If these walls could talk…

Image 1 ~ © Larry Herman; image 2 ~ Hernando Fernandez papers; image 3 ~ Scottish Anti-Apartheid Movement papers; image 4 ~ © Bob Starrett; image 5 ~ Robert Climie papers

Michael Chaiken, Archivist and Curator of the Bob Dylan Archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma, recently wrote that the “archivist’s impulse…affirms that what has come before can be made eternally alive and present, provided, as Nietzsche reminds us, that what we are celebrating in our own history is not an end in itself, but a means of serving life through a fundamental continuity with the strengths of our past.”

To this end, as a neat visual rendering of this impulse, our Archivist, at the tail end of a year in which some posited that we needed to be reminded of our collective past in the light of certain re-emergent nihilistic tendencies, decided that our shiny, new (but very stark, white) Reading Room required a frieze to adorn it’s walls. A series of images, illustrating the depth and breadth of GCU’s Archives & Special Collections, were then carefully selected, and in the week before Christmas the stars at our Print Design Services worked their magic on our walls.

And so now our users find themselves encircled (and hopefully inspired) by images of our collective past. So far, everyone, from students, researchers or just pop-in visitors passing by our windows, has remarked on its appeal. It would seem that one cannot help but be drawn in by it, to peek and peer at the stories on our wall, and it has been fascinating to me to see how every viewer is drawn to different images and indeed sees them differently; it confirms our innate fascination with our past, of how we lived then (and the simple yet sublime power of these images is rendering the past as just so ~ as ’we’, not ‘them’).

Some images speak for themselves, and trigger personal memories, ~ Nelson Mandela united in smiles with a packed George Square. Others possess a mystery and power which is innate (yet increases once you know the personal details) ~ a sepia shot of a group of men in the winter outdoors pose smiling in front of a giant ‘Socialism’ snowball (WW1 conscientious objectors in a work camp, their principles spelled out amidst the harshest of conditions).

Other guests have been drawn to the small details, not noticed on first viewing, such as the image of Nelson Mandela and Brian Filling of the Scottish AAM. One notices their smiling, celebratory faces, beaming for all the world to see, and yet it is only after a few further glances that one draws one’s eyes away from their faces and sees that these two middle-aged men in suits are tightly holding hands. Elsewhere, a satirical cartoon has Margaret Thatcher, equally tightly, grasping onto the fundamentals of a striking worker.

Elsewhere, the aesthetic power is undeniable ~ the graphic beauty of a Chilean political poster, or the stark sublimity of Larry Herman’s Glasgow photographs ~ capturing a common humanity that transcends lenses, geography and history. Herman’s haunting industrial shots also transcend their environment almost to the point of science fiction; the past as a different planet, let alone place.

The innate idea of a frieze represents continuity, encirclement, an unbroken chain of connection. These images may be frozen in time, but their power is thawed out by our looking upon them. What has come before passes on and surrounds us now. There actually is no end to history, despite the claims of some (as 2016 undoubtedly illustrated).

As Michael Chaiken concluded ~ “In this regard, preservation is the enemy of nihilism and evinces a simple hope: that the future lasts forever.”

~ Símon Docherty, Archive Assistant

Politics and Cartoons – guest blog by Sandy Hobbs

freetodraw01In 2016 Sandy Hobbs added a large cartoon/comic related deposit to his existing collection at GCU. Our debut exhibition of 2017 is ‘Free to Draw: Cartoonists and their Politics’, which draws from both Sandy’s material and from Bob Starrett’s papers. As an introduction Sandy has kindly penned a blog for us ~

In the 1990s, when I moved material from my home to GCU to form what became the Sandy Hobbs Collection, the basic loose principles of selection were that  what was included would be POLITICAL  and from my PAST. Some of what I retained at home might well have gone, but other considerations were at work. Some correspondence with my still living friend Jean McCrindle seemed more personal than political. Writings by E. P. Thompson I kept by me because I still felt the need to consult it regularly.

super-sandyAmongst this borderline material were items relating to PHIL EVANS, the socialist cartoonist, who had been married to my sister, Andrea, for a time, and who remained a “family member”, being the father of my niece, Esme. When he died in 2014, it seemed appropriate to add to the collection, not only examples of his political work, but also general drawings and sketches he had done of, for example, Esme and my son, Kevin. (cartoon opposite ‘Super Sandy’ by Phil Evans)

Then in January 2015, the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, got me thinking about political cartooning more generally and this resulted in a decision to offer to the collection material which I had previously thought of as primarily Cartoons rather than Politics.

The first set of material which seemed appropriate concerns LEO BAXENDALE. We worked together in Scottish CND, so he already featured in the archive. However, for a time Lois and I wrote scripts for him when he was the principal artist on the children’s comic, Wham! We have a complete run of the early Wham! Leo would not be thought of primarily as a political cartoonist, but he has a profoundly political world-view, as is clear from the books he published later in life. It would be unhelpful to try to distinguish between political Leo and non-political Leo.

Awareness of this tricky point influenced my approach to selecting cartoon material of a more general sort. It was a straightforward business to pick out, for example, STEVE BELL and VICKY on the left and CUMMINGS on the right. Similarly cartoon books dealing with Hiroshima and the Holocaust were obvious candidates for inclusion. Equally appropriate are cartoon histories of organizations such as the French Socialist Party and the Wobblies. HERGE, the creator of Tintin, is not thought of primarily as a political artist, but he did begin his career on a right wing newspaper in Belgium and an early Tintin adventure was set in the Soviet Union.

For a time, I subscribed to the satirical magazines, CANARD ENCHAINE and PRIVATE EYE. Cartoons are a prominent part of both publications. I once contributed a story about the political content of a children’s comic to Private Eye, but have forgotten the date.

In the 1960s I had a particular interest in writing about children’s comics, which had been aroused in my time working with Leo Baxendale. There are thus in my files short articles on comics contributed to Solidarity Scotland, Glasgow Choice, which was a consumers’ newsletter, and into the 1970s, Socialist Worker. There is also a draft article on Leo which was rejected by a fine arts magazine and a piece on comics which I think had been prepared as part of a scheme Leo had to start a new comic. My writing on comics tailed off until an “interview” concocted by David Cornwell and myself for a fanzine called Fusion. David and I also published a paper on the Gorbals vampire hunt, which devote a lot of space to the supposed role played by “horror comics” in that phenomenon. In 1981 I curated a small exhibition at Paisley College and in 1988 I organize a session at an event, What’s Left, organized by Marxism Today at Glasgow College. All of this activity was “political” to varying extents and, of course, largely about cartoons.

After a good deal of soul searching on the question of which cartoons could be regarded as relevant to political issues, my son Kevin pointed out to me that much of the material I was thinking of holding back, especially children’s comics, was ephemeral and hence particularly worthy of being saved in an archive. Hence what I have submitted ranges from the explicitly political to material  that neither the artists nor their original audiences would have associated with “politics”.

Namibia and The Frontline States

Namibia

Eight months ago when I first began working on the Scottish Committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archive I thought that I would largely be working on papers that had either a focus on South Africa, or Scotland and the UK’s efforts to draw attention to and end the apartheid regime. Naturally, these papers did form an extensive part of the collection, however I found a significant amount of files and papers related to Namibia and a group of countries that formed the Frontline States which bordered, or were in close proximity, to South Africa, these included Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These countries all played their part in helping to support the global anti-apartheid movement and bring an end to the terrible regime.

Continue reading

‘Have you heard from Johannesburg?” – Black History Month

9807_bhm-rotator2_700x250This October will see Glasgow Caledonian University take part in the UK wide Black History Month. During this month organisations across Britain will remember and celebrate important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It has been running yearly in the UK since 1987 where it was first celebrated in London, but has now spread across the country with a huge range of fascinating events taking place. It is also celebrated annually in the United States and Canada but during the month of February.

Continue reading

Why All the Fuss? After All, It’s Just a Game

skm_c454e16092813271_0001Sport is something that I have always enjoyed, but with a passing, casual interest. Some people would probably struggle to see the activities that I enjoy participating in, or watching, as sport, especially the manner in which I do them. To me being outside enjoying the scenery in a leisurely manner, in woods, on lochs, and up hills and mountains, is the closest I get to keeping active.

The intense competition and fandom that is often prevalent in sport is something that I have often struggled to comprehend. Coming from an English/Scottish background, and spending most of my adult life in Glasgow, the rivalries I have observed between nations and religions has often left me disenchanted. The excuse that certain behaviors, whether words, or actions, are acceptable when committed due to the passionate love of a sports team leave me cold.

