking about, we need to look at maps.

Here is a map of the world (minus the Artic and Antarctic):

Countries by main religion

The countries in Red are predominantly Christian.

The countries in Green are predominantly Muslim.

The countries in Purple are predominantly Buddhist.

The countries in Yellow are predominantly  Hindu.

The countries in Blue are predominantly Jewish.

A little perspective goes a long way.

Jon Thompson; Artist, Curator, Lecturer

Jon Thompson.

If you meet former students of Jon Thompson, the Goldsmiths crowd of the 1980’s, they will all tell you what a brilliant teacher he was. Not gushing. Not always available. Just brilliant, giving remarks and feedback when needed, often at a level that the student didn’t fully comprehend until years later, suddenly a realisation, falling into place.

Everybody will tell you that the show he curated, ‘Falls the Shadow’ was seminal.

At his funeral on Tuesday 22nd March in deepest Kent, UK, many of the art world gathered. The service was wonderful, arranged by Jeremy Ackerman who edited his collected writings and his gallerist Anthony Reynolds. They told of the artist, with Ackerman ending his tale of going to Jon’s studio in Belgium and walking in to see a canvas that almost blinded him with its intensity of colour and Jon saying “Well, what do you think?”.  Anthony Reynolds talked about his giving up painting when he became a lecturer as he found it impossible to do both; painting being so full time. But when he retired suddenly these works appeared, works he must have been planning all those years. “There is only art; the thing itself”. Others told wonderful tales and his family celebrated their wonderful brother and uncle. His partner, Andrew, was too sad to talk.  Andrew Brightman told how he loved an argument, but annoyingly always knew more about any topic than you did, however obscure! His kindness and conviviality, his vast intellect, his art. Sarah Wedderburn read from his essays, words of utter brilliance.

I was lucky enough to sit next to him at a dinner once. As  in life we do not see the future, we do not know when we shall die and I did not realise that this would be the only time I would share such a moment. So I did not record in my mind what we had talked about. I remember talking about a commission he had for work at Broadmoor, a secure facility for severely disturbed and dangerous people. I was fascinated by such a challenge; making work for people who do not know the difference between good and evil, whether there is such a difference. I think a lot of the rest of our conversation was light hearted and fun. I only wish I had met him sooner and that he had lived longer. There was at least another ten years worth of painting in him which we shall now never see.

The art world has lost a master and the world has lost a wonderful soul.

May he be in an heavenly studio full of paint, canvas, delicious food and wonderful wine.

Perfect joy.


Max Mara Prize for Women Artists- Still needed after all these years

Whitechapel Art Gallery in London hosted a very exclusive party for the Max Mara Prize for Women Artists 2015-17, the 6th time this prize has been awarded. I did wonder whether there was going to be a goody bag of something Max Mara, one of their coats, perhaps!  But what a fab party.

Then the director of the Whitechapel got up to introduce the proceedings. Iwona Blazwick is a world renowned curator and director. Her speech was on how this prize is still needed. That women make up 70% of the workforce of FTSE 100 companies, but only 7% of board members. That the top prices for art works are all by men. That most galleries have almost all male artists lists. She said it with spirit and wit, but it is very depressing.

I keep hearing people complaining about being discriminated against because of their colour or religion, but 50% of the people of that colour or religion are being doubly discriminated against, usually by members of the group that are complaining that they are being discriminated against. Black men, gay men, religious men, are not immune to being deeply prejudiced against black women, gay women, religious women and all women of any colour, religion or sexuality.

Women are almost invisible in many areas of life. It is unremarkable when a TV programme contains only men and very remarkable (remarked upon) when it contains only women, unless it is a subject only about women such as maternity. But even then men have set themselves up as the masters of gynaecology, obstetrics and reproductive medicine. They have colonised women’s bodies and lives.. I cannot imagine it the other way around, but I think we all need to so that we understand what that is like.

So yes, the Max Mara Prize for Women Artists is needed. It gives the winner 6 months in Italy to be an artist, hopefully free of other financial burdens. Well of course, by the time you have amassed a body of work that is able to be nominated for such a prize you have also amassed a life, such as a home and family which usually, you cannot abandon for 6 months without some complicated arrangements! But it is a wonderful gift, a time of reflection and creation. The result is then displayed at the Whitechapel and in Italy.

The short list comprised some excellent artists. The winner, Emma Hart, was a very well deserved recipient. Her body of work was exceptionally strong among such competition and she has a very good reason to be in Italy to study Majolica (she works in ceramics and photography). So off she will go for a well deserved 6 months free of the usual constraints artists have to juggle to survive, and female artists juggle much more. Really they do. Their work, therefore, should be double the price of equivalent male artists as the production of great work by women is so hard won and rarer due to so many constraints.

