Archive for February, 2024

Guest writer Jasmine Baines shares her takeaways from Mandy Barker’s talk

Posted on: February 22nd, 2024 by mlpEditor

On 19th February 2024, artist Mandy Barker delivered a poignant online talk on her evocative photography of marine plastic debris.

Introducing herself, Barker explained that she began photographing mass accumulations of plastic to draw attention to something that has become commonplace: litter on our beaches. Barker talked us through her projects, spanning a career laden with global recognition.

A number of her works capture plastic on a black background, arranged to mimic the natural world it is invading – dolphin pods, jellyfish, even plankton – reflecting how plastic permeates, altering nature’s very building blocks. Nurdles, for example, absorb oceanic toxins and are then consumed by wildlife, thus polluting fish and birds. I was shocked by the incessant, all-encompassing nature of plastic dominance that Barker’s work foregrounds.

Barker’s work has a scientific grounding, and her presentation reflected this. After attending a talk by a scientist that detailed the plastic-laden stomach contents of a 30-day-old albatross chick, Barker was shocked that this was not common knowledge. Determined to assist, she has worked closely with scientists since.

In 2012 Barker joined a scientific expedition sailing from Japan to Hawaii. Trawling across the debris field, they tracked plastic waste and rafting organisms still circulating from the Japanese tsunami a year earlier. Her emotive images emit the urgency her lived experience has instilled within her to raise awareness of the dangers of marine plastic pollution.

Emulating the Edward Degas quote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, Barker’s message was one of raising awareness – interestingly, she targets children, capturing Smartie lids, bath toys, and action figures of Shrek, Hello Kitty, and Mickey Mouse, speaking the globally transferable language of childhood.

A member of the audience echoed my thoughts when they queried if it would be more appropriate to target industrial leaders, responsible for causing, and surely correcting, the most damage. My mind wandered to the effects of instilling anxiety amongst children, potentially making them feel unjust responsibility. Barker responded simply that both audiences are crucial. And by educating children they will consume less, and place pressure on bodies wielding the power for large-scale change. As her work has been published in fifty countries, including within the school curriculum, Barker is certainly achieving her goal to educate and influence consumer choices.

When asked at the conclusion if the oceans can be cleaned, Barker explained we must first halt the stream of debris – “if a bath is overflowing, tackle the tap before you mop the spillage”. The awareness Barker raises is the first step – hopefully those in power are listening.

Plastic Ocean

Posted on: February 21st, 2024 by mlpEditor

In this recording of an online talk, we explore a photographic artist’s response to the worrying state of our oceans today.

Oceans are essential to life on earth. They cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface, regulate the climate, and supply the oxygen we need to survive. But every year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans, affecting marine environments, biodiversity, over 700 different species, and ultimately human health.

For more than 13 years, artist Mandy Barker has created different series of work to try to engage new audiences with the harmful effects of marine plastic pollution. Captions alongside Mandy’s work detail the ‘ingredients’ of the plastic objects photographed, list brands, or provide descriptions about locations and countries and what was recovered there. The aim is to provide the viewer with a realisation of what exists in our oceans. It is hoped that raising awareness of the scale of plastic pollution that is affecting our oceans, through the passing on of these facts combined with scientific research, will ultimately lead the viewer to want to make change and take action.

Mandy writes:

“Art alone cannot change the world. But by bringing attention to marine plastic pollution in this way, it is hoped my work will help inform, and raise awareness about the overconsumption of plastic and the wider issue of climate change, and in doing so encourage a wider audience to want to do something about it.”

Interview with Professor Tony Redmond OBE

Posted on: February 15th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: What was the first humanitarian aid mission that you got involved in and what motivated you to take part in it?

A: The first humanitarian mission I got involved with was in 1988, following the Earthquake in Armenia. What motivated me was the size of the disaster (which is now estimated to have caused between 25,000 and 50,000 casualties) and the poignancy of it being part of the then Soviet Union with its President, Gorbachev, visiting New York at the time.

Hopes were so high that the Cold War might be thawing and then the terrible earthquake occurred. Remarkably, Gorbachev asked for international help so me and some colleagues from the volunteer prehospital care team we had established in Manchester felt compelled to offer our help, which was accepted.


Q: The armed conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have been widely reported on in the Western media. What sort of work are you and UK-Med, of which you’re a founder, doing in these regions?

