Anna’s TED Talk on You Tube: a banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar

Now posted at You Tube:

Genetic science has definitively proved that all humans originate from the same group of East African ancestors. So why do people insist on trying to create divisions between races or nationalities? Anna Chen suggests this is more than instinctive racism – there are economic interests at stake. Political rhetoric about migrants exists to justify exploitation and create divisions. A better world is possible.

Anna Chen is a writer, poet and broadcaster who was born and raised in Hackney, east London, by a Chinese father and an English mother. She is an Orwell Prize shortlisted blogger, and writes and presents programmes for BBC radio and Resonance FM. Her collection of poetry — Reaching for my Gnu — is published by Aaaargh! Press.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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Anna Chen’s TEDxEastEnd Talk: a banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar …

I had a great time last Saturday as one of the speakers at the TED x East End event. I talked about migration and diversity, mirrors and diversion, looking at how politics and economics distort the history of human migration since we all walked out of Africa 60,000 to 120,000 years ago.

A banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar …

The link is here (scroll down): http://new.livestream.com/tedx/eastend/videos/74841242

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How St Ives came to be one of the foremost art communities in Britain

St Ives in Cornwall romps home as the ideal town where most of us would like to live. ‘Fonly it wasn’t also the most expensive.

Here’s a piece I wrote about the artists’ colony and Number One desirable seaside resort for the recent First Great Western magazine (Sept-Dec 2014).

ST IVES – PORT OF INSPIRATION
Anna Chen on how St Ives came to be one of the most important art communities in the country

It was the sunshine that did it, and not just because it gave you a tan, either. The late Patrick Heron, renowned British painter, claimed that the unique quality of the light in St Ives helped turn a fishing town up the far end of the British Isles both into, not only one of our best-beloved seaside resorts, but also a magnet for some of our finest artists.

The most famous among them included the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose studio and sculpture garden you can visit tho this day, and her husband, painted Ben Nicholson.

St Ives sits on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic. The higher than normal level of ultra-violet reflected off the ocean creates a bright, luminous quality that has attracted artists for over two hundred years, ever since 1811, when JMW Turner — acclaimed for his ethereal landscapes — first arrived with his charcoal and water-colours.

St Ives in Turner’s time had grown wealthy as a major fishing port, benefiting from abundant shoals of mackerel, herring and pilchards drawn to the red run-off from the tin-mines, with the pilchards pressed for oil and mostly exported to Italy. You can still see signs of its once-thriving industry today in the fishermen’s nets and brightly coloured buoys in the yard of the Porthmeor Studios, although many of the former pilchard cellars are now holiday homes.

Fashionable British artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries would have traditionally visited France to paint their favoured French landscapes. But with the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars in 1803, they were soon deprived of their annual sojourns, and looking for an alternative to the rugged Brittany coastline, artists turned to the rocky headlands and high cliffs of Cornwall.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge, which spans the River Tamar, connecting Devon with Cornwall, opened in 1859 and flung wide the floodgates for a new generation of British and international artists wanting to follow the great Turner’s footsteps. By the time the Great Western Railway connected St Erth with St Ives on 1st June 1877, artists were flocking to the fishing town. Artists such as Walter Sickert and the American JAM Whistler visited in 1884, drawn to the mild weather, wild landscape and, of course, that extraordinary light.

The arrival of the railway not only bought swathes of artists to the area, but also helped bring new opportunities to the town, which was falling into decline in the second half of the 19th century, due to a collapsing fishing industry. The improved transport routes connected the ailing town directly with London Paddington, opening it up as a tourist resort and an outpost for creative types.

The burgeoning artists colony started taking over the abandoned fish cellars and sail lofts, turning them into studios, with the first ever recorded conversion being a sail-loft on Carncrows Street converted by the Right Honourable Duff Tolamache in 1884. The north-facing Porthmeor Studios in Back Road West, overlooking the beach, were particularly well situated, as the light is evenly dissipated, with none of the harsh distorting shadows of a southerly aspect. More to the pojnt, they enjoy a glorious uninterrupted view of the sea and the setting sun over Clodgy Point.

James Lanham opened the first gallery in St Ives in 1887, and the inaugural School of Painting opened the following year, founded by painters Julius Olsson and Louis Grier. Special trains were laid on to bring painters and audiences to exhibitions, assuredly putting St Ives on the map as an international arts hotspot.

The best-known local artist, Alfred Wallis, was discovered painting in the doorway of his home in Back Road West by artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood in 1928. He was a scrap merchant and fisherman who painted straight onto board and bits of metal. They were struck by his unschooled “primitive” naive style and did their best to promote him. Nevertheless, despite their efforts, he sold few paintings in his lifetime and died in the workhouse. His simple grave in Barnoon Cemetary next to Tate St Ives is adorned with ceramic tiles by the potter Bernard Leach.

