Socialist Worker

Art and culture for 2005

2004 has seen the flowering of anti-war and political art and film. This is set to continue over the next 12 months. Socialist Worker highlights some of the artistic treats we have to look forward to.

Issue No. 1932


Vera Drake
Out on 7 January

This latest movie from British director Mike Leigh is set in north London in the 1950s. It is the story of Vera, a cleaner, mother and housewife, who induces abortions for young women.

After one of them gets seriously ill, a police investigation threatens not only to destroy Vera but her entire family.

Imelda Staunton is absolutely astonishing as Vera. The film clearly shows the difference between rich women who were able to buy relatively safe abortions in private clinics, and working class families losing mothers and daughters because of abortion’s illegality

Berit Kuennecke

La Nina Santa
Out on 4 February

This new Latin American film is a sharp critique of the role of the Catholic church in Argentinian society.

La Nina Santa follows young girls Amalia and Josefina as they try to navigate through a world of sexuality, passion and perversion – a world that is fast revealing itself to them. The moral code of the church hangs heavily over them.

This is a tale of the subtleties of human relations and the adaptations of desire against the dogma of the church and hypocrisy of middle class society. It is also very funny.

Rose Gruber

Out on 6 June

One of African cinema’s founding fathers, 81 year old Ousmane Sembene, has directed a new film about the practice of female circumcision.

The action is set in a small African village where four young girls are facing ritual “purification”. They flee to the household of Colle Ardo Gallo Sy, a strong willed woman who has managed to shield her own teenage daughter.

Colle invokes the time honoured custom of moolaade (sanctuary) to protect the fugitives. The ensuing standoff pits Colle against village traditionalists (both male and female). Though the subject matter might seem weighty, this buoyant film is anything but.


Wobblies! A Graphic History
Out in April

This new book is a vibrant history in graphic art of the Wobblies, the radical US union the Industrial Workers of the World. It is published to celebrate 100 years since the founding of the Wobblies.

There are stories of the hard rock miners’ shooting wars, young Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (the “Rebel Girl” of contemporary sheet music), the first sit-down strikes and free speech fights, Emma Goldman and the struggle for access to birth control, and the Pageant for Paterson orchestrated in Madison Square Garden.

There are bohemian radicals John Reed and Louise Bryant, field-hand revolts and lumber workers’ strikes, wartime witch-hunts, government prosecutions and mob lynching, Mexican-American uprisings in Baja, and Mexican peasant revolts led by Wobblies, hilarious and sentimental songs created and later revived – and much, much more.

The IWW, which has been organising workers since 1905, is often cited yet elusive to scholars because of its eclectic and controversial cultural and social character. Wobblies! presents the IWW whole, scripted and drawn by old time and younger Wobbly and IWW-inspired artists.

Mark Thomas

Planet of Slums
Mike Davis
Out in June

More than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South of the world. In this brilliant and ambitious book US socialist Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world.

From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanisation has been disconnected from industrialisation, even economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shanty towns and exiled from the formal world economy.

He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly original development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or neo-liberal theory.

Are the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, volcanoes waiting to erupt? Davis provides the first global overview of the diverse religious, ethnic and political movements competing for the souls of the new urban poor.

He surveys Hindu fundamentalism in Bombay, the Islamist resistance in Casablanca and Cairo, street gangs in Cape Town and San Salvador, Pentecostalism in Kinshasa and Rio de Janeiro, and revolutionary populism in Caracas and La Paz.

Planet of Slums ends with a provocative meditation on the “war on terrorism” as an incipient world war between the American empire and the slum poor.

21st Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind
Steven Rose
Out in March

The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Learning how it works, the relationship between mind and brain, is one of the most fundamental and important of scientific questions, and neurobiology one of the fastest growing research areas.

Brain researchers now claim to be able to explain the roots of human personality and behaviour, of language and even of consciousness itself.

But just how far have the neurosciences come in their claims to be able to understand mind and brain? How seriously should we take these new threats and promises?

These are the issues that Steven Rose, one of Britain’s leading neuroscientists and author of the prizewinning The Making of Memory, tackles in his major new book.

The past, Rose argues, is the key to the present. So understanding the human brain requires that we explore the evolutionary route by which brains emerged, from the origin of life to today’s complex societies.

Because the child is parent to the adult, we need to understand how brains develop from a single fertilised egg to the hundred billion nerve cells and hundred trillion connections between them that each human possesses.