A: I founded UK-Med (a frontline humanitarian medical NGO) in 1988, originally as the South Manchester Accident Rescue Team (SMART), which acted in support of the rescue and ambulance services here. Since our first overseas aid mission to Armenia, we have responded to every major earthquake thereafter, disease outbreaks around the world, including Ebola in Sierra Leone and the DRC, and conflicts in Sarajevo, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Gaza (twice), Yemen, Myanmar, and Ukraine.

We have been running a range of programmes across Ukraine since a week after the war began. Currently, we are running programmes in reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation, mobile primary care clinics, mental health support, advanced trauma training, and mass casualty training.

In Gaza we have had a surgical team there for a few months and are treating war injuries, especially in children.


Q: There have been significant advancements in technology since you embarked on your career 30 years ago. What sort of improvements in international response efforts, if any, have you seen as a result?

A: There have been huge improvements over the last 30 years. For example, we have established international minimum standards for medical teams and an international registration system to ensure the right care, from the right teams, gets to the right people, at the right time.

The biggest technical improvement has probably been the mobile phone and, when these fail (not commonly now), lightweight handheld satellite phones. These mean you can consult with anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. They also improve security. When I was first deployed, I was unreachable until I got back.

“From a medical perspective, the advent of portable handheld ultrasound machines means you can now perform lifesaving internal examinations at the bedside, in a tent. We now have a portable digital X-ray machine which we can use on patients. We can even use it in remote areas as it’s run off the generator that we use to power the field hospital.”

We can now also use handheld ‘point of care’ blood testing devices – a pinprick of blood can be analysed at the bedside using a small handheld device. It gives you an instant readout of most of what we used to need a full laboratory for. (I introduced these into the Manchester Nightingale hospital, of which I was Medical Director during the Covid-19 pandemic, as there was no onsite laboratory).


Q: Delivering medical assistance in such crises is incredibly dangerous. To give readers a further insight into the unique and extremely high-risk nature of humanitarian aid work, would you mind sharing details of some of the dangerous situations you have found yourself in.

A: The work is definitely dangerous. It takes its toll on those who do it and, especially, on those nearest and dearest to them. It’s certainly not for everyone.

“You will be scared – and I have been terrified many times – but you must be able to contain your fear and function. You equally can’t be cavalier, as doing so places both you and your team in danger, and if you or they die, you won’t help anyone. I still bear the physical and mental scars of this work.”

I was poisoned with heavy metals in Kosovo which hospitalised me and required many months of treatment. It left me with permanent neurological problems. I broke my back while working on a remote island in the South China Sea which has since left me with a shortened, curved spine, and ongoing symptoms.

I have found the constant threat of danger, that something could happen any minute, almost more stressful than when it does. I worked in Sarajevo for almost 4 years and the stress was terrible. There was constant shelling and sniper fire and I twice narrowly missed being shot by snipers, with the bullets going just over my head. Tank shells frequently exploded nearby, once just outside where I was sleeping. Colleagues died. I still have nightmares.

I was in Ukraine a year or so ago when 55 cruise missiles went over in the night. Most were shot down, but the debris killed people on the ground near to where I was staying. Having worked in the wars in Sarajevo and Kosovo I was prepared and found that I could draw on those experiences during these times.


Q: How do you remain optimistic, hopeful and motivated about your work and your desire to provide aid around the world, in such challenging conditions?

A: I have seen so many people do such good things. Giving of themselves so selflessly despite the awful risks, doing it simply to help someone in need. I have also received the most enormous kindness from those in greatest need. I have obviously also seen very bad people doing very bad things.

“I am not at all religious, but I know from experience that there are far more good people than bad people, and that goodness always prevails, no matter how long it takes.”


Thank you to Tony for taking the time to answer our questions.

Tony Redmond will be giving his talk – How can we best help those in need during and after a Humanitarian Crisis?– at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on the 12th March 2024.

Interview with Professor Jade Munslow Ong

Posted on: February 14th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: Modernism was a hugely significant art movement that produced ground-breaking, experimental works. How would you define it and what does it stand for?

A: Modernism is typically defined as an artistic, cultural, and philosophical movement that emerged around the turn of the twentieth century. It’s associated primarily with European and American creatives and thinkers who used experimental forms to represent, and respond to, a modern world shaped by empire, industrialisation and urbanisation.

