The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
75 years on and the Cable Street mural is still important
October 4 this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street in London, an iconic moment of solidarity in the active resistance to fascism.
Back in 1936 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 a quarter of a million people.
To celebrate this date Studio1.1 in London's East End is mounting a commemorative show. It features not so much the battle itself, but its continuing memorial - the mural painted in the early 1980s on a wall beside the Hawksmoor 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.
The fact that it 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.
The show contains several of Paul's preliminary drawings as well as other documentary material.
What is striking for those around in the 1980s when the mural was being painted is that even apparently politically aware people in the arts 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, regrettable matter.
If this is a feature of the famous contemporary obliteration of historical memory, so much the worse. 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 merits remembering under any historical circumstances.
There is something chilling about the fact that in the 21st-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 10 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 overpainting 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.
Runs until October 4 at Studio 1.1, Redchurch Street, London E2. Free. Opening times: 07952 986696. Studio1.1 is hosting two talks on the subject at The Jewish Museum, London NW1, on October 26 and at the Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, on October 27. Details:www.studio1-1.co.uk.
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