Sunday, 20 February 2011

a field student of monstrous soups

Liz Ellis of 'Rivers under the pavement' facilitated an event at The Big Table, Coppermill Fields, today. The event was held in part to mark World Social Justice Day.
The event was a meeting of hearts and minds with a picnic and talks/activities for everyone to take part in.
As a 'Lost and Found in E17' segue to yesterdays post showing the Anti Cuts march up Hoe Street, artist Fran Wilde gave a talk about Ekta Parishad, a movement and organisation which campaigns for Land Rights and Social Justice for people in rural India. One of the ways the campaigns happen is via mass participatory walks or marches over hundreds of miles involving thousands of people. If I heard correctly, some walks have seen up to 30,000 people walking together over many miles and nights and days. Over the course of a whole walk, hundreds of thousands of people will have participated. The organisation and support which enables the walks to happen is all the more remarkable given the relative material poverty and deprivation the people endure.
for more information,
The talk and discussion I presented, 'The Monstrous Soup of the 19th Century' began by asking what rights we have concerning water. We looked at the history of water provision in 19th century London, illustrated in part by cartoons from Punch, Fun and The Times. The history of water provision in Victorian London is one of stinks and cholera epidemics made all the worse for the institutional resistance to the development of a clean water supply. That people died in their thousands was attributed to (long discredited) miasma theories and disdain for the 'irregular' lives of the urban poor.
The cartoons we looked at:
Monster Soup, 1828. William Heath (Paul Pry).
Father Thames introducing his offspring to the fair city of London, 1858. John Leech. (Punch 182)
The Silent Highwayman, 1858. John Tenniel. (Punch 183)
Sanatory Measures, 1848. John Leech. (Punch 112)
Deaths Dispensary, 1866. George Pinwell. (Fun. 18/8/66)
One of the comments (in the big table discussion) in response to an account of the 1866 East End cholera epidemic pointed to the likelihood of racism/anti-semitism being a major factor in the pumping of dirty water into the East End.
If in 1866, you were able to read, or knew someone who could read, there were cholera warning posters giving the following advice:
If there are any dust or dirt heaps, foul drains, bad smells or other malign smells in the house or neighbourhood, make complaint without delay to the Local Authorities having legal powers to remove them, or if there be no such authorities, or if you do not know who they are, complain to the Board of Guardians.
While Londoners now enjoy relatively safe clean water - and by various statutes, a right to this, many around the world don't. Locally and globally, with burgeoning urban development and population growth there is an urgent issue of how every human being can get clean water and maintain a right to it.
I was surprised to read the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and not find specific mention of water in it. Article 25 could be interpretted to include clean water as a right - and I was told by one of the participants there is another bill of rights based on the UN's which does declare clean water explicitly as a right.
As a way of concluding on a slightly less grave note we played a game of 'exquisite corpse' assembling new monsters for the soup pot - a few of the exquisite monsters are presented for your indigestion.
One of my aims with 'Lost and Found in E17' is to map and record in various ways, outdoor public art in Waltham Forest. The Big Table (table on the marsh) is one of these art works. 'A field student couldn't get a table at the marsh' presents some photographs from the opening of the table in October 2010.

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