Emma Hart  Folkestone Triennial 2014

So thank you to Max Mara and the male director who made the announcement and gave the award and funds for this very needed prize. Thank you very much.

From Monet to Matisse- Painting the Modern Garden – The Royal Academy

We were lucky enough to be invited to the preview on 26th January 2016 of the ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’ exhibition at the Royal Academy. It is showing works of artists in that period of time painting gardens.

We arrived on time and did the clever thing. We walked straight through the exhibition to the end where the huge triptych of Monet’s that have never been hung together since first painted were situated. We walked in and for a few minutes we were the only two people there.

No guards.

No crowds.


Bliss to be surrounded by the paintings in silence.

Monet at Giverny

Monet at Giverny and us alone in the room to take this photo !

Then we walked back through the show. Many of the Monet’s look great from a distance and quite ugly close up. I like that. I like that something ugly transforms to something beautiful depending on where it is seen.

There was a lovely Matisse, Palm Leaf, Tangier 1912. There were extraordinary Kandiinskys. There were three Paul Klee’s we really fancied having on our walls!  There was a modest and lovely Pissaro of a vegetable garden. And there was an intriguing Maurice Denis of nuns in a garden, a little like a Paradise Garden of Persia. Very unusually in colour and form. Lovely.

There were some extraordinary paintings that I did not like of the foreground, but the effect of the light, as if it was from a backlit theatrical set, was wonderful. But I am not a great fan of most impressionism anymore and I never did like Renoir.

For the most part though it is pretty, but a bit sentimental. Also, it was bereft of female artists. Now surely females were allowed to paint flowers and gardens even if not allowed to paint a (fe/male) nude?  But I am sure that even in the time period of Monet females made and painted gardens. So a lack of female artists does annoy.

The whole felt a bit overwhelming, a bit of a large bouquet with a few rare and precious blooms.

For the Monet it will be a sell out show, so I am very grateful to have seen it in peace. A moment of serenity in a place of beauty. That was his intention after all the bloodshed of the First World War and that is his achievement.


Trans – Converting – Changing versus Appropriation

I am a Londoner. I am not boasting; merely stating a fact.

I was born and raised in London. That makes me a Londoner. I have lived in other places. But being born and raised in London means that I am a Londoner.

If I go to live in Paris or Venice for instance, I will not be Parisian or Venetian and I would bet that you would not think I was and the people who are Parisian or Venetian would not think I was. I would be a British person (specifically a Londoner) living in another place. We cannot change where we were born. We can change nationality, become, for example,  French or Italian, but we always remain an incomer of the place we live in. I say this in a town where 80% of the inhabitants are incomers, from all over the UK and abroad. I find it amusing and sometimes irritating when incomers call themselves Londoners. I am sure that I would not be counted as a Liverpudlian (from Liverpool) or a Brummie (from Birmingham) or a Mancunian (from Manchester) or an Amsterdam-er or whatever if I went to live in their town.

I point out Amsterdam as an example, having met a person from Holland who had lived in various places and then moved to London and thought that she too was now a Londoner, in the same way that I was. Her ally, from Toronto thought the same. I found this very strange knowing it would not work the other way round.

We are quite selective about what we think we can appropriate from others and whether they can appropriate stuff from us.

When is it sharing cultures, being multicultural (ie being nothing!) or is it an act of committing plagiarism and cultural appropriation?

I just saw an Instagram from a friend about  white men having their hair in plaits or cornrows.

We all know those white European men that grow dreadlocks and talk with a Caribbean accent (I love Caribbean accents) and play reggae music. Who thinks they are Caribbean? Who thinks they are black? Who thinks that they have had to put up with the experiences of being black in a white culture?

Empathy does not change your skin colour or your history, your memories or your childhood.

My friend did not like this latest hair fashion/appropriation. He complained that they were taking his traditional African heritage. I know there are also all those blond German women in plaits in photos from the 1930s, but I can appreciate his point.

He is not alone in thinking it:

White women in saris; what do we think?

And that trend for putting a Bindi on your forehead with no understanding of what it is, reducing a cultural mark to a fashion statement. Is that a good thing, making it a universal mark, or appropriation of somebody else’s culture in a clumsy colonialism?




Recently, I have met quite a few people that have wanted to or have converted to Judaism. I am not always sure what they think they are converting to or why. I think they are converting to a religion. Their problem is that their parents and families are not also converting so they can’t have those same moments of going home to a traditional Shabbat dinner with parents etc.

You cannot change your history quite as easily as you may re-write it.

The Rabbis of old had a longer view. They willingly accepted genuine converts, but argued about whether they were the same as the children of converts or their children. It takes a few generations to become. There is a saying: ‘Question: Who is a Jew? Answer: A person who has Jewish grandchildren’. It might rule a lot of us out, and in an age of instant gratification, it might not be a popular view, but it may be true. Think about it.

