Anka Sliwa’s image of a man walking past Ben Slow‘s striking wall painting ‘Screaming Faces’ in London’s Hanbury Street was a worthy winner of our First Shot category in TPOTY 2012. But what’s the story of this particular piece of street art? The artist puts us in the picture…
With my latest street piece, I returned to the wall on Hanbury street which I first painted around this time back in 2010. That piece was one of the first ‘proper’ street pieces I ever painted. It was of a Bengali mother and child and was chosen to relate to the local Bengali community who thankfully embraced the piece. I felt that with this next piece, I wanted to challenge people (and myself) a little more.
This time I wanted to deal with something at the complete opposite end of the spectrum but still very much related to the local community. I had a very clear idea of what this piece was meant to represent when I started it, and to be honest, I thought it would be very obvious from the outset. However, I was shocked (and also delighted) with the variety of responses and reactions I received.
My idea behind the painting was to show two characters as different sides of the same evil. On the left you have a portrait of a member of the EDL (The English Defence League) and on the other, that of an Islamic extremist. I have been very interested by such characters for a while. As a portrait painter I found them interesting in terms of the expressions and shapes, but as a human being, I always struggle with the stories behind such portraits and the fact that they are captured out of such hatred and contempt for another human being.
My point is simply that these two people represent the same thing – that of intolerance, racism and hatred. A very unfortunate but very real side of society that has become far too apparent of late. They see those who do not conform to their views as the enemy, and they preach hatred. They project themselves as different from the other but to the majority of people they represent the exact same thing.
I thought I would have trouble getting this painting done. I think it would be fair to say that I
under-estimated the tolerance of people. Except for a couple of snide comments, I received nothing but positive responses. The majority of people completely understood what I was trying to say and backed what I was doing. Most people, whatever ethnicity or nationality they may be, have no time for the types of people I was painting and I cannot tell you how happy it made me to hear this. The beautiful thing is that that these extreme individuals are a minority and long may it stay that way!
As with the majority of my street work now, it is important for me to say something with what I am painting, be that representing someone I admire or appreciate, or in this case highlighting a particular point. As much as I am a painter, I am also a massive fan of street art, but I feel that not enough artists are using their privileged platform to full effect. I am all for stuff that looks great and is aesthetically pleasing, but for me it is also important to say something once in a while, get people thinking rather than simply admiring the beauty of something.
Other examples of Ben’s work appear below, and you can see even more – and learn more about this artist – at www.slowbenart.com
C.A.L.M. is a charity set up to help tackle the issue of suicide amongst men in the UK.
The campaign against living miserably (CALM) was set up to help reduce the high suicide rate amongst men under 35, currently the single biggest killer of young men in the UK.
Men are three times more at risk of suicide than young women – in 2010 75% of suicides were men. But while smoking and knife crime make the headlines, suicide is the biggest killer. I was instantly attracted to the charity due to my own issues with mental health and I am very keen to do whatever I can to help highlight the issue of mental health.Here you have the very honest, dead eyes juxtaposed with the inner pain. Here it is physically expressed, though unfortunately most people do not feel comfortable enough to express such feelings. It is mostly kept pent up inside. If it comes out at all then it is in private.
Ruth First was a journalist, academic and a gifted and dedicated political activist. She authored several books including “117 days,” the account of her imprisonment under apartheid’s 90 day law, and “The Barrel of a Gun,” her book about coups in Africa. She also edited a number of books, including Nelson Mandela’s “No Easy Walk to Freedom.” She was married to Joe Slovo who became the Housing Minister in Mandela’s government. On 17 August 1982, Ruth First was murdered by order of Craig Williamson, a major in the South African Police, when she opened a letter bomb made by Jerry Raven and sent to her university. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee granted amnesty to both Williamson and Raven. I painted this large mural of Ruth First in Nomzamo Park informal settlement in Orlando East, Soweto. Starting on National Heritage day, the 12 foot tall painting was completed in five days using ink and brush and spray paint.
Gillian Slovo, novellist and playwright and Ruth First’s daughter, when asked for her comment about the painting replied: “How wonderful that this painting of Ruth, based on a photo which was her mother’s favourite, should be there amongst a community she cared so deeply about.” Beauty Mlakalaka the owner of the small house on which the painting appears said “I think it is beautiful. Also people must know who this person was and what she did.”