Jongens

This Dutch film portrays the vulnerability displayed by some teens when they realise that their sense of self is at odds with the norms of society.  In this case, two boys in an elite athletics team are attracted to each other.  For Marc this is no cause for concern; his sense of self is secure and he does not waste time worrying about the opinions of others.  For Sieger, though, his growing feelings for another boy are a source of anxiety.  While he is happy to be alone with Marc, his treatment of him changes when others are around.

Sieger already feels he is the glue keeping his family together; his father and older brother argue and fight and they all feel the loss of his mother, killed in a car accident.  Sieger is the sensible one they rely on not to rock the boat.  With his brother causing his father problems, there is little space to open up about his own feelings.

Training for a big race means the boys spend more time together and they relax in Marc’s company.  Yet the expectations of others intrude and when his friend needs a double date with two girls, Sieger plays along.BlogJongens

As with many films about coming out and emerging sexuality, Sieger reaches a point where he has to make a choice about what he wants and who he wants to please.

The film is built around the performance from Gijs Blom, his acting is conveyed more through look and reaction than dialogue but he captures the poignancy of youth struggling to see how his identity fits with the world.

‘Jongens’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Belgrave Square Sculpture

The search for interesting sculpture continues.  What struck me on my most recent trip to London was that I have trod these streets before and must have missed works of art that are proudly on show for the public, maybe my head was down.

I have passed around Belgrave Square several times over the years and missed ‘Homage to Leonardo’ by Enzo Plazzotta. To put this right, I headed over to search it out.  It dates back to 1984 and is a representation of the famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.  As the gardens are private the only view available is from the front.

The statue is also known as ‘Vitruvian Man’.  The statue was completed posthumously by Mark Holloway.

Also of note is the statue of Christopher Columbus.  This work of art overlooks the Spanish Embassy on the Square.  It was erected in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his voyage to the Americas.  It is the work of Tomas Bañuelos.

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Walking through London in search of sculpture is a particular pleasure.  It is im my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Rolling Stone

This powerful play by Chris Urch is my theatrical highlight of the year to date.  Dembe is a Ugandan youth, full of energy and life.  He is also gay in a country where admitting this would be harmful.  His relationship with Sam is going well but it is a secret.  Not that Dembe is ashamed, he isn’t. He is quite at ease with his sexuality. He just knows that to remain safe he must remain cautious.

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Dembe’s brother is a minister in the church who tells his congregation to avoid the sin of homosexuality.  With his sister, Dembe is a loyal member of the church but he does not see his faith as a barrier to a relationship with another man.  Sam is from Northern Ireland.  His sense of self has been forged in another country and another culture.  He may be out of step with the Ugandan view of same sex relationships but he feels a strong bond to the country through his family history.

Fiston Barek is affecting as young Dembe and Sule Rimi is mesmerising as his religious brother who, in trying to do the right thing for his congregation, finds himself a conflicted man.

The play’s title comes from a Ugandan newspaper of the same name which published the names and addresses of people it believed to be gay.  As we see with this play, you do not need to be gay to be given the label by those who intend to police the boundaries of ordinariness.  It is a depressing starting point from which to write an important play but the play itself as acted by this troupe of actors is anything but depressing.  The exuberance of young Dembe, despite the hostile climate, gives us hope.

Korean War Memorial

Now, I have walked along the Embankment many, many times and I have walked through the Embankment Gardens many, many times but it was only recently that I saw (or noticed) the memorial to soldiers who served in the Korean War.

I read an A Level textbook last year about the Korean War and wondered where in this country the soldiers had been honoured.  The enquiry was timely as it was only in late 2014 that the statue of a soldier was unveiled in the Whitehall Gardens on the Embankment between the Ministry of Defence and the River Thames.

The memorial is made up of a bronze soldier standing on a slate base before an obelisk of Portland stone.  Sculptor Philip Jackson, he of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Parliament Square as well as the Raoul Wallenberg memorial near Marble Arch in London, is the artist responsible.

As I was in London, I headed off to find it and was pleased to see that there was a patch of earth dedicated to the people who found themselves in a conflict so soon after the end of the Second World War.

