Blurred boundaries: ARTiculation Oxford Regional Heat

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         By Chris Neal, ARTiculation Alumni 2016

On Wednesday 22nd February the Oxford heat of the ARTiculation competition was held at the Ashmolean Museum. This was the seventh year that the heat has been held at the Ashmolean, and this year was adjudicated by Dr Janina Ramirez, cultural historian, broadcaster and author. At the time of the heat, five regional finalists had been chosen, and the Oxford heat would decide upon the sixth.

The topics of the six talks ranged from more traditional art, such as Frida Kahlo’s Roots, to political cartoons and work by artists found on Instagram.

Alexa Woodhouse was awarded third place for her presentation on Unwelcome Intervention, one of nine murals painted by Banksy on the wall of the Gaza Strip. She analysed Banksy’s use of “trompe l’oeil” in creating the appearance of a hole in the wall showing through to a tropical beach. Alexa also explained the political point Banksy was making, using images of children to communicate the innocents growing up on either side of the wall, and the vivid ideas in the minds of the children of what might exist on the other side. Alexa also pointed out that the immovability of the artwork is a symbol of how the residents of Gaza are trapped by the wall, unable to escape.

Greta Scott chose the unusual topic of a political cartoon for her presentation, and was chosen for second place by Dr Ramirez. The cartoon in question, Your Move, by Canadian editorial cartoonist Roy Peterson, was published in the Vancouver Sun in 1990, at the height of the First Gulf War. In this cartoon, which won Peterson one of his seven National Newspaper Awards, Saddam Hussein is depicted facing the viewer across a chessboard. Greta explored the obvious symbolism of the humans being used as chess pieces, including the figure of Jordan, which Hussein is holding in his grip.

The winner, Felicity Mackenzie, spoke about the commemorative stained glass window celebrating the life of Sir Winston Churchill, design by Emma Blount. The artwork is installed at St Martin’s church in Bladon, where Churchill is buried. Images symbolising Churchill’s life, including a Spitfire and a gas mask, feature in the window. Although Churchill’s face only appears on a small detail of the window, Felicity explained how the main figures of the window, St Alban and St Martin, have parallels with Churchill’s life. Felicity mentioned how St Alban sheltered a priest in his home and sacrificed his own life to protect the priest, bearing a connection to Churchill’s sacrificial service of Britain. She also explored the relationship between Churchill and St Martin, a soldier who cut his cloak in half, offering one half to a beggar. By comparing Churchill to the two saints, Felicity explained how Blount portrays him as a protector of the weak and defenceless, and questioned whether modern politicians are doing the same.

Dr Ramirez congratulated all six competitors on the quality of their research and delivery of their presentations. It is interesting to see upon evaluation that the three speakers awarded prizes all chose topics which perhaps wouldn’t traditionally be considered “fine art”. This indicates how over the last half century the boundaries between “high art” and “low art” have been broken down, with young people interested to discuss the visual effect of spray-painted murals, political cartoons and stained-glass windows, and the artistic impact they have on the viewer and their wider culture.

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