This included new technologies and transport, wars, shifts in scientific and political thinking, the rise of the New Woman and women’s rights. One of the mantras of the movement is Ezra Pound’s slogan ‘Make It New’, which captures the idea that modernism breaks with tradition, revising and reworking older forms to create new and innovative art, music, literature and architecture.


Q: How did you come to be particularly interested in South African modernism?

A: I spent a lot of time in South Africa when I was growing up, so I developed an interest in its literatures, histories and cultures. I then studied postcolonial literature and theory at university and wrote my PhD thesis and first book on the first South African novelist, Olive Schreiner (1855-1920).

“My particular interest in the role played by South African writers in the development of literary modernism came about through my work on Schreiner’s fiction because she uses techniques and ideas that are now considered hallmarks of modernism. What’s so fascinating about this is that she’s doing so as early as the 1870s, and from the colonial peripheries. So, she’s writing from outside of the times and places that we traditionally associate with the modernist movement.”

Building on this earlier work, I’m now leading an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project that investigates the forms and politics of South African literary modernism from the nineteenth century to the present day. There are various South African writers that our team consider as both theorists and practitioners of modernism – Solomon Plaatje, William Plomer, Lewis Nkosi, Bessie Head, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Damon Galgut, to name but a few. These writers are connected both personally and textually to other global modernists and modernisms from all over the world, and part of our work involves tracing some of those connections.


Q: To this day, South Africa remains tormented by deep-seated, long-standing socio-political problems. What role, if any, did Modernism play in healing or hindering these problems?

A: Modernist forms are so malleable and varied that they have been mobilised in support of a wide spectrum of political ideas and ideologies, and in many cases, refused any political or social function or allegiance whatsoever.

I think the reason that South African literature emerged in a modernist idiom has to do with South Africa’s uniquely prolonged colonial condition, that arguably stretched all the way from the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India Company in 1652, to the end of apartheid in the 1990s.

“Modernism, with its interest in cross-cultural representations, fragmentation, and combinations of tradition and innovation, became the mode through which to represent the unevenness of this experience, in which European economic, political, and cultural structures so detached from their African worldviews and ways of life were imposed and enforced over centuries. I’d argue that there is a connection between modernist expression and anti-colonial and anti-apartheid resistance that can be traced across the works of many of the writers that I mentioned earlier.”


Q: If we want to begin to appreciate and understand South African Modernism, through its literature and poetry, where should we start?

A: I’ve already mentioned a few, but would also add the English-language writers H.I.E. Dhlomo, Athol Fugard, Can Themba, Njabulo Ndebele and Ivan Vladislavić; plus Xhosa-language writer S.E.K. Mqhayi; and Afrikaans writers André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Adam Small, Karel Schoeman and Marlene van Niekerk. I’m currently working on a co-edited collection with Professor Andrew van der Vlies (University of Adelaide) on South African modernisms and we have solicited chapters about many of these and other writers.

We’ve got some exciting contributions on South African modernist art and photography too, including by Irma Stern, Dumile Feni, Nichols Hlobo, William Kentridge, David Goldblatt and Albert Adams.  The University of Salford Art Collections holds one of the largest archives of Adams’s work – including paintings, prints and studio ephemera – and there is a permanent display of his paintings in the Albert Adams room at The Old Fire Station (where the Percival lecture is taking place).


Q: What research project/s are you working on in 2024? Is there one project that you’re particularly looking forward to? If so, why?

A: I have lots of things that I’m really excited about this year! I was in Johannesburg with filmmaker Simon Stanton-Sharma in January making a documentary film about female e-hailing (using a smartphone app to request a ride) drivers that we’re currently editing to send to film festivals.

I’m also working with an international research team, Further Education colleges in the Northwest, and exam boards AQA and WJEC Eduqas, on a project to decolonise the English Literature A-Level. We’ll be travelling to Sweden, South Africa and Australia over the next 18 months, working with 16–18-year-old learners and their teachers to create a range of resources to support this – everything from recorded lectures and teacher toolkits to video essays, podcasts and TikToks!

And I’m really looking forward to my co-authored book with Matthew Whittle, Global Literature and the Environment, coming out with Routledge in August. So, all in all, a lovely combination of celebrations, collaborations and activities to be getting on with!


Thank you to Jade for taking the time to answer our questions.

Jade Munslow Ong will be giving this year’s Percival Lecture – South Africa’s Modernism, Modernism’s South Africa – at the University of Salford on the 18th April 2024.

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