angela findlay talks

Germany, remembrance and alternatives to punishment and shame

Month: April, 2013

“Born to lose, built to win…”

Haus 3 low res

Mural in Cologne Prison, Wing 3

On Friday I saw the documentary “One Mile Away” portraying the efforts of two warring gang members in inner city Birmingham to form a truce between the B21 and B6 postcode rivals. A couple of the gang members were present for a Q&A session afterwards; brave, brave men, lit up by the desire to bring about change and to prevent the pointless feud infecting their children. In this case there was nothing more than the difference in postcodes and the dividing road between that caused a sense of territorial animosity between people otherwise of the same cultural heritage, ethnicity and age.

“Born to lose, built to win” was one of the rappers’ lines that struck me with its potency.

I wondered how I would be as a young, black boy moving through life in constant fear of being “licked” (shot), feeling powerless so reaching for the status and “respect” promised by the knife or gun. I wondered, as I did during the 2011 riots, how you would make sense of the world when every message signals that you are a nobody without those trainers, this phone, that car. Yet the only paths to get them are controlled by the drug dealers, the shine of their bling obscuring the trip wires of violence, time inside or death.

It’s so easy from my perspective to see a way out of such a feud; to think I would never even get sucked in. But can we ever know how we would be if… if… if…



1945 to 2013 in one painting

low res

Untitled (with lipstick) 2011

by Angela Findlay

My most recent solo show Fragments of time at McAllister Fine Art in Godalming is entering its final week. It shows work combining photographic collage and oil and is a development of ideas and techniques that led to a collaboration with John Helseltine and a joint  exhibition Filling the cracks in 2011

Reflecting on the paintings I find myself wondering where to next? This body of work has been the result of several years of an on-going interest in capturing glimpses of the everyday, usually overlooked and yet often very beautiful testimonies to peoples’ lives within the privacy of their homes. Initially I worked from a dawning sense of the fragility of what we call “home”, a paradox in the face of the security and consistency we seek there.

In 1945 as an eleven year old German girl, my mother fled her home with her younger sister, the approaching Russian army a mere 40 miles away. The few stories of her childhood experiences float silently in my imagination, their edges blurring with those of my own memories. The implications of her sparse accounts didn’t register fully until I was older. But the images she sketched of a Berlin in flames, the train station heaving with jostling people, and the agonising choice of which doll to take – the beloved but threadbare one or the brand new one from her father on leave from the front? – began to provide a source of inspiration for my work.

My mother’s home was taken over by the Russians, the seats of the chairs slashed in search of money and valuables. All was lost except what they could carry with them. Their home disintegrated. Yet the building still stands. I visited it a few years ago, wandered around imagining those that inhabited its tall-ceilinged rooms after they had left. And then later, through the Soviet occupied times. If I scratched at the predictably white wood chip paper that plasters the walls of so many German homes today, filling the cracks, creating a crisp, clean albeit bumpy, blank surface for the next occupiers, would I stumble on traces of the colours and patterns they chose to line their world? Would I come closer to understanding what happens when your world falls apart and vanishes?

My week evidencing what works and what doesn’t

low res penguins

Painting: Where am I?  by a young offender

Last week I was invited to witness and experience the work of The Forgiveness Project (TFP) first hand. It was nothing less than extraordinary. Every single person in the room was profoundly moved and affected by the brave story tellers describing their experiences, either as a victim or perpetrator of various crimes. The absence of anger, self-pity, self-loathing, and blame was palpable. The presence of self-awareness, understanding, empathy and personal growth equally so. This is the potential transformation brought about by  forgiveness, a quality that I recognise from my own experiences of it. It offers a way through otherwise seemingly impossible situations – cul de sacs of crippling grief, suffering, guilt, anger.
The Forgiveness Project runs a 3 day project called R.E.S.T.O.R.E in prisons and elsewhere. I can only encourage you to read more on their website. It has had impressive results and we could all see why.

Then on Monday I watched BBC1’s The Prisoners following a handful of prisoners on their journey towards release and  life on the outside. After more than 20 years of being actively involved in the Criminal Justice System myself, there was little new for me there. And yet it still baffles me that so little progress has been made in fully integrating some of the brilliant schemes on offer into the very fabric of our prisons. How can anybody today still think it is logical, acceptable, or even effective to release a mildly or severely institutionalised prisoner into the world with just £46 in his pocket, often homeless or disconnected from all support systems and usually having learnt nothing about how to really change their lives? And then to expect him / her not to re-offend? And despite there being enough anecdotal evidence to fill a house if not a street, arts-based projects and  programmes like  TFP or the gardening training shown on BBC1 that offer real and bigger chances of a reduction in reoffending, are still not being taken as seriously as they could and becoming embedded into our system. Surely we have reached a point where gambling at the chance that these things might work is more logical than plugging away at procedures that can’t possibly work?

And finally my week ended on a great note at a wonderful evening hosted by the Koestler Trust. Here we heard more heart-warming stories of prisoners’ lives turned around through their involvement in the Trust’s annual competition and exhibition of prisoners’ art and the mentoring scheme that follows. I met Shaun Attwood, who has become a successful speaker and a poet whose animated reading of his poems should be heard on stage. Art helps people come alive and want to change and lead meaningful lives.

Could BBC1 do more programmes about what really works maybe?

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