The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, a friend tells me, “was terrific”. I doubt if I will get to Piccadilly to see it. But for me the Merton exhibition of children’s drawings, paintings and writing on the theme of peace was just as compelling to view.
A group of local organisations, including churches, Woodcraft Folk, the N.U.T., Merton Bengali Association and others, joined the Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition, Merton U.N.A. and Fielders bookshop to reinforce the message of the Hague Appeal for Peace in this very imaginative way. Entries were invited for a competition among schools and schoolchildren. The result — over 400 entries — comprised pictures, poems, essay, needlework, and even music and dance, several models and a video!
Between 15th and 18th June the foyer of the Civic Centre in Morden was transformed. Some twenty screens formed the background for the work, which by this time had been mounted and grouped according to the ages/schools of the children involved. The entrance to the Civic Centre turned out to be a light and airy art gallery — once the screens had been manhandled into place, and the penultimate pictures put in place late on the night of 14th June.
It was clear that Joanna Bazley of CND and Alison Williams of UNA had accomplished much when they had visited schools and introduced children to the theme of peace. The teachers involved had also put a great deal into the project. The quality and content of the work reflected this. Take this extract, for example:-
PEACE“A match burns, small, solitary... yet useful in many ways.
A thought of peace in someone’s mind, small
Isolated... yet quick spreading like a fire.
The match lights a candle
The thought touches another.
The exhibits were for the most part optimistic, and many were very, very beautiful. One child had made a kite with doves forming the tail; another had created a delicate collage depicting a map of the world surrounded with a blue feathered border. One of the simplest but most effective consisted of the word PEACE cut out in bold shiny letters with a repeat message in reverse immediately beneath — a reflection in fact. The more you looked at it the more you got the message.
It was a pity that this unique insight into children’s thoughts on war and peace was on show for only four days. But coming as it did just as the bombing of Yugoslavia was ending and peace negotiations were breaking out, it showed clearly how deeply children are affected by the nature and imagery of war. I haven’t mentioned the guns, the uniforms, the bombs which featured almost unbearably in some of the work. but even these works usually carried a message of sharing, or peace, or simply a question “Peace, anyone?”
At the opening ceremony performed by the Mayor and attended by an invited audience of children, teachers and helpers, a great deal of pleasure was given by the group of 8 year olds who, wearing camouflage trousers, with blacked cheeks, danced, mimed and performed acrobatics to their own music in a little ballet. Somehow this performance for me symbolised innocence — war transformed. It would be splendid if somehow this exhibition could be re-displayed to reach a wider audience. Is there any way we could make this happen?
The Exhibition last month of the entries in the Hague Appeal for Peace Competition of children’s art was the culmination of an enormous amount of hard work, and it was quite magical to see it all come to fruition. Exhaustion fell away as we read the comments in our visitors’ book: “Excellent — imaginative — brilliant — a true representation of children’s feelings — an eye-opener — what an inspiration! — made me think about the future of my children....”
We had a supportive letter from the Mayor of Merton, who said “It is a wonderful display and I hope people will realise how important it is”, and Mrs Jean Fielder, who wrote “I don’t think there is a more worthwhile project with which Fielders could be associated”. Best of all, we can feel that we have created links with the schools and with other local organisations which we can develop for the future.
Judging is almost completed (with 456 entries, it was quite a task) and the final Prize Giving will be on July 16th. (Space in the Council Chamber is limited so please let us know in advance if you want to come — ring 543 0362). We are hoping that we can arrange for a smaller exhibition of the best work to tour the Merton libraries, and suggestions have been made that we should try to publish some of the children’s writing. Please get in touch if you can offer any help.
So many people have been involved in this project that it is impossible to thank them all, but I think that a few people should have their contribution publicly acknowledged.
Councillors Karim, Barbara Bampton and Brian White have been a tower of strength, liaising with the Council and Civic Centre. Maisie Carter masterminded the huge mounting operation. Alison Williams and Rosemary Jambert Gray helped with drafting literature. Jim Lindsay negotiated the loan of the display boards and also transported them to and fro — and they were very heavy. The loyal supporters who addressed envelopes, glued work onto sugar-paper and pinned it onto display boards are too many to list, and I should inevitably leave some of them out. So please would everybody accept the most grateful thanks, since without you all this magnificent project would have been impossible.