Leach himself had studied pottery in Japan and brought his techniques to St Ives in 1920 where, with Shoji Hamada, he established the Leach Pottery on the Stennack River. Utilitarian and functional as well as beautiful, his pioneering style earnt him the title “Father of British studio pottery”. He died in 1979, but there remains a working Leach studio and gallery celebrating his life and work, as well as showcasing its produce and training a new generation of potters.

Leach received the Freedom of the Borough of St Ives in 1968, the same year as another giant of British art accepted that very accolade — the Modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth.

Hepworth moved from London to St Ives with her husband Ben Nicholson and their triplets at the outbreak of the Second World War. She lived in the town until her death in 1975, and was the centre of an influential group of abstract artists, including Nicholson, Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham, Peter Lanyon, John Wells, Patrick Heron and sculptor Nuam Gabo. Their exciting and experimental movement, while on the whole largely abstract, still remained rooted in nature, thus giving it a broad appeal.

With a resident art community now in place, other artists were encouraged to visit the town. The Irish painter Francis Bacon worked in studio 3 in Porthmeor Studios between September 1959 and January 1960, also visited for three days in 1959. Other artists include Roger Hilton, Terry Frost, Paul Feiller and Sandra Blow who worked from Porthmeor Studios from 1994 and then Bullens Court.

In 1993, the Tate St Ives gallery opened to the public, sealing the town’s reputation as a world class centre for art. The gallery continues to have an extensive programme of exhibitions and events, and for the next seven months will be home to some of the best photography from the Tate collection in a new exhibition entitled The Modern Lens: International Photography and the Tate Collection.

The Tate also runs the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Scupture Garden (her former home and studio) at the Trenwyn Studio, as well as offering a multimedia Ben Nicholson tour.

For over 200 years, St Ives has been attracting some of the best British and international artists to its rocky shores. Drawn to the unique quality of its light, painters and sculptors settled in the town where they created and exhibited theirnwork while raising families and contributing to the community. They made full use of everything the area had to offer, and while there, undoubtedly got a bit of a tan too.

* * *

ARTISTS: Alfred Wallis, Borlase Smart, Patrick Heron (worked at Studio 5, Porthmeor Studios), Francis Bacon, Sandra Blow, Patrick Hughes, Naum Gabo, Turner, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, John Wells (discovered Alfred Wallis), Bernard Leach, Peter Lanyon, Sven Berlin, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Bryan Wynter, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Roy Walker. And living: Anthony Frost, Bob Devereux, Keir Williamson, Breon O’Casey, Zoe Eaton, Clare Wardman, Roy Ray, Sax Impey.

Artist Bob Devereux helped start the St Ives Arts Festival some thirty years ago and keeps the tradition alive with the May Litarary Festival which takes place for a week in May.

Art classes can be found at the St Ives School of Painting as well as the Bernard Leach pottery. There’s always somthing for children at Tate St Ives.

POTTERY: Aside from the Leach Pottery, the best ceramics shop outside London has to be St Ives Ceramics in Fish Street which carries not only contemporaty work, but also pieces by Leach and his great friend Hamada Shoji, as well as his late widow, Janet. Another pottery well worth visiting is the Gaolyard where you can watch the nine resident potters working.

Patrick Heron occupied Studio 5 Porthmeor Studios. He designed scarves form the age of 14 for his father’s textile factory in St Ives. Lived in St Andrew’s Street and then Eagles Nest on the road to Zennor. Designed the stained glass window on the ground floor of Tate St Ives: Window For Tate Gallery St Ives 1992–3

Virginia Woolf wrote her novel To The Lighthouse inspired by Godrevy Lighthouse. The Stephens family spent summers at Talland House in Talland Road until Virginia was 13 years old.

Art classes:
St Ives School of Painting
Learn to draw and paint or just keep your hand in at St Ives’s oldest art school, established in 1938.
Porthmeor Studios, St Ives, Cornwall
TR26 1NG
t: 01736 797180
e: info@schoolofpainting.co.uk
http://schoolofpainting.co.uk

The Leach Pottery
Beginners and professionals can take short courses in throwing clay throughout the year.
Higher Stennack, St Ives TR26 2HE
Tel: 01736 799703
http://www.leachpottery.com/intensive-courses/

Ultramarine Studio

Back Road Artworks

Back Road East

St. Ives
TR26 1NW


+44(0)1736 791571
www.ultramarine-st-ives.co.uk/painting-classes-in-st-ives.asp

Knit One Weave One
Make an eye-popping fabric picture or a vibrant felt hat with Jo McIntosh’s textile art classes.
www.knitweave.co.uk
01736 797122

St Ives Arts Club
As well as holding exhibitions and staging performances in their 120-year old theatre, the club also hosts art classes. Check the website for more info.
Westcott’s Quay.
http://www.stivesartsclub.org

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Doctor Who review: Death in Heaven season finale — an ideological battleground.

