The three images above were my visual response to the news of the massacre of potentially 2000 in Baga, Nigeria.
The issue of freedom of expression has been in the news a great deal over the last fortnight and in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders. This brutality has received a great deal of attention, suggesting that ‘freedom of expression’ overshadows all other important issues of the day – such as why politicians who walk proudly in Paris arm in arm against terrorism appear to have done little to tackle the absolute crisis in Baga, Nigeria where 2,000 innocent civilians were reported to have been murdered. The conflict of having freedom of speech but also being slaves to the media; their interpretation of what is ‘news’ and what is ‘important’, raises huge issues for me. It leads me on to thinking about my own work and my own sense of entitlement to express. I have been thinking recently about how my upbringing, education and 37 years of being institutionalised in the world of western values and the modern educational structures have impacted on my own identity as an artist; consciously and subconsciously. In being lectured recently on Feminist and Multicultural art, I am struck by the feeling that my practice embodies an overwhelming sense of duty. Why am I not pushing the boundaries? Why am I not using my art as a platform from which to preach my views, objections, politics? That it is relevant in the title of my blog being about Emma, the artist, being a caged bird? A reaction to perceived self-censorship and oppression, whilst I acknowledge that I am also amongst the small number in the global community who has relatively enormous freedom. These things have been haunting me somewhat over the last few weeks. In addition to this I have 16 years under my belt in education; teaching a series of coded messages about how Art is marked and assessed; what gives a piece value and what must be included. Gradually, on whatever conscious or subconscious level, I have adopted some of this and brought it into my own work. In the same way, a lecturer in my first year on my BA course once stated ‘If you want to become a famous artist, you must find a hole in the market and fill it.’ I so objected to this at the time, feeling demoralised by this soulless and calculating vision in seeking fame and riches at the cost of personal growth and expression. Yet it stuck with me. I still recount rejecting this as a notion and yet it embedded into my understanding of the way things are.
In 2015 my ambition as an artist is to speak truthfully through my work – otherwise my voice is in any case a construct. That does not rule out the option to do simply whatever I am inspired to do at the time. However, it requires me to loosen the reigns, to explore the parameters, to paint whilst being fully involved in the moment, and to ignore the voices which tell me that I am somehow letting people down by not meeting some illogical set of political, social or physical criteria. I don’t need to make work to please people, to move people, to send waves of shock and horror out. I don’t need to objectify, to analyse, to oppose anything. I don’t need to mentally be marking my work by GCSE standards or to worry that my students might think my abstract painting is underwhelming. The fact is that these burdens of responsibility are self-imposed. They do not exist in reality. Yes, I could respond to the things I hate in the world and make them the subject of my art. Yes, I could wear my Feminist banner around my neck as I paint with an intense passion for finding my own way to express the need for equality. Yes, I could. I could.
But I don’t need to.
My paintings are about freedom. They are MY freedom. My expression. Why am I worrying about harnessing the power to make a difference in the world, or being arrogant enough to assume that my work changes lives in any profound way. I need space and clarity. I need time to strip this practice back to its core and recognise that underneath all of the clutter piled on top of me since my own school days, there is an Artist who needs to let it all go.