From David Maughan Brown in York: Widening horizons

May 13th

Our physical horizons for the past seven weeks in York have been limited to the three-quarters of a mile route to our allotment, and a circuit, about mile and a half long, of the riverside path along New Walk (260+ years old but that is still shiny new for York), across the Millenium foot and cycle bridge, back past Rowntrees Park, over the Ouse again via Skeldergate Bridge and so back home.  We have been luckier than our family in South Africa who were confined to their house and garden for much of that time, but taking our one daily form of exercise close to our house has felt a bit limited.

All the more reason, then, for me to celebrate the extent to which the continuing process of reviewing the bids for “arctivist” grant funding (projects combining the energies of Human Rights activists and artists) for the Centre for Applied Human Rights that I wrote about on April 25th is continuing to widen my horizons and introduced me to people I would be unlikely to meet promenading along New Walk.  How otherwise would I ever, for example, have encountered an activist with the memorable name of Ohms Law Montana, or two East European drag artists who bill themselves respectively as “the one and only super trooper macho heartbreaker drag king” and “a fatal seductress, bastard of a Russian revolutionary and a German aristocrat”?

I would never, otherwise, have come across a project in Brazil that has already teamed up 1200 waste pickers with 1100 street artists and 2000 volunteers around the world in decorating the hand carts, “Carroças”, used by informal waste and recycling collectors to haul off junk and recyclables. The intention behind the brightly coloured paintings on the carroças is to “make invisible superheroes visible – not only in the streets but in the media.”  The official name of the project, presumably translated from the Portuguese, is “Pimp my Carroça”, but I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that what was intended was “primp” rather than “pimp”.

The bid that widened my horizons most strikingly this time was one from a representative of the self-declared (after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1997) Lithuanian artist republic of Užupis, ‘a part of Vilnius that belongs to everyone and to no one personally’ where the ‘community is governed by customary law, inspirational examples, dreams, insights, mythologies.’  That sounded like a community I could identify with, so I spent far longer than I had intended exploring their website, which includes the Republic’s one-page, but 41 clause, constitution.  The first clause sets the tone:  ‘Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelé, and the river Vilnelé has the right to flow by everyone.’  

There isn’t space here to quote the somewhat idiosyncratic constitution in its entirety, but other thought-provoking clauses include: ‘Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation’; ‘Everyone has the right to love’; ‘Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily’; ‘Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat’; ‘A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need’; ‘Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies’; ‘A dog has a right to be a dog’; ‘Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation’; ‘Everyone has the right to understand’; ‘Everyone has the right to understand nothing’; ‘Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance’; ‘Everyone has the right to be misunderstood’; ‘Everyone has the right to cry’; and ‘Everyone has the right to have no rights.’   Anyone can become a citizen of the Republic ‘who has become acquainted with the Constitution and decided so.  Every citizen of the Republic must visit Užupis at least once.’  Definitely one for the bucket list, once the locked down airlines manage to get their planes into the air again.

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