by Niall Walker
Just over a year ago I was listening to Aaron Bastani at The World Transformed in Brighton talking about how robots were going to usher in Communism. I think. In truth I was a little inebriated, drunk on Corbyn-mania, a few too many cans of something or other and fresh sea breeze.
We’d just released our sixth issue, TOMORROW, about art which engaged in narratives of the future. We thought we’d covered it all: nuclear winters, the racialisation of emerging technologies, the urgency of climate activism. How wrong we were.
For it turned out that instead, society collapse was about to be triggered by a deadly virus, and Brighton would probably be the last memorable holiday I ever have.
Issue #7: SOLITUDE
At the start of the year, if you said 'pandemic' to most people it would conjure up images of bird masks, boils and 'X's on doors.
Yet COVID-19 has had social as well as biological symptoms. For many, it has meant living on the borders of trauma, trapped away from those we love. Lockdown has had an emotional impact, as isolation leads to anxiety, insecurity and long, repetitive periods of boredom.
We decided around June that our seventh issue would respond to this.
Solitude has turned out to be our biggest issue yet. In it, we wanted to explore how artists respond to psychological isolation in different forms, and how we can hope to build new communities in an era of separation.
It helped that a late-night email, tossed into the wilderness of our outbox and soon forgotten, came back covered in gold. An application to the London Metroland Fund - set up after the pandemic had laid to waste Brent's year as London borough of culture - was granted, and we suddenly had money for our first ever print run. Sadiq Khan had paid for us to make a magazine!
We are so proud of this issue. It marks the culmination of around three years' work, and we've been able to distribute free copies to homeless and incarcerated artists. Copies are still available to buy online, just click on the image and we'll send one over.
We discuss gentrification in Cornwall with BAFTA-award winning director Mark Jenkin; the ghosts of 80s Japan with Afropean creator Johny Pitts; and what to do when your art becomes obsolete with HANS, the Drag King of Iceland. We also feature the work of artists imprisoned around the world, and art and poetry from voices who have so often been ignored this past year, stuck indoors, shielding or critically vulnerable.
2020: A Year in Activism
Great art isn't simply beautiful: it's powerful. It shakes off the chains of the oppressed and unites the experiences of strangers. Art, of course, means many things to many people. It can be a therapy, a joy, a passion, a memory. But it should never hide from the social struggles of our lives.
This is the belief that brought this website into being. We wanted to create a platform where art and activism could be combined, and in 2020, this became more important than ever.
In May, we published our feature on how artists in Indian-occupied Kashmir were using their creativity to resist a military occupation that for many has defined their entire lives. While I was beginning to get cabin fever after a couple of months in lockdown, I spoke to poets, photographers and activists reaching the end of a year long siege on their homeland, in which communication has been near-impossible, curfews regular and human rights systematically abused.
In the UK and US, meanwhile, the killing of George Floyd ignited a wave of protests against systemic racism. In Solitude, we brought together poets of colour from across the UK - many who had never before been published - who articulated their experiences of a prejudice that continues after centuries.
"For the black boy who trained all his life to be an athlete,
But never realised that he should have been training to outrun a bullet.
For the black woman who will either mourn or be mourned,
But cannot live independent of a graveyard.
For my kin
We will never rest
We will never stop fighting
‘Til this war is won."
Excerpt from Inherited Caskets and Wars
We are not here to claim that art is the solution to our troubles. Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen how it can aid our efforts to support one another. But we have also seen how callous its institutions can be in times of crisis.
The Creative Post Zine was set up by volunteers in Brighton. Brighton is one of the highest areas in the country for homelessness, and the zine has been set up to supply a DIY activity pack, or zine, for people currently isolated in temporary accommodation. We caught up with the founders.
"This is a moment for monumental change in our sector - one that could protect jobs and not cut them."
Artists have been disproportionately affected by lockdown. Spaces and community groups face extinction, and a coporate and banal culture looms in the future. This is a time to organise: our social distance makes it all the more urgent. If we don't art will soon be only for the few.
Niall Walker is the founder and co-editor of the Radical Art Review.