The Great War For Civilisation – The Conquest of the Middle East
Robert Fisk
Out in May

Journalist Robert Fisk has been based in the Middle East for the last 25 years, reporting from the world’s worst troublespots. This is his first-person account of 50 years of bloodshed and tragedy in the area, from the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians to the shock and awe of the current war against Iraq.

Fisk tells the story of the growing hatred of the West by millions of Muslims, the West’s cynical support for the Middle East’s most ruthless dictators and America’s ever more powerful military presence in the world’s most dangerous lands, as well as its uncritical, unconditional support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.


New releases show a burning talent

Next year sees debut album releases from the new bands who have been giving a new vitality to British rock music in the last year.

The Others’ eponymous debut album is set for release on 31 January. Lead singer Dominic Masters’ upfront, class conscious lyrics in songs like “This is For the Poor” and new single “Lackey” have already built them a ferociously loyal fanbase.

Their live shows have become legendary, including “guerrilla gigs” on a tube train, in the BBC’s foyer and at the Abbey Road crossroads.

Bloc Party’s album Silent Alarm is due out in February. The band have been strong supporters of Love Music Hate Racism, and charismatic frontman Kele Okereke has led the band through some storming summer festival appearances.

Debut albums are also expected in 2005 from Art Brut, Special Needs, The Rakes, and many other bands who have led the NME to declare that “London’s burning”.

But the new album from the London rock scene that will create most interest will be from Babyshambles, former Libertines frontman Peter Doherty’s new group.

Already making a name for themselves as a great band in their own right, rather than just a side project, they are writing new songs at a rate of knots. Much of their material finds its way onto the internet, so music fans can get a preview before the album’s release.

Campaigning US metal band System Of A Down’s new album Hypnotize is out at the end of February. They have worked with Michael Moore and have been vocal in their opposition to George Bush.

Political American punk-folk artist Ani DiFranco’s album Knuckledown is set for release at the end of January.

People Get Ready: Protest Songs From the Atlantic and Warner Jazz Vaults is released on 24 January. The compilation features Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, Terry Callier, Marion Williams, Max Roach and a host of others.

Radiohead are recording their follow-up to Hail to the Thief, which should be out later in the year. A new album is expected from radicalised rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The Pixies are rumoured to be recording again after their successful reunion tour earlier this year.

The Tears, former Suede members Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson’s new project, have an eagerly anticipated album due out around April.

Phil Whaite

Michael Tippett centenary

The works of composer Michael Tippett will be heard in concert halls around the country in 2005, to mark the centenary of his birth. Tippett developed musically and politically in the left wing culture of the 1930s.

He joined the Camden Town branch of the Communist Party but left after them months, having failed to convert them to Trotskyism. In the following years he was involved with British Trotskyists.

Eventually he drifted from the Trotskyist movement, joining the Peace Pledge Union, although at the age of 74 was heard to say, “Trotsky had the truth of it.”

Tippett’s determination to make a major musical statement of his political and ethical positions, together with the pace of events in mainland Europe resulted in his most famous work, A Child of Our Time.

He began writing it the day the Second World War started. The child of the title is Herschel Grynspan, a teenager who shot a Nazi official in 1938, which then triggered the Kristallnacht pogrom against the Jews in Germany.

A Child of Our Time will be performed at the Barbican in London on 5 February, the Symphony Hall in Birmingham on 24 February and the Royal Festival Hall in London on 11 May.

Jane Trainer


Frida Kahlo
Tate Modern, London
9 June-2 October

This major exhibition of the work of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-54) is the first in Britain for over 20 years. It will include a substantial number of her iconic paintings, as well as photographs and drawings.

Kahlo, who was a socialist, lived and worked during a time of incredible social and cultural upheaval in Mexico. She is now regarded as one of the most influential and important artists of the 20th century.

Giovanni Anselmo
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
2 February-28 March

This will be the first solo exhibition in the UK by the legendary Italian artist Giovanni Anselmo. It will include pieces from the time he was associated with Arte Povera, the radical Italian cultural movement which emerged from the great revolt in Italy in the 1960s.

Andy Warhol Self Portraits
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
12 February-2 May

Warhol (1928-87) was one of the first artists to appropriate imagery from advertising and other expressions of consumer culture. His portraits of post-war celebrities from politics and show business, such as Mao Zedong and Marilyn Monroe have attained iconic status.