Doctor Who: Death in Heaven season finale — an ideological battleground.

SPOILER ALERT

Cybermen meet zombies in the second half of this A Matter of Life and Death nick in which our intrepid heroes hissy-fit around a lot.

There’s so much that could have worked beautifully in this series. How can you have those great production values and Peter Capaldi on board and still make such a hash of it?

The problem, as always, is the script. The writers’ caprice runs through the Doctor Who reboot like Nick Clegg’s election promises. It’s all Patrick Duffy in the Dallas shower, a dream, a mish-mash of half-remembered images and tropes, mis-threaded backstory lurches (a sudden retro-fit and Gallifrey exists, the Doctor’s nemesis conveniently telling him where). Characters don’t so much arc as teleport to whichever position the writers decide suits the script du jour.

Dream logic seems to have been employed to suit the writers rather than designed to delight the audience the way a modern Maya Deren or Bunuel (from whom the writers appear at times to be borrowing) might do while burrowing into the collective unconscious, taking the audience on a ride rather than taking us for a ride.

Russell T Davies’ heavy reliance on undermotivated melodrama and shouty frenetics are still, after all this time, shrilling away like a dentist’s drill. Clara is SO deeply in love and yet she wastes an irritating plot-blocking age verifying, like software gone wrong, that it really is Danny who’s speaking to her from the afterlife. Everyone’s so cross all the time, operating within their own little thunderous clouds of fury. Like late-night coke-fiends running out of Charlie, you half expect them to sniff and wipe their noses before running off in the Tardis to score more.

The producers set Missy (short for misogyny?) lurching around like a menopausal drunk, neurotic and malevolent because, deep down, she lurves the Doctor, really. Michelle Gomez brings her demented Mary Poppins amusingly to life thanks to a histrionic script and neck-breaking nods to Heath Ledger’s Joker. Turns out Missy’s spotted the dominatrix in Clara and the sub in the Time Lord and has expended a ton of energy keeping them together. Dunno why. It doesn’t help the plot but skitters along the surface of better past-masters, nicking all the glittery bits.

The script dusts the cobwebs off old favourites — “Why are you doing this?” “I need you to know we’re not so different” from a squillion denouments where, quelle surprise, the protagonist and antagonist are inwardly the same. Aw, and love conquers all, unless you’re the season’s Big Bad.

This may be Borg territory (poking that hoary old question: what makes us human?) but collective action is trumped by the one single Cyberman — Danny Pink — who loves more than anyone in the entire history of the human race, more than any of the dead who make up the army of Cybermen because some people are more SPESHUL. (If the Brigadier is capable of redemption as well as Danny, then why none of the other Cybermen? Why can’t the entire Cyberman race be redeemed and escape genocide?) It aims for the sublime moments in Buffy where the Slayer has to kill Angel gone bad, or finally gets to kiss Spike, but misses, barely achieving bathos. There’s no underpinning of the emotions at a deeper level. For a series about a Time Lord, they do get the emotional timing spectacularly wrong.

Once again, the military and authority are fetishised and ideological markers slipped in under the bells and whistles. Danny’s a former soldier who meant well but accidentally killed a boy when he was serving in the Middle East. He is the idealised self-sacrificing soldier who never gets to question what it was he killed for. In this narrative, it’s not the politics or the premise for the war that’s wrong — it’s the fault of individual soldiers like Danny, whose conscience pays the price.

Lethbridge-Stewart falls from the Presidential flight and survives because, as it handily turns out at the end, another good Cyberman caught her, her Brigadier father. If favourite characters can be saved from death as easily as this, then nothing is at stake and our anxieties invested in the outcome are thereby diminished. A huge pic of her father dominating the President’s plane provides another “hunh?” moment. A humble brigadier? Really? It would take a whole Clifton Suspension Bridge of disbelief to buy that. Not only another sloppy moment of disrespect for the audience, but also an unpleasant reinforcement of the principle of dynastic succession, hardwiring young viewers with ruling-class values of social and political hierarchy.

Hysteria is sloshed on— papering over the narrative canyons instead of generating authentic emotion and catharsis — and the resulting ambience is simply over-mannered and harsh, trite and sentimental.

Superficially inclusive, the narrative brings non-whites and LGBTs under the umbrella of existing power structures – on condition that they don’t actually challenge those structures. Even the cheeky black schoolgirl is another version of the perky, privileged white Clara. Prepare to be assimilated!