If I emigrate to Jamaica and am granted Jamaican citizenship, how Jamaican am I?  I don’t share those memories. How Jamaican would my child be given that I might still do very British things at home? But my child’s child, my grandchild, brought up by a person born in Jamaica and probably another parent of Jamaican origin, would be Jamaican in a way I could never manage. I accept that.

Growing up is a big part of becoming who you are. When do we stop being who we were? What are we allowed to do when we change, to become who we are or who we want to be? And what is change and what is appropriation?

There are many people that I have encountered that have converted to Judaism and then started to  become an ‘Uber-Jew’, more Jewish than any other Jew. They start using Yiddish expressions, like the white man growing his dreadlocks and talking patois. Yiddish is not Judaism. That would invalidate all the Mizrahi and Sepahardic Jews who don’t know a bagel from a kreplach.

You can convert to Judaism (the religion) and be called a Jew or a Jewish person, but you cannot convert to be Ashkenazi or Sephardi, or Mizrachi. You still have the culture and ethnicity of your birth.

I know of one friend of mine who did this; became Uber Jew. Eventually, I complained. Even if they became ultra-orthodox or found out they had a Rabbi for a grandfather they would never be as Jewish in the way as a born Jew, nor be from a particular group such as Ashkenazi or Sephardic. They did not grow up Jewish in a non-Jewish world. They grew up in a religion that was quite dominant in their world. So they did not feel like an outsider. It was not the culture of their parents  They did not suffer anti-Semitism. Their parents did not have to protect them from this. They did not hold their parent’s hopes that they would ‘marry in’. They did not feel obliged to keep the faith or chose to lose the faith. They chose to become something as an adult. They moved from one place to another. This friend is fully entitled to do that and I treat them as a Jew, but they can also move back, of course, while a born Jew can never stop being Jewish, even if they do not believe in Judaism.

A convert to Judaism, can be more religious, but cannot be more Jewish than a born Jew, even one eating a prawn sandwich on Yom Kippur, who doesn’t do Judaism, the religion. No amount of throwing around Yiddish expressions in a pastiche of being Jewish will change that. You know what everyone is thinking when they find out your parents were Episcopalian or Catholic or whatever. I can’t help that, but I know that.

So how much can you change yourself?

I ask this with the trans- gender debate going on. I think if you want to change your gender and you are over 18, that is your choice. If you feel like that who am I, or anyone else, to argue otherwise? But, and there is a very large but, you need to accept that you will never be as like the other gender as the people born of that gender. Even the lapsed ones!

If you are born female you will always be more female than a trans female. Even if you dress in very butch clothes, have cropped hair and look like a man, you have all the body of a female. A trans woman has not gone through the same adolescence, sexual maturation and fertility maturation as a born woman. You just have to accept that. A trans woman will never know what a period pain is, the worries and anxieties about having a period (or not) or the pain (or joys) of childbirth. A trans woman will never have the fears of ovarian or cervical cancer nor the undignified medical checks. A trans woman has not had the same expectations from her parents as a born woman.

What you want and what is do not always concur.

So born women may feel differently about their bodies as they were born with them rather than chose them.  They may have hated being given dolls and dressed in pink, but even in black jeans and train sets they are female. Their childhoods, while individual, will have had things in common that are different to trans women and to try to diminish that is insulting to women, just as the dreadlocked white man will never really know what it is like to be of African or Caribbean origin.

Trans women often feel more comfortable with other trans women. Why is that? Are all born women uncomfortable with them or are born women not sure about this ‘Uber female’ one that out-females them and is often more ‘feminine’ than any born female, but has not had the bodily experience, the fears and anxieties of born women. To deny the born women’s experience is an insult to born women.

If you are a female transitioning to male you too will not become able to be a fertile male, You cannot pretend otherwise. You cannot have gone through some of the passages that most born males have gone through. You have not gone through the expectations of parents for that gender, right or wrong.

So while I completely accept that people may want to change their gender, they need to respect the people who were born that gender as being of that gender in a way that they can never be.

I am a Londoner. I cannot change that even if I live somewhere else. I can become for example French by changing my nationality, but not Parisian or Marseille, and I can never even be French in the same way that a person born in France and going through a French school and family is. My memories of childhood are different. I have to accept that too. There are times I would love to be something else and perhaps I can become that. But I cannot change my past nor invalidate the past of others who I wish to emulate. I cannot be more like them then them.

I want solar and other climate change issues!



You are reading a weblog right now, so a mobile phone is likely to be close to hand. That phone is probably the size of a small envelope. That phone makes calls, telephone calls, quite an old fashioned idea. It also sends text messages, receives and sends email; emails that you have written on it. It connects you to the internet. It can store music and play it to you. It can play films. It can take photographs and store them. It has a diary, a calculator, an alarm, a clock, a date time, ways of notifying you and countless silly apps. It also contains a battery that lasts about 2 days or more on a 2 hour charge.

