08
Oct
07

Weblog launch at Minet Library

To read the full post click on the title above

On Monday 1 October 2007, on a very wet London evening, a group of people braved the weather to gather at Minet Library for the official launch of this weblog.

The launch consisted in a presentation about the origin of the project, and a demonstration of the blog (its contents and how to use it). Liz Obi shared with the audience some personal words about Olive, and qualified her interest in recuperating the memory of Olive Morris. The discussion was then opened to the audience, that included some people who knew Olive both personally and from references, and some others who simply wanted to find out more about her. Conversation continued over drinks and music, and people had a chance to look at the exhibition about Olive Morris that Liz Obi kindly brought into the Library. The few of us who went on in the search for a pub, were rewarded with a chance encounter with an old friend of Olive.

Many thanks to all that came, and to all of you who have sent emails of support, and volunteered help to take the project further.

launch pic1
Image © Lucia Pizzani. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

Liz Obi’s Remembering Olive exhibition can be seen at Minet Library until Friday 14 October. It will then go on tour to Lambeth’s Women Project (166A Stockwell Road), where on Tuesday 16 October 6.30 they will be launching a reading club with a selection of books related to Black History. Lambeth Women’s Project is currently facing the threat of closure. Visit their link to support their petition.

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Here is a personal account of the evening:

I arrived early to set up the equipment, and was soon joined by Liz, who brought the exhibition about Olive Morris she had presented in 2000 at Brixton Library. Liz also brought some candles, incense and some of her plants. The exhibition boards were covered in African textiles. As an artist, I was pleased to see (and gently reminded of) how little it takes to give a personal touch to what we do, when we take temporary occupation of an institutional space.

The presentation was introduced by Jon Newman from Lambeth Archives, who explained why the Archives had chosen to support the project. The use of weblog technology was an innovative tool, but also the fact that it was an artist-led project brought “a different sensibility” to their job of collecting and preserving local history.

launch Jon

Image © Ermiyas Mekonnen. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

I started the presentation by welcoming the audience, and as an introduction and a form of setting the wider background against which this project was conceived, we showed a 6 minutes long video, made the previous week in collaboration with Liz Obi.

I went on to tell the story of how I came to be interested in Olive Morris, a story that is also narrated in this blog in a separate post (The starting point).

launch pic2

Image © Lucia Pizzani. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

I then showed the blog and its contents to the audience, and explained the different sections in which I have tried to organise the information. I wanted to give a sense of the breadth of Olive Morris work and interests, but try to keep a non-linear, or non-chronological order. I described the fragmented way in which I have compiled the information, and that I hoped the blog maintained that open structure, where snapshots from Olive’s life and her times could be connected through the personal journeys or interests of those reading and contributing to the blog.

launch pic3

Image © Lucia Pizzani. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

Following the more formal part of the presentation, Liz Obi spoke to the audience about her personal relationship to Olive Morris, and about the journey she had embarked a few years ago when she decided to put together the Remembering Olive exhibition. Liz also spoke about Olive’s legacy and what she had learnt from her. She went on to tell the audience about her initial reticence when we first met: “what does this white woman wants to do with Olive’s story”, but understanding the motives she had agreed to collaborate and share her knowledge with me. Liz’s words of support and her engagement with the project had so far been crucial to the development of the blog.

In contrast to Liz’s own search for Olive’s history, where she both had the personal knowledge (dates, places, names) and the trust and access to those who knew and worked with Olive, the issue of me being an “outsider” is – I feel – quite central to the success or failure of the project.

launch pic4

Image © Lucia Pizzani. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

The conversation was then opened to the floor, and this is a summery of the things that were spoken about:

We had the pleasure to count amongst the audience with Sandra, who had known Olive despite being several years younger. Sandra told us how she had moved into 121 Railton Road squat after Liz and Olive moved out, and was involved with her partner in setting up and running Sabaar Bookshop. There was quite an animated discussion about the lack of awareness of this story of Black squats, and of the paradox of having a housing building named after Olive Morris. A lineage of Black squats was traced from 121 Railton Road, to the recently closed Rastafarian Centre at St Agnes Place.

There was also some debate as to whether the naming of buildings and streets are actually a positive thing and the desired recognition of Black people’s achievements, or whether – as Jon Newman pointed out – it could be simply a political gesture that can be easily undone, as it is actually happening in South London nowadays (the renaming of Mary Secoale House was given as an example). The current situation of Olive Morris House refurbishment was discussed, and this is one of the areas where the audience felt there could be some concrete outcome that could come out of this project.

launch Neil

Image © Ermiyas Mekonnen. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

Neil Kenlock – who was present, kindly offered to go through his archive and make his photographs of Olive available free of charge for this blog. Neil reminded the audience that it would be a pity if Olive Morris went down in history as a squatter, because above all, her fight was “a fight for equality, and this is how she should be remembered”. Neil spoke about his photograph (which was the trigger for this project), and told us about Olive’s courage and fearlessness. He said: “it took a lot of courage for her to stand there holding that placard. Those were tough times and many big and strong men didn’t have the gust to do it, but Olive did. She even took her shoes off”.

