Article by Ciaran Jones
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then art need not take account of text. Or should it?
Witch Hunt by Delaine Le Bas debases the cliché by using a multi-sensory approach to convey how persecution is often rooted in the erosion of language as well as the physical displacement of a group.
The exhibition focuses not just on visual art but comprises installations, sounds and representations of the written word.
Delaine, who is a member of the UK Romany community, said she uses these multiple techniques because the visual form is not always the best way to convey the ideas she is addressing.
“Within the Romany culture there is no written history from the community itself, it is purely of oral tradition. It is only now and in the past few years that the written word is being expressed from within the culture,” she explained.
“The work I produce is visual story telling in that sense but with the inclusion of written text… I see art as being an all senses experience by working across practices the works develop different aspects and ideas that may not work on a particular level in one area take on different life in another.”
For Delaine, language is an important factor in the way a community maintains and preserves its unique identity and culture: “Language is very important as it also contains customs and traditions, but as well as having the historical content it also continues to develop over time yet still maintains its originality.”
The inspiration for the work, according to Delaine, was reading accounts of the earliest witch hunts and looking at how people behaved – something which she does not believe has changed much since.
She said: “Over history nothing has changed the same behaviour happens under certain circumstances and ‘pack’ mentality determines how people behave towards those who are on the ‘outside’ or ‘different’ in any way.
“Reading what happened in the original witch hunts, it got to the point where anyone – man, woman or child – who was considered ‘different’, or just because someone had a grudge against them, would be accused of witchcraft.”
As an observer, Witch Hunt looks like a work of protest, a fight back against suppression manifested through the arts but embodying a deeper message, too. But Delaine stopped short of describing the work as such: “There are many ways to protest. Art for me is a way of me talking about how I feel in the world that I live in. Other people use various methods to do the same thing.
“The arts in general is a huge area where discussion and ideas can take place but also involve and inform the general public. Governments and regimes know the power of art and often it is the first thing to be suppressed because of the power that it holds to inform and engage with such a huge audience.”