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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Yad Vashem, Israel

 "And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a "yad vashem")... that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)

The threatening clouds in the sky on Friday matched the feelings engendered by this visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial. Having been to Auschwitz, I was prepared for the likely impact.

The terrible story is carefully laid out along a timeline, starting with a historical summary of Jewish persecution.

On my visit to Auschwitz in 1994, I was undone by how powerfully the place spoke not just to the past, but to the present. It was the time of Rwanda genocide. However the holocaust memorials speak not just to atrocities but to the everyday slights and discourtesies that breed permission for atrocity.

I heard that discourtesy on the flight over to Israel, in conversation with someone from the Jewish community. The person spoke contemptuously about the Palestinian people, blaming them for the lack of peace. It was doubly hard to hear in the face of Jewish history and experience. Time to check out my own behaviour and attitudes.

The three photos are of Jaume Plensa's work referred to in the previous blog.

In See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, three internally lit fibreglass figures have the terms panic, stress, anxiety, insomnia, hysteria and amnesia inscribed on their faces. The Exhibition Guide says:

'The physicality of these words branded on the skin openly reveals conditions of the mind that are usually internal and hidden. Their posture reflects a natural method of defence, to make the body small, curling it in on itself for safety, echoing the protected position of a baby in its mother’s womb.'

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The wonderful humanity of artist Jaume Plensa

Photos taken on 1st November 2011 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park @YSPsculpture

Urged on by my friend Jane, I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see this extraordinary exhibition. Jaume Plensa's work is normally displayed in urban settings, indeed I discovered I had seen some of his work in the centre of Nice.

In the glorious Yorkshire landscape it was breathtaking and deeply moving. Here is a taste of Jaume Plensa in his words and sculptures.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Living democracy

I wonder how many of us really think much about the quality of the democracy we live in? 

When compared with what we have witnessed across the Middle East, our political arrangements look incredibly benign. Complacency or frank disinterest would be the response of many in this country to debates about the quality of our democracy.

For instance, how many of us have rushed out to read and respond to the Boundary Commission review of constituency boundaries? What are the implications of having fewer MPs representing more of us? 

Are these proposals a good move to strengthen democracy or about saving money by having fewer MPs, or a conspiracy to skew the constituencies in order to increase the chance that a particular party remains in power. 

To my shame, I cannot give an informed response to this issue - and I would say that I am interested and informed about UK politics and democracy! 

On the other hand, the recession is prompting debates about how we organise local and global finances (the Occupy movement); the Health Bill's seeming threat to the NHS has galvanised tens of thousands to debate, march and sign petitions; public service cutbacks are forcing us as a country to weigh up whether public services are the villains some politicians would have us believe. 

All these jumbling thoughts were prompted by an email from a friend at the week-end confirming that he had handed in his resignation from a job that he loves.

He is a senior public servant of long years standing and lives in a country that is openly proud of its democratic credentials and history.

Over the last couple of years, he has become deeply concerned about the 'systematic and methodical' action being taken by corporations and political extremists that have started to do real damage in communities and wider society. From his particular position in the public sector, he has had to deal with the fallout. He has become so alarmed that he feels he can no longer remain in a public position where he is unable effectively to challenge and resist - hence his resignation

Even in an allegedly mature democracy, standing up to challenge powerful interests is still not for the faint-hearted. My friend has not been put off by the thought that he is one man. His soundings and early actions have uncovered others who share the concerns. With his deep understanding of communities and a track record of building citizen participation, he will certainly create a force to be reckoned with.

I am reminded of Margaret Mead's now famous words:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”