We were sorry to hear of the recent death of Dr Lomax Simpson who lent us the beautiful ‘garden room’ in her house in Malcolm Road for the Round Table (citizens’ jury) discussion on government nuclear weapons policy, which we organised at the instigation of the World Court Project two years ago. As a venue it was perfect, and Dr Lomax Simpson couldn’t have been a more attentive hostess, as well as an active participant in the proceedings.
The obituary in the national Guardian newspaper [12·6·1999] told us more about her: “Pioneering psychoanalyst who gave hope to single mothers, children and homeless young men.... a remarkable psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who cared desperately for those she treated and founded centres for single mothers and the homeless during the 1970s”, using an inheritance from her mother Mary Messenger to establish the nine houses of the Messenger House Trust. She came from a privileged background (her architect grandfather was a friend of the first Lord Leverhulme, with whom he created Port Sunlight, and her father, also an architect, designed Unilever House in London) but she developed an early awareness of social problems during the war when her mother took in five London evacuees and this became the focus of her professional career.
We shall hold our traditional Hiroshima commemoration on the evening of Saturday August 7th with candle floating on Rushmere pond, near the Wimbledon war memorial. We shall assemble at about 8·30 pm and launch the candles as it begins to get dark. This is always a very moving occasion, and if we are blessed with a fine summer sunset it can be a spectacle of great beauty as the lighted candles and their reflections move slowly over the water. Please bring nightlights and boats! e.g. plastic trays. The Peace Table in the morning will be used to publicise the event and to explain what we shall be doing, and why.
On Sunday August 8th everybody is invited to a bring-and-share picnic in Cannizaro Park, near our Hiroshima cherry tree, from 3·00 pm onwards. Bring the family!
Mordechai Vanunu was a technician at Dimona, Israel’s nuclear installation, from 1976 to 1985. He discovered that the plant was secretly producing nuclear weapons and his conscience made him speak out. In 1986 he provided the London Sunday Times with facts and photographs which they used to tell the world about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme; Israel sentenced him to 18 years solitary confinement for treason and espionage.
CND Council agreed earlier this year to call for an ongoing campaign to make sure that Mordechai Vanunu gets a regular supply of letters. To make sure that whole year is covered people in particular regions are being asked to make an effort to send letters during particular months — West Midlands and Leicestershire covered January and February, Cumbria covered March and April, Manchester covered May and June and now it is London’s turn for July and August.
We are told that Mordechai does not want fan mail, which he finds embarrassing; what he wants to hear about is what you are doing, both personally and politically, and what you think and hope for. Your letters will be censored, so any references to nuclear weapons will be physically removed. He was in solitary confinement for over eleven years, and although he is now no longer in solitary his sentence has another seven years to run. Although he may not be able to answer all his letters, he receives them all and every letter gives him hope.
Write to:Mordechai Vanunu,
You can also send a fax or letter to one or more of the following people, asking for Vanunu’s early release. Every protest brings his release date nearer.
Ezer Weizman, President of Israel, 3 Hanassi Street, Jerusalem, Israel. Fax: 00972 2 566 0445
Tzhai HaNegbi, Justice Minister. Fax: 00 972 2 628 5438
Avigdor Kahalani, Internal Security. Fax: 00 972 2 581 1832
Yitzhak Gabai, Prison Governor, Ashkelon Prison, Ashkelon, Israel. Fax: 00 972 7 677 5131
Dror Zeigermann, Israeli Ambassador, Embassy of Israel, 2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB
This will take place in London this year, at the University of London Union, Malet Street, WC1, on the weekend of the 11th and 12th of September. There will be the usual mix of debate, discussion, workshops and social events, plus a chance to influence the future direction of CND’s campaigning. The final date for registration is 27th August, and any paid-up member of CND can go. The fees are £25 (£8 unwaged) and forms can be obtained from CND Head Office, 162 Holloway Road, London N7 8DQ.
A magnificent total of £75 was raised by our stall on June 19th — thanks to everybody who helped, especially Ann, Muriel and Brian. Our next stalls will be at the UNA car boot sale on Saturday July 17th and the Lions Club Fair on Monday August 30th. Please consider whether you can help, either by doing a shift on the stall or with transport before or after the event. (We are very short of car drivers).
Reprinted from Non-Violent Action, June/July 1999