Sunday, 22 April 2018

Stephen Lawrence's memorial, London SE9

Bus stop H on Well Hall Road, Eltham, in south-east London, isn't hard to find. It's by a roundabout on a busy residential road where the two teenagers Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks were waiting for a bus when they were attacked by racist thugs 25 years ago this weekend.

A memorial to Lawrence, which is set into the pavement, is harder to find. I have to ask four people before they can tell me where it is, several hundred metres along the opposite side of the road next to a large London plane tree and a letter box. The distance somehow communicates their fear that night, the effort Lawrence went to escape the attack before he collapsed and died from knife wounds while the police stood over him offering no medical assistance. Three bunches of fading flowers and a bottle of non-alcoholic malt drink have been left by the stone.

The murder led to an inquiry into the way the Metropolitan police responded to the case, resulting in the force being branded institutionally racist, exposing a botched investigation and corrupt police, and leading to a change in the double jeopardy law, a revolution in UK police practice in relation to race, and eventually to the conviction, 18 years later, of two of the five suspects.

There's a low bench across the road from the memorial where I sit to draw. The view is eventually obscured by a hearse and people arriving for a funeral service at a nearby church. It seems a respectable street, with people out gardening and decorating in the spring sunshine, but extreme right wing BNP candidates are standing in next month's local elections here, and will get support. I draw in the square sketchbook with its detachable pages (top image), and then in the A5 hardback across a double page (above).

Back down the road, before I cycle home, I draw the bus stop where it all started, and, for Lawrence, ended.

I don't know why this feels important, but Lawrence liked to draw, and hoped to be an architect.


storyteller said...

Hi James
I came back to your site to pick up the Fb close down info (Thanks for that).

Once again I found a post that spoke directly to me. Not in this case about Stephen directly, though I'm glad to be reminded of him and the circumstances surrounding his death.

I had been planning to come to the USk London group for the first time last month when the venue was in Walthamstow with the William Morris museum etc. On the Wednesday after Easter I heard about the death of Amaan Shakoor (aged 16) and the stabbing of his 15 year old friend by two masked men outside Walthamstow Leisure Centre as all the reports said but it was just as accurate to say it was also outside their school named for Kelmscott (Morris's Manor, House and Press). I realised I couldn't come to Walthamstow to draw without acknowledging this young man's death and started researching and sketching from his photos and from Google Earth. Unfortunately I was ill on the day and decided not to come (from Oxford). But (full disclosure) I was also afraid to turn up and visit the site of the death and experience a possible confrontation about what I was doing.

I was aware of the sensitivity expressed by George Butler in his work in Syria featured in Reportage that you said you were about to review. I had been effected by his being tested and his acknowledgement that when sketching in someone else's home/territory/patch etc there is always the implicit/explicit issue of permission to be negotiated. 1/n

storyteller said...

As well as my emotional response to the Amaan's death I realised I was also starting to develop my understanding and practice of reportage. The mixture of image and words suits my thinking style: each image started to become an 'essay'. I became aware of the many issues that could be chosen as 'the story'.
I've developed thumb-nail sketches for a graphic novel type representation of the timeline as lifted from the online reports;
I've started to explore the meanings of covering our faces: the attackers, the forensic teams, the mourners who visited the place of death;
the instinctive human response of creating a sacred place , a shrine of candles, flowers and even a bottle of 'spirits' (brandy I think the report said).
I wonder about our use of 'cut' flowers (recently cut blooms) and whether in death we 'civil-sed' people can finally acknowledge our 'ecological self'.

I started to play with the language that is used in these reports and by people quoted (eg. we are 'pronounced' dead. After death the words that comprise my name Michael will not be pronounced Michael but "dead'; what happens if we listen to the literal as metaphorical and vice versa ' cut flowers'/cut 15 year old'; the inability of 'narrative' to cope with these events 'he was in the wrong place at the wrong time'...something is rotten in the state...; the naming of 3rd April by people in London., the Midlands and Yorkshire as 'punish a muslim day' - a different sort of bank holiday to spice up Easter, monstrously suggestive of the crucifixion of a Jewish man to recompense for the supposed responsibility for the killing of the hero of the story of christianism...though I don't expect this historical precedent was uppermost in the perpetrators' minds...which al goes to show how the archetype of the 'scapegoat' is just beneath the surface...our human 'veneer-ial' dis-ease? 2/n

storyteller said...

And I wonder about the morality of my use of compositional techniques to enhance the power of the image (such as the rule of three) to depict the ugliness of masked murders. It resonates with the statement by Theodor Adorno: there can be no poetry after Auschwitz and Primo Levi's exploration of his experience. Does creating an aesthetic response trivialise and cover over the human beings capacity to be monstrous and our need to acknowledge and live with that consciously. Does art make the creative and destructive visible so making meaning becomes possible. This is the philosophical resonance I hear when I read the Urban Sketchers manifesto: making the world visible one drawing at a time. And can also be read into Morris's injunction to have nothing in your home that is not both useful and beautiful. Taken metaphorically how big a challenge is that to live up to?

And technically am I up for all the implications of this? I've got to the position that I keep moving it on and let it teach me about what reportage can come to mean for me. How showing the workings of this particular mind may eventually be useful for me and maybe even others.

I trust that you will sense this as an important piece of writing for me. I did not expect it to unfold as it has. I hope that it has not presumed too much on your good will. Your more succinct piece felt like it opened a door which I didn't realise I was waiting to walk through until it did.
I was going to write that I have not written this in any expectation of you replying but that is foolish on my part. What I think I want to say is that I would like you to feel free to NOT reply as the space I have taken on your blog has been valuable in and of itself. I do not want to set up any sense of obligation on your part.

My best wishes

p.s. I have recently bought your book and am enjoying it. I have just recommended it to a friend who has been wanting to draw again, has been infected by my enthusiasm and wanted somewhere to start. Thank you. 3/3

James Hobbs said...

Hi Michael,

I understand your sensitivity about drawing in places where tragic things have happened, but it's only when one is there that the real sense of the place comes about, and the unease of working can even come across in the drawings, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As someone says in the Reportage Illustration book, one of the advantages of travelling light as an artist is that it's easier to run if the need arises.

Research into what we are drawing - some critical thinking - can take it beyond the fluffy watercolour stuff. But too much time doing this may be, I feel, better spent just out doing some actual drawing. Overthinking can have a paralysing effect. Sometimes my work is about an event, or it has a recurring theme, and sometimes I draw something because it's what I can see from where I'm sitting. (My drawing selected for the Jerwood Drawing Show was just that: the mundane view I could see from the cafe table as I waiting for my daughters to come back from the toilet.) Sometimes that is enough for me. We all make our own way.

Thanks for writing.