The BBC has calibrated its culture to the norms of business and the military, with more armed forces personnel featuring as protagonists in its drama and documentaries over the past few years than I can remember, while the space to challenge the mainstream political narrative has shrunk to almost nothing. Imposing a reading of the world at odds with people’s experience, BBC output not only leaves capitalism and the status quo unquestioned, it’s actually reinforced. All those celebrity chefs, big swinging business dicks and talent judges constantly putting you in your place in the New Order, clipping your wings, accustoming you to taking orders. They’re even enlisting Santa, as dreamt up by the Coca-Cola corporation, for the Christmas special. They’d better subvert this one!

Doctor Who was always a bastion of establishment values when it was created just as the Sixties began to swing, but there was something innocent about it, and you could filter out the stories from the residual politics. However, our beloved creation now sneakily puts a new generation back in the box marked pleb. Respect hierarchy, genuflect before authority, fall in with militarism under the delusion that you have value as an individual. Forget the proud heritage of the post-war era where the mass of the population enjoyed an unprecedented confidence born of an increasingly (if far from perfect) egalitarian society. Science fiction fans of the world unite – you have nothing to lose but your gains.

Review of Deep Breath, the season opener.

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More or Less Asian? Stereotypes in Literature: talk at Asia House 12th Nov 2014

The cuddly liberal Guardian thought this illustration was OK.

The original photo of the squirrel before the Guardian’s Goebbels squad got on the job.

I’m on a panel next Wednesday at Asia House for a debate — More or Less Asian? — alongside actor and playwright Daniel York, playwright Yasmeen Khan, author Niven Govenden and chaired by the writer and broadcaster, Bidisha.

The debate explores Asian stereotypes in literature.

I’ve been challenging the lazy and dehumanising depiction of East Asian ever since I took my solo show, Suzy Wrong – Human Cannon, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994.

My other explorations of the theme have included a profile of Anna May Wong for BBC Radio 4, A Celestial Star in Piccadilly (2009), a one-woman show, Anna May Wong Must Die! (2009), and The Steampunk Opium Wars (Feb 2012) which premiered at the National Maritime Museum to mark the opening of their Traders Gallery.

In 2007, I presented the ten-part series, Chinese In Britain, which gave me a rare opportunity to add balance to the skewed view of Chinese people. Among other things, the second episode managed to dismantle the myth of Chinatown. This dark region filled with opium-smoking, dagger-wielding villains is a location in the mind of the beholder and says more about what lurks beneath in the psyche than it does about the mundane reality. (The series is being repeated on Radio 4 Extra and is available to listen on iPlayer for another three weeks.)

However, the BBC series proved to be a rare slip through the white dominant net. I continue to be shocked but unsurprised by the liberal establishment’s continued demented depictions of the Chinese in output such as the BBC’s Sherlock reboot where everything was updated except for the sinister yellow peril in The Blind Banker episode, and the anachronistic Radio 4 programme, Fu Manchu in Edinburgh, which drew uncomfortably from the episode in the Chinese In Britain series in which we’d looked at the early Chinese medical students. These were rarely glimpsed real human beings who’d done so much good for British society, snottily eclipsed by a cheap rehash of the yellow peril stereotype.

Elsewhere, we’re rendered invisible in areas where we obviously have a presence in the real world. There has never been an east Asian family on Eastenders, for example. I speak as an East Ender myself when I say that this is fairly (sic) ignorant and stupid. And it does us no favours, but warms us up for the slaughter.

The absence of east Asians in the culture means we are a blank canvas onto which all sorts of poisonous narratives and images can be projected. So when the Blair government required a scapegoat for its inept handling of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001, it was able to turns the guns of the press onto the UK Chinese by briefing Valerie Elliott of The Times that a Chinese restaurant was responsible. The media, with the honourable exception of The Independent, took up the cry lemming-like. This potentially deadly situation (fury was brewing, livelihoods were lost, farmers had committed suicide, Chinese were being targeted and spat at) required protests in London and Manchester Chinatowns and meetings with the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to get minister Nick Brown to vindicate us and for the absurdity of the claim to be made apparent.

So there is a politcal dimension to issues of identity. It’s not a luxury add-on. This is about people’s survival.

More or Less Asian? debate at Asia House, Wednesday 12th November 2014

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Chinese in Britain this week: South China Morning Post magazine and BBC Radio 4 Extra

Two lots of Chinese in Britain from me this week.

Today, my cover article for the South China Morning Post magazine — “Personal tales of a journey to a new land” — about the sweeping Ming Ai oral history project, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund documenting, as many UK Chinese as possible 2012-2015. Drawn from stories being published online at the British Chinese Workforce Heritage website.

The second is Chinese In Britain, the repeat of the ten-part series I presented for BBC R4 in 2007, broadcast 14:15 daily from tomorrow on R4Extra. Produced by Mukti Jain Campion at Culture Wise.

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