Dedication

Dedication
image_print

 

Photo Credit: Smabs Sputzer Flickr via Compfight cc

Does this dedicate you?” The voice fell soft and feminine in my ear, but I had barely
turned around before its owner, a smiling woman with neatly-bobbed grey hair, was ushered away quickly by her husband, leaving me amused at her question. And not just a little bemused too.

I was admiring the Turners at the National Gallery. Since seeing Mike Leigh’s film, I had long been keen to return and consider the works again, to contemplate the nicotine yellow of the skies, the strength and sweep of the master’s brush. And I can’t pretend that as I stood there, I wasn’t just that little bit charmed too, by my anonymous whisper’s unexpected intrusion.
The museum was busy, a group of Chinese tourists gathered around the Hay Wain, jostling to snap their selfies. A class of Italian schoolchildren were snickering behind their hands, whispering secret slights at one another, as they were herded, unseeing, from one painting to the next. The general tone, as you can imagine, was not wildly conducive to “dedication.
My last visit here dated to June, and consisted purely of an exterior view of the museum’s façade – a view to which my back was largely turned as I gathered with a host of other friends, family and mourners for the Jo Cox Memorial. I knew Jo, years ago at university, and was of course horrified by her murder. Jo was indisputably one of the most warm and lovely people I have ever met, although you didn’t need to know her to feel outraged by her death. The gathering in Trafalgar Square that breezy afternoon was dignified and quiet, bound as we were by a very profound community of spirit, a communality of cause that found us smiling through our tears, as a chorus of year-fives belted out a feisty rendition of “If I Had a Hammer”. It was a far more dedicated crowd than the one I was to encounter just a few weeks later, inside.
And in the meantime, of course, there was Brexit. Much has been written about this epic vote and I am neither qualified nor of a mind to re-hash the pros and cons of it here. It is enough to note that as a British citizen who has lived outside the UK for more than 15 years (albeit only in France, not on Mars) I was prohibited from participating in this potentially life-changing plebiscite, the fall-out of which is still only beginning to be felt.
Turner too came to France, studying works at the Louvre before becoming himself, many years later, a much-admired source of inspiration for the young Claude Monet. A trip to the Marmottan museum in Paris (or simply to the next room if you are still at the National), will very quickly confirm the extent to which Turner’s love of mist and steam, his fascination with light, were to influence the Impressionist painter. Both artists were modern in their day, radicals who dared to reach beyond the safety of the norm, and neither, at least initially, got much recognition for it. But such it seems is the lot of the visionary and if, like Jo, your vision is just too unpalatable for those resistant to change, then it is not just your reputation or career that is on the line, but sadly, your life.
And so as Chinese and Italians rush to London’s museums, as Turner wound his way across 18th century Europe and as I myself drift about the streets of the eleventh arrondissement, I suppose I have my answer. The answer that I hadn’t the chance or whit to utter that Sunday morning in late July. For yes, I am dedicated. Very much so and in many ways by everything that surrounded me in the museum. I am dedicated to a cross-cultural world, in which ideas and dreams can transcend borders, inseminating and enriching one another as they go. And yes, I am dedicated to the bringing together of disparate peoples, people who regardless of faith, age, sexuality or politics, are united by the very simple fact of their humanity, by their common susceptibility to both beauty and beast. For whether we come together to enjoy art in a museum, or to express outrage at acts of cruel injustice, it is our ability to feel and express common emotion that we should cherish. It is what we learn from art and more painfully, from love. And it is to this, Madam, that I am dedicated. And I am so very grateful to you for pointing it out.

About Jane Downs

Having grown up in the south of England, Jane went on to study Arabic at university, travelling extensively in the Middle East and North Africa before putting down roots in Paris. Her work includes short stories, poetry, reportage and radio drama. Her audio drama "Battle Cries" inspired by the Arab Spring of 2011 was produced by the Wireless Theatre Company in 2013. http://www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk/product/battle-cries/

Having grown up in the south of England, Jane went on to study Arabic at university, travelling extensively in the Middle East and North Africa before putting down roots in Paris. Her work includes short stories, poetry, reportage and radio drama. Her audio drama "Battle Cries" inspired by the Arab Spring of 2011 was produced by the Wireless Theatre Company in 2013. http://www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk/product/battle-cries/

Leave a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *