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Monica Ross – an act in memory

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human rights, jean Charles de menezes, magna carta, monica rossThe performances may have concluded but the work will continue.

‘Anniversary—an act of memory’ was as series of solo, collective and multi-lingual recitations from memory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It was a performance series in 60 Acts led by Monica Ross and Co-Recitors and it ran from 2008-2013.

Ross first challenged herself to memorise and publicly recite the Declaration as a response to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by police in London in July 2005 in the solo performance ‘rights repeated—an act of memory’ at Beaconsfield, London in 2005.

Anniversary―an act of memory was a performance series in 60 acts of solo, collective and multi-lingual recitations from memory embodying a struggle for personal and public memory and the attainment of human rights as a continual process of individual and collective negotiation and re-iteration.

The aim was to realise the 60 recitations in different communities and contexts, and since 2008 Acts have taken place in Madrid, Berlin and Galway and throughout the UK in settings such as the House of Commons, Southwark Cathedral, Art Festivals, Galleries, Theatres, Libraries, Community Fairs, Campaigns and Conferences.

The recitations include stand-alone works and collaborations such as with Sheffield Socialist Choir, Mikhail Karikis’s opera and film Xenon, Suzanne Treister’s A World’s Fair and an additional Act of Memory with Brighton Festival Choir celebrating Aung San Suu Kyi as Guest Director at the launch of Brighton Festival 2011.

The recitations have been large and small, public and private and have marked anniversaries such as International Women’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, International Human Rights Day, Holocaust Memorial Day and Act 42 a live streamed solo recitation on May Day 2012 from Lighthouse, Brighton.

Act 1 of the Anniversary—an act of memory series was performed as a solo recitation in Ours By Right, an Equal Opportunities Commission event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Declaration held during the exhibition Taking Liberties: the struggle for Britain’s Rights and Freedoms, at the British Library, London, on 7 December 2008.

Act 36, a recitation with Wunderbar Festival 2011, presented at the BALTIC, Gateshead, was recited primarily in British Sign Language (BSL).

And in April 2013 Anniversary—an act of memory and Signworld were very pleased to be able to announce that Signworld’s landmark translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) into British Sign Language (BSL) was accepted for inclusion on the United Nations website alongside 400+ translations of spoken languages.

This is beleived to be the first translation of the entire Preamble and 30 Articles of the UDHR into any sign language.

The translation was presented by Tessa Padden and Nicholas Padden and was sponsored and produced by the Newcastle and Bristol-based company Signworld as a contribution to Anniversary—an act of memory.

By June 2013 almost 1000 Co-Recitors of all ages and backgrounds had memorised and publicly recited articles of significance to them in 50+ languages, including endangered and indigenous languages and British and other Sign Languages.

On 14 June 2013, the day of the sixtieth and concluding act of ‘Anniversary—an act of memory’ at the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Monica Ross died of cancer.

The sixty performances have reached their conclusion as a series, but it is a sincere hope that others may be encouraged and inspired to continue the endeavour to promote human rights throughout the world and if they do so using ‘Anniversary—an act of memory’ as a model or template, Monica Ross would be only too delighted.

This year, for example, Monica Ross: An Act of Memory took place on 14 June at the British Library, to coincide with the opening of an exhibition there called Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

Many Co-Recitors from earlier Anniversary—an act of memory events took part in this recitation which was led by Andrew Mitchelson; members of the British Library Youth Forum, many of the co-recitors from the first sixty, Natalie Bennet, leader of the Green Party; Chickenshed Theatre Chelsea & Kensington who have developed part of the recitation with a class of young people from the Kensington Aldridge Academy and Ross’s friends and family.

Natalie Bennet recited Article 22 of the Declaration of Human Rights:

‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’

Ross taught at Central Saint Martins on the Fine Art and Critical Studies Course from 1985 and went on to lead the Critical Fine Art subject area there from 1990 –1998.

A symposium held in November last year celebrated her life and work, and the acquisition of her digital archive by the British Library.

The launch of www.monicaross.org marked the start of the acquisition of the Monica Ross Archive by the British Library.

The British Library will hold the archive in a digitised format, but the physical archive resides with the Monica Ross Trustees.

Monica Ross was one of the most significant feminist artists and distinguished educators of her generation.

Artist Conrad Atkinson, writing an obituary for her in 2013, said of Ross, who studied at Reading University:

‘…She and other feminists in the early seventies were trying to insert themselves into a male oriented art world.

‘Their first show was at the ICA 1977 ‘Portrait of the Artist as A Housewife’ and was amongst the explosion of consciousness of the work of women artists and associated groups such as the Women’s Postal Art Collective which was such an inspiration to artists both male and female.

“In the press release to that exhibition it says ‘These women are fighting isolation inventing a women’s art. The aim is communication not perfect aesthetics’.

‘These were pioneering artists who arguably amongst others created the place in which the Tracey Emins and Sarah [Lucases] and the Guerilla Girls could comfortably exist and it is to my regret that that contribution has been largely unacknowledged.’

Anniversary — an act of memory was developed from the solo performance ‘rightsrepeated — an act of memory’, a response to the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes by police in London on 22 July 2005 and first performed in Hayley Newman’s Woodshed in the exhibition Chronic Epoch Beaconsfield, London, in 2005.

It was also presented by Live Art Development Agency in Performing Rights, at PSi 12, Queen Mary, University of London 2006 and the National Review of Live Art, Glasgow 2008; and by Leif Magne Tangen in Representations of the Artist as an Intellectual, D21 Kunstraum Leipzig 2008.

On 10 June 2015, a hearing took place at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in front of seventeen judges, for a claim lodged by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes in January 2008.

De Menezes, a Brazilian electrician working in London, was shot dead by police officers at Stockwell tube station on 22 July 2005 who mistook him for a suspected terrorist.

The case challenges the Director of Public Prosecutions’/ Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision not to prosecute the police officers involved in his fatal shooting.

The decision could take up to six months and could have major implications for other controversial deaths in custody cases where the CPS has refused to prosecute officers of the state involved in a death.

You can read a briefing on the case by the family’s solicitor, Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce, here, in which a section says: ‘The killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a totally innocent man who was given no chance to surrender before being shot nine times in the head, caused great public concern, as has the fact that no officer was prosecuted or even disciplined for any offence arising from the tragic circumstances surrounding his death.

‘The failure to hold any individual to account in relation Jean Charles’ killing and the unlawful killings of other members of the public has arguably led to a crisis in confidence that state agents in the UK who abuse their power will not be held to account.’

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