On Their Own: Britain’s Child Migrants

This exhibition in London at the V and A’s Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green was a poignant reminder of how good intentions can go wrong.  Between 1869 and 1970 about 100,000 British children were sent to countries of the Empire (and later Commonwealth) as part of migration schemes run by religious groups and other charities.

The offer of a better life overseas was an appealing one for some, but the truth is that not all children were given a choice and not all parents knew what had happened to their children.  As a result, families that could have been reunited were not and a lot of pain that could have been avoided was not.

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Working through the exhibits here, photographs and letters being the most affecting, I was struck by the appeal of the message.  Who would not have wanted to give the poorest and most desperate children a better life?  The countries of the Empire, particularly Canada and Australia needed people.  The combination of needy children and countries in need of a workforce proved too powerful to resist.  Governments supported these schemes.

However, as the schemes developed it seemed that protecting organisations became of higher importance than protecting people, as often happens.  There is evidence here that church leaders did their best to obstruct parents and children finding out information that would have helped them get back together.  Decisions made at the point of highest desperation could have been undone when circumstances improved other than this may have brought the scheme into doubt or, worse, allowed stories of mistreatment to escape.

Behind the scheme were stories of farmers who wanted servants and farm hands, not new family members.  Mistreatment of children was rife and the children were powerless in a church run, government backed system.

This was a powerful exhibition.  The photographs, always of smiling children looking optimistic about the journey they were about to take, did not match the content of many the letters.

‘On their Own’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Hyde Park Sculpture

In London and walking across Hyde Park on the hunt for three particular works of art. Two were located on the South Carriage Drive and one in the park on the Park Lane side. It was a somewhat gloomy day.  The park was practically empty when I walked through so I had sculptures to myself even if the photographs are dull.

The work of art entitled ‘The Rush of Green’ is also confusingly sometimes known as ‘the Pan sculpture’.  It is at the Edinburgh Gate is by Jacob Epstein.  It was erected in 1961 and depicts in bronze a family and their dog rushing towards the park.  The figure of Pan is there playing the pipes to encourage them onwards.  The confusion comes from the fact that, not so far away, lies the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.

Nearby is the sculpture ‘The Search for Enlightenment’ by Simon Gudgeon in front of a development called One Hyde Park.  This dates back to 2011 and like its near neighbour the work looks over towards the park, although the two heads look skywards rather than at any park activity.

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The third work on this walk was back up towards Park Lane.  ‘The Joy of Life’ is actually a fountain but there was no water in this feature when I walked by.  It shows two people in bronze, dancing with four children, also in bronze, dancing around the edge.  It is another work from the 60s.  T. B. Huxley-Jones created it in 1963.

Discovering London’s public sculpture is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Artist and Empire

In London so I went to see the exhibition at Tate Britain about artists and the British Empire.  The progress and decline of the Empire has been an interest of mine since boyhood.  Rather, I should say that the growth of the British Empire was what I was taught about in school in London in the 60s.  In fact, the glories of British history in relation to the Empire were still being taught when the decline was well under way at that stage.

In any case, the exhibition was fascinating as it demonstrated the way Britain used art to construct an image of itself as a benign ruler of the world while being influenced by the artistic traditions of the countries it conquered.  This two way street meant that the exotic entered Britain while the British flag went to far flung places.

It is probably due to my British education that most of the significant events portrayed by the artworks here were known to me: General Wolfe dying in Quebec as we defeated the French?  I knew about that; the British bravely fighting off the Zulus?  Yes; the British East India Company bringing civilisation to India?  Of course; The death of brave General Gordon in Sudan?  That too!

There were stories that did not fit the great narrative I learned in London all those years ago.  The story of Duleep Singh I only came across much later in life. How he was taken away from his mother as a young boy and brought up in the arms of the British in England, practically a prisoner, was not a story of bravery and derring- do.  It is fascinating to learn, too, that there is little evidence that General Gordon faced his killers with stoicism at the top of steps but this is the image that resonated when I was a boy and it comes from the famous painting by George William Joy.  The Victorians knew how to sell an image.

This exhibition not only sent me back to the classrooms of my youth but made me reflect on the way the years since changed my view on this history.