A decade and a half after his death, his impact on film, fashion, photography, advertising and, not least, painting, shows no sign of diminishing.

The Beautiful People: David Hancock
City Gallery, Leicester
22 January-5 March

David Hancock’s Beautiful People inhabit the margins of urban life, deeply involved in “alternative culture”. They challenge social conventions and create their own home environments.

Hancock’s panoramic, photo-realist paintings transport the viewer into three-dimensional environments saturated with colour and incident.

Caravaggio: The Final Years
National Gallery, London
23 February-22 May

Caravaggio (1571-1610) was at the height of his fame as the most original and powerful painter of his day when in May 1606 he killed a man in a duel. With a capital sentence on his head, he was forced to flee Rome, never to return.

During the remaining four years of his life, Caravaggio’s art underwent a dramatic transformation.

He continued to use intensely observed realism and dramatic lighting to endow his paintings with a compelling sense of actuality. However, the mood of the pictures became more introspective as he probed the human condition more acutely.

Royal Academy, London
22 January-12 April

This exhibition opens with a brief examination of the Uighurs, a nomadic pastoral people who first rose to prominence in the 7th century in Central Asia during the rise of the silk trade.

On show will be fragments of manuscripts, textiles and wall frescoes that reveal the development of the Turkic peoples and the multiplicity of religions practised.

The exhibition will also include material discovered in caves in the Turfan region of China at the beginning of the 20th century by the German researcher, Albert von LeCoq.


Ta main dans la mienne (Your hand in mine)
by Carol Rocamora, directed by Peter Brook
Barbican, London
26 January-5 February

In 1898 the Russian writer Anton Chekhov and actress Olga Knipper met and fell in love. For most of their relationship they remained separate. Chekhov travelled south for health reasons whilst Olga performed in his premieres at the Moscow Arts Theatre. Their love is conducted through letters.

Ta main dans la mienne is a theatrical adaptation of their correspondence. The 412 letters are filled with humour, longing and sadness, and are a fascinating insight into Chekhov’s first productions. It is in French with English subtitles.

by Chris O’Connell, directed by Liam Steel
Touring 22 February-May 7

The theatre group Frantic Assembly celebrates its tenth anniversary with a revival of the popular and spectacularly physical Hymns.

Four men reunite to mourn the loss of a close friend, but time and events have had a corrosive effect on this once tight-knit bunch. From beneath the surface bravura a brooding animosity emerges. Their struggle to deal with grief and guilt brings them to breaking point where an uncomfortable truth lies waiting.

The House of Bernada Alba
by Federico Garcia Lorca in a new English version by David Hare.
National Theatre, London
5 March-30 April

One of five unmarried daughters, the richest if least attractive of the bunch, is hastily betrothed. The youngest, burning with desire, begins a passionate, clandestine affair with her sister’s suitor. She’s spied upon by a jealous sibling, with devastating consequences.

Franco’s fascists murdered the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca on 18 August 1936, just two months after he finished his masterpiece of love, oppression and loathing.

Also look out for Blood Wedding, a new version of Lorca’s play by Tanya Ronder, from 6 May to 18 June at the Almeida Theatre in London.

A Minute Too Late
National Theatre, London
20 January-26 February

A Minute Too Late is a show about death. A comedy of mourning, it was the second piece the theatre company Complicite created, 21 years ago. This legendary piece of vaudeville is being brought back to life for a limited season.

The Permanent Way
by David Hare
Northampton Royal Theatre 25-29 January.
Warwick Arts Centre 1-5 February

In 1991, before an election they did not expect to win, the Tories privatised the railways. Now, 13 years later, we subsidise the industry more lavishly than ever before.

The playwright David Hare and actors from Out of Joint gathered together the first-hand accounts of those most intimately involved – from every level of the system.

Funny, tragic and compelling, their voices become an extraordinary parable of British mismanagement which raises questions about the recent history of the country.


Dance House, Cardiff Bay

The Dance group Diversions presents an exciting international triple-bill from late January onwards, including a production from Belgian choreographer Stijn Celis and the 21st new work from Diversions director Roy Campbell-Moore.

To celebrate Diversions’ 21st birthday and the opening of the Dance House at Wales Millennium Centre, Diversions will also pay tribute to their early history by reviving the popular 1989 production of Oakfield Ridge by American choreographer David Dorfman. Diversions are touring around Britain.

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Sat 18 Dec 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1932
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