Yesterday, Artcrank tweeted a link to the fascinating story about the poster for the forthcoming Artcrank London (a global exhibition of cycle art). As you would expect, its a rather lovely piece of poster art by London based artist, Dee Elnajjr. This image is also special for another reason; the extraordinary lengths that Dee went to have it produced. Flying to Beirut, Dee met with publishers and artisans before the poster was silk screen printed in a family workshop in Antelias, a quiet Lebanese town. Nicer, I feel, than nipping down to Jessops.
Now I like this type of thing, it adds a dab of colour, a nice back story, supports a traditional industry in a struggling country (without exploiting), utilises skilled craftspeople and ultimately produces a beautiful silkscreen print, an age-old medium for the civilisations that occupy the former silk road. But it’s not the traditional production process or the ethical considerations that struck me the most about this story. It was rather the gulf in liberties that exists between our – by comparison – privileged society and that of those decimated by sectarian divides. The full account of the story can be found here, but this is the passage that really made me reflect on just how lucky we are:
We spend the afternoon talking about what a fixed gear bike is and how people ride it in London, as well as the concept of cycling as a lifestyle choice and the different type of riders. We talk about the different cycling cultures and the “cult mentality” of fixed bikes. I talk about my love for bikes and why I ride, for the freedom of the open road and the pure addiction to cycling. Rania and Naji seem bemused, coffee lady and mustache man are tut-tutting, and even Kristelle is slightly surprised. They all shake their heads and smile at me. I smile back hopefully, inquiringly.
Naji’s answer, when it comes, is as powerful as it is unexpected:
“I envy you British people for the uncomplicated way that you live. For having the peace of mind to let a piece of metal become part of your national identity. For being calm enough to let a bike make you feel free. I wish it was that simple for us in Lebanon to feel light like birds, to be able to push away fatigue and desperation for the lack of a government. The only subcultures that we know are cliques of people cloaked in social instability”.
Doesn’t that statement stop you in your tracks?
As cyclists, we’re all prone to a little moaning. In a critical context, it’s a very healthy thing. To assess our own environment in an attempt to influence and improve it, is very much part of our culture (not that we always get it right). Long may it continue. But this statement by Naji puts everything into context. The liberty we enjoy on the bike is not a universal one and it’s more precious than we care to remember. Incidentally, this notion motivated the colours of the poster, “Blue and white, the colors of the sky and freedom.”
The next time I moan that I scuffed my Brooks saddle by leaning it against a breezeblock wall, or whinge about the dousing I just enjoyed at the hands of the UK summer, or complain that there are loose dogs on the Taff trail, or berate someone for not riding neatly in a group, I’ll try to remember that passage and thank the stars that I have genuinely free time and space in which to indulge my love of the bike.
Enjoy your cycling.
Artcrank London starts on September the 7th at Plain Wall projects in Hoxton and runs until Friday the 14th of September. Admission free.