Those who were living now are dead
Those who were breathing are from the living earth fled.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
From the impassioned poem on the fire at Grenfell, by Nigerian writer, Ben Okri, whose poem, published in the Financial Times on 23 June, 2017 is a searing statement from which it is impossible to hide, impossible to avert one’s gaze, impossible to forget.
I wrote earlier this week about my arrival in London, on the red-eye from Lagos, and my efforts to both stay awake and entertained before being allowed to pass through the portal of my hotel.
I decided, after grabbing some breakfast, and scribbling a short poem, (which I published on Facebook), to walk along the South Bank to the Tate Modern. During my walk I found some inspiration by shooting the various vans being prepared for the hordes of tourists soon to fill the streets which at that time were still and relatively quiet.
What I hadn’t counted on was the degree of connectivity I felt with the things I saw and experienced that morning.
Africa was a theme. I have been living and working in Nigeria since November last year, an experience that has been enriching and eye opening. You can read a little about my experiences on one of my ‘street’ blogs, nigeriastreets. Many of the exhibits that I lingered over were themed on the experience of immigrants and outsiders. I was particularly moved by an installation in ‘the Tanks’, a series of large spaces in the basement of the new Blavatnik building, created by Otobong Nkanga. A Nigerian who now works in Belgium. Yet another connection. I have written more about that in my post ‘In Wetin You Go Do’.
However, two pieces held my attention, and I felt another strong sense of connection between them, and between life in a broader and more recent sense.
The first, a sculpture ‘Untitled (for Francis)’ by Antony Gormley. The gallery label, dated October 2016, states:
This sculpture is a plaster mould of the artist’s body, reinforced with fiber glass and encased in a skin of soldered lead. Gormley uses his own body to examine the physical and spiritual relationships between humankind and the natural world. He says: ‘sculpture, for me, uses the physical as a means to talk about the spirit…a visual means to refer to things which cannot be seen.
The second, another sculpture ‘Monument for the Living 2001–8’, by Marwan Rechmaoui. The gallery label, dated October 2016, states:
This sculpture is a scale model of the Burj El Murr building in Beirut, Lebanon. The tower was owned by members of the el-Murr family, a prominent political clan. Construction began in 1974 but it was left unfinished after the outbreak of civil war. Originally an office block, it was only ever used as a sniper outpost. The tower is too tall to knock down and too dense to implode, and so continues to dominate the skyline. It is now seen as a memorial to the internal conflict that has never really been resolved.
The connection in my mind was explosive.
The uplifted gaze of Gormley’s sculpture, the blurred features and unseeing eyes, the arms open in supplication. Rechmaoui’s sculpture, with its bare exposed structure, its blown out windows, a stark reminder of Grenfell.
My original intent was to publish my photos together with a selection of other shots from the same visit – you can more shots from that visit ‘In Wetin You Go Do’.
Instead, I decided to merge the two shots, to convey the feelings the two pieces inspired within me that morning.
*Photos made with Fujifilm X100T with fixed 23mm (35mm full frame equivalent) lens, edited in Lightroom CC and merged with Photoshop CC, with thanks to the Tate Modern for their generosity in allowing photographers to work with the exhibits*