3 March 2024

February opened with another Pro-Palestinian march. They start at Portland Place, outside BBC Broadcasting House, just a couple of streets from my flat. It’s always interesting to see the marchers arriving and to judge how big the march will be by the number of police vans parked in the side streets. I liked the quote from Nelson Mandala: ‘But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.’ Margaret Thatcher called him a terrorist, too, of course. 

It was good to read that there were demonstrations at MOMA in New York, long the bastion of art-cleaning. Leaflets called-out museum trustees Leon Black, Larry Fink, Paula Crown, Marie-Josée Kravis, and Ronald S. Lauder for their involvement in Israeli military weaponry, surveillance technology, real estate and support and began a sit-in in the atrium. Over the years MoMA has become more and more like a corporate HQ and less a celebration of the human spirit. At least they no longer house Guernica

The Yoko Ono show opened at Tate Modern with an uncomfortable scrum to get in. It is a retrospective and showed how overlooked she is, and what an accomplished body of work she has produced over 60 years. It is fair to say that her best work was all produced before she got together with John Lennon, from 1961 till 1966 in New York when she was collaborating with John Cage (she is a trained classical pianist) and the Fluxus Group, in which she was a central figure. The New York art scene is tough and she was one of the very few women able to hold their own in it, particularly as she had the added disadvantage of anti-Japanese racism. Her work consists mostly of instructions, owing a lot to Japanese zen koans and Chinese haiku. Other works are whimsical, often impossible to execute, but always intriguing. ‘Cut-Piece’, first performed in Tokyo, consisted of Yoko kneeling in the traditional Japanese female submissive position, dressed in her best clothes, while members of the audience cut pieces of her clothing off. This raised an enormous number of issues addressed by the women’s movement almost a decade later: misogyny, the subservient role of women in society, aggression, equality, long anticipating the work of Marina Abramovic. 

John Dunbar was there, director of the Indica Gallery that presented her first European show back in 1966. One of the items from the show was at the Tate: a white chess set. It is almost impossible to memorise the position of all the pieces. At the Indica Gallery – which I was a co-owner of together with John and Peter Asher – there were two occasions when Roman Polansky and Sharon Tate came to play a game, but they didn’t buy one. Here is John with Gabriella Daris, who is writing a book on Yoko.

BBC Radio 4 called up and asked me to be on ‘The World This Weekend’ their weekly news and current affairs programme broadcast at 1:00pm on Sundays. I was to walk around Yoko’s show with Edward Stourton, the veteran broadcaster. He was a total professional and we had a pleasant, relaxed conversation while looking at the first few rooms of the show. After it was broadcast, I was contacted by more than a dozen of my friends to say that they had heard the broadcast, which seems to be one of the most listened to programme on the radio with more than 3m listeners. My friend Jill Nicholls was astonished at how much time Stourton gave me – normally it’s all over in a couple of minutes for that sort of programme. Fame at last!

Maribel returned to London after working on her new house in Algeciras – see November blog – and we spent the day in the British Museum, just wandering. The thing that brought tears to her eyes, that she found most unexpectedly moving, was the fragment of the library of King Ashurbanipal, from 7th century Niniveh, Mesopotamia, described by the British Museum as ‘The first library to contain all knowledge’. The BM has most of the 30,000 tablets excavated there but only a select few are displayed as if on modern shelves. I can see why she found it so moving. It’s good to have her back in London, if only for a short time.

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