Socialist Worker

'Movement today so much bigger'

Issue No. 1877

ARTISTS AGAINST the War has attracted wide numbers of talented artists, writers and performers.

One of its most popular members is Leon Kuhn. He spoke to Socialist Worker about how the anti-war movement has inspired artists.

'I HAVE been a political cartoonist and artist since I was 13, when I won a Sunday Observer cartoon competition.

Through the 1970s and 1980s I was associated with lots of left wing campaigns, like the anti-apartheid movement and the Anti Nazi League, and left wing publications, like the Leveller, the New Statesman and John Pilger's News on Sunday.

I developed a technique of producing images by using a photocopier and moving the image as the beam passes over it, giving a distorted effect. By putting thousands of pieces of paper together in this way I created new images. All of them were directly political, not abstract.

I was experimenting with computer graphics when the Afghan war broke out and everything seemed to come together. I had been involved in an Artists Against the War group during the first Gulf War in 1991. The group seemed quite big at the time.

But the movement today is so much bigger.

One of the first images I produced for the anti-war movement was the image of Bush as a dog with Blair in tow, which seemed to hit a nerve, and not just in Britain.

People downloaded it and stuck it on placards. Someone showed me a copy of the San Francisco Examiner and it showed people on a demo carrying placards with my image on them. Then I had an e-mail from someone in Bangladesh asking for permission to reproduce the image there. It was stuck on rickshaws across Dhaka, with the caption in Bengali. And it was reproduced in Danish.

But when I showed a postcard to a woman who runs a political postcard distribution network she said no one would want to buy them. I was so fed up. I knew people at the Artists Against the War meetings really liked the cards. So on the next big anti-war demo, out of frustration, I blew the image on the card up really big and carried it as a placard. People from Artists Against the War helped me sell the cards as we left Hyde Park.

People were queuing up to buy cards. I left home with 1,500 cards and had sold out by the time the demo reached Regent Street.

I have found a way for artists to go directly to their audience. I want to encourage others to do the same thing.

For most artists, the be-all and end-all is to have an exhibition in a gallery, with massive advertising for the show.

But the way I manage to get to my audience gives me much more satisfaction. I sell to trade unionists and campaigners and to people who might never wander through an art gallery.

And, of course, it is a great way to raise money for the anti-war movement. On one demo alone we raised £600.

At the end of one demo, I was carrying the 'Mad dogs and Englishmen' image as a placard down Park Lane. This group of about 15 or so young Muslims waiting for their coach started laughing, clapping and cheering me.

That's what it really means to connect with your audience.'

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Article information

Sat 15 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1877
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