I want solar. I want solar the size of your mobile phone. I want a panel that size that captures photons of light for electricity. I want a battery the size of your phone that stores about 24 hours worth of domestic electricity (I could buy two if they are small enough and cheap enough!). That is all I need it to do. Not phone anyone. Not take their picture. Not play a game or video. Just capture photons of light and make electricity. Simples!

Can someone fix that for me/us please?

Killing God

What happened in Paris on Friday night?

What do the gun men think they were doing?


Each and every one of us is in the image and likeness of God.

That is every human since the beginning.

Not just one group of humans.

Every human.

Every time you kill one of us you kill the God in us.

That is blasphemy.

How do you think God feels about that?

How do you think God is going to reward the destruction of creation?

In the name of God?   Really?

Let us bow our heads in shame.

Ben Rivers- Camden Art Centre

If you can get to Camden Art Centre in London go!

The current exhibition is by Ben RIvers. I did not know his work until I went to this show. There are videos and a curated room. They are wonderful. Just sit and enjoy. There are so many layers to them and they are a pleasure to watch. They have a resonance with all our lives. They are particular yet universal. Really, really worth seeing. Like an oasis in a desert.


Ai WeiWei at the RA

The blockbuster that is the artist Ai Wei Wei is in London at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. The show opened a while ago, but due to Frieze London being on, there was a chance to see it without the crowds one evening, so I took that chance.

I had liked the ceramic sunflower seeds at Tate Modern a few years back so I was interested to see this show.

Image result for ai weiwei

Tate Modern Ai WeiWei

Ai Wei Wei’s work is monumental. There are a few small pieces, but I think the scale of each of the pieces in this show is, generally, too big. I am not a monumental art fan. It has connotations I don’t like. Most of these pieces I thought would be better smaller, quieter. Then we could see the art because when work is on the monumental scale it can become documentary, memorial and historical centrepiece.

Image result for ai weiwei

A lot of it is quite literal.

The carpet of metal representing maps of China I found lovely, but I am not sure that is the intention, to be lovely, as the work is made from the rods retrieved after the earthquake where 20 schools capsized in 2008 and thousands of children died. The names of the children are on the wall in a long placard of remembrance; lives, potentials erased. But the work is quite brutalist. I thought about the studio workers having to collect the metal and straighten it, and wondered how they felt.

The bicycle chandelier was very literal and rather kitsch. The wall papers I thought were a bit childish. I could not find a lot to love. I found the fact that many temples had been destroyed and he had rescued the wood and reused it good. I liked the first room of wooden structures and some of the cubes, but in the end, monumental as it was, political as it was,  I found the show quite thin.




Frieze, London 2015.

Frieze is on, Frieze is on!

I love art fairs where you can see so much in one space. But you need energy!

This year, the opening day (Tuesday 13th Oct) seemed lighter and less crowded. And the place seemed nicer somehow. And the displays seemed airy and spacious.

So much great art (and of course some loud, shouty nonsense) so how to sum up?

Well, there really was an Agnes Martin painting there. I couldn’t believe I could see one so close outside a museum. There was also, like me, part of a family in raptures in front of it (and part of the family not getting it). But more remarkably, on another stand were 17 ‘drawings’ of hers- totally fabulous. Apparently, they are ‘reserved’ for a museum. A bargain.

In the main Frieze, Anthony Reynolds Gallery is showing Paul Graham. Some exquisite and poignant moments captured. Still relevant.

Paul Graham

Ana Lupas– who knew? At P420 Gallery. A Romanian artist, these works are from the 1960s. They are remarkable, beautiful, poignant and political.  I am  new fan. She is a performance artist. Wonderful works.

Image result for ana lupas artist

Ana Lupas

Fernanda Gomes is being shown at Alison Jaques as well as a South American gallery. Very bare; very minimal (very expensive!). Loved it. Wanted some!

Fernanda Gomes

In fact, South American art seems to be way ahead in general. Some lovely works from the 1970s onwards they are finally getting on the art world map. Of course, not all of it is great, but so much is, and so much of the great art in South America is by women. Now there’s a thing.

The Hauser and Wirth stand is superb in the main Frieze tent.

Sarah Lucas at Sadie Coles.

To coincide there have been other events including Jimmie Durham at the Serpentine. Some other openings too; some of very thin work with no truth to it and some that seem to have plagiarised other people’s work. Really bad.

But the main Frieze tent and the Master’s tent have some beautiful works and some wonderful displays.

All of this great art and human enterprise in one place.

Fabulous. Exhausting. Exhilarating. About the best year of Frieze.

If in town, do go see.