Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Jamie Hewlett and Oxfam at the Contact Theatre

And so back from the ‘unveiling’ of a watercolour (to be auctioned on the 23rd) by Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett at the Contact Theatre. It’s one of a series of paintings he did on a trip to Bangladesh with Oxfam, visiting communities affected (or, to go by the captions of the pictures, effected) by climate change.
I invited myself along in a spirit of generalised nosiness. And was much more impressed by the discovery that Hewlett was one of the creators of Tank Girl than by all the Damon-Albarn-virtual-band stuff. Showing my age…

The pictures themselves were surprisingly affecting. Giant prints of delicate sepia-toned watercolours, mainly done on manila envelopes or the cardboard backs of notepads, Hewlett’s cartoon-style people contrasting oddly well with the almost Japanese-drawing trees and water. The sharply-defined, quizzical look of many of the human figures gave an impression of people trying to figure out how to respond to conditions which they haven’t contributed to and have no control over. Something about the clarity of the human figures in contrast to the wash of the scenery gave them a real action and urgency, resisting the tendency of many images of ‘third world’ people to reduce their subjects to stereotypes, presented to make a point or complete a scene.

The composition of the evening was odd. I rarely take myself to Manchester art-scene events, but I did spot some of the fixtures – Kwong Lee of Castlefield Gallery (who I recognised from my brief stint at UHC), Adrian Slatcher, an interesting writer who I encountered through the now-defunct Lamport Court, and poetry slam prizewinner Ben Mellor – as well as lots of the terrifyingly youthful arty types who come to these things, all looking like they spend an awful lot of time and creativity on looking fashionable yet – err – quirky. They mixed strangely with the more earnest-looking Oxfam and climate change crowd in various bits of hippy gear, or hiking trousers and sensible boots.

I tend to wonder what these art/celebrity tie-ins with charities achieve. A standard format seems to have developed – burn some jet fuel taking [insert celeb] to [insert famine/flood/drought-ravaged region], do various photo/video things and then bring them back for some events. Oxfam’s Chris Worrall says that Hewlett’s pictures have raised £40,000, which I guess is all good. But I’ve yet to be convinced that this does much in the way of awareness-raising. From tonight’s crowd, I’m guessing that the Friends of the Earth members weren’t hearing anything they didn’t already know, while I’d be surprised to hear that the fashionistas clutching their Selfridges shopping bags have been converted to climate activism by the speeches. Maybe I’m just getting too cynical.

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2010 by in Art, Climate Change, Manchester and tagged , , , , , .
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