Artist as Activist

What a nice night for a ramble. Balmy. Full moon too. A full moon is said to be a good time to plant a seed, something to do with tides. Two weeks ago at the APAC conference ( thanks Jo Mangan) a seed was planted in my head listening to the brilliant Icelandic poet/politician Birgitta Jonsdottir. She gave a speech entitled Artist as Activist. She spoke about how the people of Iceland, artists included, acted in defence of the people of Iceland after the financial crises there. A mere poet, now one of the countries leading politicians, or a poetician as she prefers to be called. She spoke about Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning and the importance of whistleblowers.

A seed was also planted in my head 2 years ago when I went on the boat to Wales with Donal O’Kelly, Sorcha Fox Andy Storey and a few others to act, as artists, in solidarity with whistleblower Chelsea Manning whose grandfather was from Rathmines and who blew the whistle on US military war crimes in Iraq. The Manning TruthFest was there in solidarity with Chelsea’s Welsh/Irish family. As we see the financial crisis play out in Greece you wonder if the activists there will be as successful as Iceland. Its the same struggle.

What opportunity is there in Greece for an artist now? In Ireland too there are artists/activists beginning to take on the might of of the financial terrorists and war mongering elite who will stifle any sign of art and life if they are left unchallenged. I saw many of them in Sligo at APAC. I’ve been working with many of them for the last 6 months to put PalFest together.

PalFest challenges the cruel genocidal regime enforced on Palestinian people, it blows the whistle on the extraordinary collective punishment inflicted on the whole nation there, artists included. No artist in Palestine can dance, sing, paint or act in those circumstances. So we must do that for them. In solidarity until they can do that freely themselves. Next week you can join in if you so wish. All these things are not unconnected.

The taxpayers money is being sucked against the tide into busted banks and massive war machines that inflict these daily miseries on whole nations like Greece/Palestine/Iceland/Ireland instead of flowing into the arts or hospitals or education or anything useful or life-giving. The people of all these countries are suffering through various degrees of this same system, some countries (Palestine) disturbingly more than others.

We can all challenge that system, as artists, as people, as whatever and in whatever way we can. And the time to do it is now. Swim with the tide. Act in solidarity and act in defiance of the life sucking system that would have us slaves to the anti-life, art-hating, money hungry so called elite. Anyway, that’s my rambling over with. But if you’re out for a ramble yourself, nows a good time to plant a seed.

– Andy Cummins, PalFest Ireland

2nd July 2015

Gaza. Guernika. Sandymount.

51 days. It went on for 51 days. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza that started on 8th July last year, killing 2200 Palestinians, including 556 children.

We kept thinking it would stop. It didn’t. We kept thinking even the US has to intervene now, the EU, the UN, even Tony Blair can’t sit on his hands while this organised murder goes on.

The world saw the four nine-to-ten-year-old Bakr cousins cut down with clinical impunity on Gaza beach, as if being on the beach is a seditious act. The world saw it because it happened within sight of an international journalists’ hotel. The status of humanity is reduced by silence in the face of armed fundamentalism like this.

Our silence is taken as consent. We are reduced to complicity unless we resist the brutality in whatever way we can. The people of Gaza have nowhere to go, they are penned in, live targets, growing up in imposed fear from the moment they are born. That they are still there, a part of Palestine, after a lifetime of relentless oppression, is a testament to the very best qualities in human nature.

As we witnessed Gaza, Picasso witnessed Guernica. He protested through art. We, to use murdered US peace activist Rachel Corrie’s words, can’t paint like Picasso. But we can create art. We can create theatre. We can create music. We can create an artistic challenge to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and to the methods used to impose it.

We are Irish Artists in Support of Palestine, a group that came together in shock last year during the bombardment of Gaza. We marched, banging pots and spoons in rhythm, to symbolize the denial by Israel of the basic tools of life for the people of Gaza. We put together a concert in Liberty Hall.

Now, one year later, we have organized PalFest Ireland 8-11 July, an arts festival of more than fifty events over all artforms, involving more than 300 artists, in Dublin and nationwide. We are many, and we are not going away.

PalFest Ireland will open with an art installation on Sandymount Strand on the morning of Wednesday 8th July. NO MORE – Dublin Remembers The Children Of Gaza is composed of 556 white infant vests, upright in sand, representing the number of Palestinian children killed by the Israeli onslaught a year ago. Irish parents have donated their own hand-me-down baby vests, so that the event is a declaration from Ireland to the people of Palestine, and especially Gaza at this moment – we are with you, we remember.

In Joyce’s Ulysses Stephen Dedalus muses, after his failure to respond to his paymaster Deasy’s anti-Jewish aggression, “am I walking into Eternity along Sandymount Strand?” The four Bakr cousins ran into Eternity on Gaza Beach a year ago, in the form of an Israeli gunboat rocket attack. They will not be forgotten. We will respond to racist aggression through art.

At the end of PalFest Ireland, after more than fifty events, we will return to Sandymount Strand, at 10.30am on Saturday 11th July, and turn it from a place of death and lament into a place of life and play with a fun football match, with kites, facepainting, dabke dancing, paperboat-making and clowns, asserting, in the face of an awful power that would have it otherwise – this is what a beach is for, sir. Life. Not Death.

Donal O’Kelly, PalFest Ireland

1st July 2015

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