We also had the honor of counting with Tamara Lewis in the audience. Tamara is Olive’s niece but was born after her death. She said: “seeing and hearing all this, I keep thinking how happy Grandma would have been if she was here today”. This prompted some comments about Ms Doris Morris, and her own engagement with political activism, as the source of both the inspiration and the support that Olive found in her own family.

launch portraits

Image © Ermiyas Mekonnen. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

There was a sense – specially in those who knew little about Olive Morris – of the importance of recuperating her figure within our local community – not just as an inspiration for Black people, but as an example for everyone. As Liz said, what was most important about Olive’s legacy is that she showed us we all can, as individuals, make a difference. That this power we had as individuals to stand up against injustice, is a very real power and that we should not hesitate to use it on our own and in collaboration with others.

With the good atmosphere amongst the audience – a gathering of people paying respects and honoring the memory of Olive Morris – it was easy for all of us to push away the chairs and carry on chatting over a drink, to the sound of some classic reggae tracks.

When it was time to go, a small group of us started on the search for a local pub. We stumbled by chance upon an “old style Brixton pub” of the kind that have now vanished from Brixton centre. Just as we walked into the pub, Liz shouted and run after a man that was popping out to smoke a cigarette. He had been a close friend of Olive throughout her life, and over a few cigarettes shared in the outdoor cold, he pieced together with Liz some memories of Olive’s early youth and later years. It seemed to us that it had been Olive’s spirit guising us to that pub.

launch pic5

Image © Lucia Pizzani. Image reproduced with permission of the author.

Just after midnight Liz Obi, Oniel Williams and I walked together all the way to Brixton, still talking about Olive and her times, the fate of “the 70s struggle”, contemporary politics, the third world, and the reality of life in Brixton as experienced by our children. Just as we were coming into Coldharbour Lane we saw a police van, and several police officers in the process of searching two young Black men. One of the police officers was feeling the youth’s toes over his white sport socks, and another was holding in his silicone gloved hand a forensic evidence bag with a small amount of weed in it. We walked past them and a third police officer volunteered – with a smile – some community relations nicety to us, as we continued our journey without making any fuss.

There it was in a nut shell, the sign of the changing times. Much talk was made on this night about what would Olive Morris would be doing nowadays, were she still alive. For sure she would have something to say.

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3 Responses to “Weblog launch at Minet Library”


  1. 1 Marina
    October 16, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    I feel lucky because I met Liz tonight in a book club evening organised at Lambeth Women’s Project and I feel lucky because I saw the exhibition that Liz set up. I found out more about Olive Morris, this amazing person and I hope her memory could stick in everybody brain, making them conscious about the injustice we face and own our right and how we could stand up again against it!

    Thanks.

  2. 2 Maria
    December 3, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    Just to say how great this work is and how the outsider viewpoint is useful. Sorry I missed the drinx in the pub but glad to know the book launch happened. Thanx for a great evening and a great life.

    I have had cause to visit Olive Morris house of late – I’m glad I don’t suffer from epilepsy and my feelings go out to those employees that have to work in front of six flat-screen tv’s operating on different time loops. The brightness is to high and the pseudo airport environment serves as an ironic reminder that I am not flying out anywhere soon. The customer service was reasonable but their power dressing also emphasised that I was not in their position.

    I balanced on the plastic molded propeller shaped seating talking to a homeless sixteen year old female waiting for my turn. It was then that I decided that if I had to leave that building in chains I would.

    Forty five minutes later I got the chance to explain to an employee about my ongoing housing benefit/council tax bill. The man was patient and attentive and wiped one hundred pounds off of my bill there and then. My bill was reduced by almost half and I sailed down Brixton Hill feeling that there is some justice in Olive Morris House, even that there is no children’s area.

    My mind at rest I continued my daily life for about two weeks and then BAAM another council tax bill arrived on the doorstep. That same red letter they keep sending me the one that says I owe three hundred and nine pounds. The one that says they will arrest me if I don’t show up at Camberwell Court. The one that gives me a headache that’s slowly turning into a mental health problem. That frustrating thump at the front of my brain that makes me nauseas with bureaucracy.

    I think thats why I cry when I think of Olive Morris, why her spirit seems so alive for me, I clutch at the thread of her fight as i try to survive the grasp of my overpayment, my debt, for being a mother one without a man. What price we pay to live.

    I shall be revisiting the new customer service centre in the near future – it must be complete by now, so refurbished and well staffed that surely I will get to the bottom of my bill and my benefit.
    I will be looking for the golden plaque of Olive Morris as I continue to wonder where the huge silver lettering from the front of the building have gone – replaced by smaller reserved blue offset and wonder why airports don’t have children’s areas either…………

  3. 3 Liz Obi
    March 7, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Your story resonates – my advice to you is to let them take you to court – I suffered the same hassle many years ago when the whole thing was run by Capita – going to the office being told it was sorted only to find out that nobody had told the computer which kept churning out endless letters informing me I owed different amounts – sometimes two letters in one day telling me different things. Eventually I let them take me to court – when I got there I was amazed to find a whole team of customer service people wanting to sort things out for me so that I wouldn’t have to go before the magistrate. I insisted I wanted to go before the magistrate where I was able to prove my case ie I did not owe any council tax. The magistrate was satisfied and dismissed the case. I then stood up and requested compensation from Lambeth for having wasted my time – the magistrate was unable to award compensation but awarded me my travel costs to attend and asked Lambeth’s lawyer about compensation. Lambeth’s lawyers informed the court that they would look into a claim. I submitted a claim and was eventually awarded £300 compensation. Don’t let them grind you down girl – keep on keepin on!!!!


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