AboutOctober 4th this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable St, an iconic moment of solidarity in the active resistance to fascism. A planned march through a predominately Jewish Whitechapel by 3,000 Mosleyite Blackshirts, protected by a police force of 6,000, most of them mounted, was halted by a spontaneous gathering of something like 250,000. To celebrate this date studio1.1 is mounting a commemorative show featuring not so much the battle itself, but its continuing memorial, the mural painted in the early eighties on a wall beside Hawksmoor's church St George's Limehouse, round the corner from Shadwell tube.
This crossing-point of art and politics represented by the mural is something that has a very particular continuing force, and the fact that the mural has just undergone a complete restoration by Paul Butler, the only one of the original four artists still in London, gives the project particular impetus. Our show will open on the 15th September and run through to Tuesday October 4th, and will contain several of Paul's preliminary drawings as well as other documentary material.
What strikes us very strongly, since both of us were around in the eighties when the mural was being painted, is that even apparently politically-aware people - artists - under the age of 40 aren't aware of either the battle or even the mural. (The taken-for-granted status of this important genre of public art is a separate, also regrettable matter.) If this is a feature of the famous contemporary obliteration of historical memory, so much the worse, and we consider ourselves very lucky to be in a position to play even the smallest part in remedying this.
Whitechapel's extraordinary history of reception and ultimate integration of successive waves of refugees is something that would deserve to be remembered under any historical circumstances. There is something chilling about the fact that in the twenty-first century the word 'asylum-seeker' can be used as a knee-jerk term of abuse. It's important to remind ourselves of a day when a public and provocative manifestation of racism aroused such an overwhelming public reaction.
Strikingly, the history of the mural itself runs back through a similar history of confrontation and violence. Completed in 1983, it was another ten years before attacks by its politically motivated opponents finally ceased. And as the mural is restored we ask ourselves what remains - and what is lost in the rear-view mirror of history? Very few sketches still exist. The mural as it was planned was vandalised to the extent that what was finished is a different piece. The actions of vandals as well as of time and the weather mean that the mural itself is obliterated in the over-painting act of renewal. The mural in history and the history of the mural become blurred as the thing which commemorates the battle itself becomes the subject of further commemoration.
studio1.1 will be hosting two talks on the subject
at The Jewish Museum on the 26th October there will be a discussion with curator and writer Sacha Craddock and others
and on the 27th October there will be a Conversation with Paul Butler at the Whitechapel Gallery