However, over the past few years I have begun to understand the value of sport as an incredible social currency. A love of sport, whether playing or watching, can break down barriers put up by differences in gender, age, background, race, nationality and religion. It has an amazing power to unite and create opportunity. GCU hosting The Homeless World Cup earlier this year was a perfect example of the positive effect that sport can have on many people’s lives.

Continue reading

Money, money, money…

Fund‘Money makes the world go round’ Cabaret (1972)

While far from being the sole truth, we live in a capitalist world where money acts as a great facilitator.

The way funds are raised for global causes has changed dramatically in the past twenty years with large charities using direct debits, carefully coordinated teams of street funders and call centres full of staff members, working for multiple charities, to try and convince you that their cause will benefit the most from your money.

Grassroots organisations and individuals have benefited from the advent of online campaigning and donating, slashing the costs and time that is needed to raise awareness. We live in an age which makes fundraising something anyone and everyone can take part in.

Continue reading

‘The Madiba Legacy’ Comics, Mandela Day

Most collections first arrive at an archive as a mixed up assortment of boxes and plastic bags, filled with all kinds of papers, books and objects. At first glance one could be mistaken for thinking that this was just a pile of rubbish on a journey to its final resting place at the bottom of a bin.

However, what is contained within is important precisely because it has been saved from this fate. These items form a collection made up of records of transactions carried out by an individual or organisations, and through their place in the archive will go on to shape history and form collective memory for many years to come.

Continue reading

Resistance Culture, Transformation and the Expression of Freedom

Sechaba Poster

‘One culture is that which, while recognising the historical differences of national groups, seeks to build a nation which will bestow on people such knowledge, understanding – a civilisation of co-existence which will result in the eradication of all forms of deprivation and discrimination on whatever basis; the other culture…based on discrimination, oppression, exploitation and divide and rule, by exploiting the differences of national groups in that country and by building a nation dominated by whites.’

Resistance Culture, Transformation and the Expression of Freedom, paper delivered in Glasgow at the Sechaba Festival in 1990, Mongane Wally Serote

The success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement was based on the tireless activities of individuals, groups and nations, uniting across the world because they believed in equality for all, regardless of race, religion, gender or class. Culture acted as the great unifier, with events spanning the arts, showcasing South African/African talent alongside the more familiar and home-grown, proving that awareness raising and activism could be at once enjoyable, exhilarating and hard-hitting.

Continue reading

Support is Visual – The Visual is Vital

A collection of stickers and postcards from the Scottish Committee Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection.

A collection of stickers and postcards from the Scottish Committee Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection.

‘Support is Visual’ the leaflet said at first glance, a glance that stopped me in my tracks. I was struck by the unusual, yet powerful slogan, and started thinking about the necessity of visual support.

Over a month spent in amongst the stacks, working on the Scottish Committee Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection, has drawn my attention to the vast array of ways that people displayed their support; from stickers, to diaries, greetings cards, plastic bags, leaflets, flyers, banners and sashes. Not to mention posters of every size, painted by hand or printed in their hundreds, and letterheads; providing a constant reminder of what was being fought for.

Continue reading

Beautiful Ghosts; or Robeson’s Echo: the Archives & Special Collections’ Reading Room

LIGHT BOX (293)

echo: “a reflection of sound, arriving at the listener some time after the direct sound

Of the quartet of striking archival images chosen to welcome researchers to our Reading Room, both on the signage outside and the glass banners inside, it is the Paul Robeson image which, to me, most keenly reflects the nature of our remit here. Robeson sings out to that Glasgow May Day 1960 crowd, but his message echoes down, 56 years to the month, saying to us now – listen again, and look!

His image inside our Reading Room appears like a beautiful ghost, his hand hailing a welcome whilst simultaneously pointing a way forward, always forward; looking back to see ahead.

Our shining new Reading Room offers researchers a bright light to do just this. It offers study space for nine readers at any one time – an oasis of silence from the hubbub outside, with lockers for your valuables, and actual pencil sharpeners, for your actual pencils. With access to our Archives and Special Collections, allowing readers to view invaluable primary source material, revolving copies of which will appear in our windows to tempt you inside, as well as access to the knowledge and expertise of our staff, the Reading Room offers researchers a perfect echo chamber of reflection and illumination – preserving the past to inform the future.

The Archives and Special Collections’ Reading Room is open Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm, by appointment only – archives@gcu.ac.uk.

~ Símon Docherty
Archive Assistant