Some time ago Frances Lincoln produced a book called We Are All Born Free.
This has now been translated into 34 different languages. The book was illustrated by many artists and is in so many school, inspiring a new generation of children and telling them what their human rights are. Much of the artwork was sold to raise money for Amnesty International, a cause that I am proud to support.
We Are All Born Free is a beautiful book.
Many illustrators contributed to the project, giving their time and their artwork freely.
These are difficult subjects to portray. I was lucky and it wasn’t without irony that I chose “We all have the right to rest from work, and play”. I work because I choose to, because I love to paint and write, not because I am forced to. I consider it a privilege to be able to paint. My daughter and son had spent most of the summer when I was working on this book reading in hammocks in the garden, in sunshine and green leaves. This was where my inspiration came from.
I am lucky to live in a country where for the most part I can speak freely, write what I wish, be heard. Where I can live and work in peace. Would that everyone in the world could enjoy such rights, for it is a right, a human right, not a luxury. My daughter is educated, as is my son. They have freedom to make choices. Would that every mother could say the same thing.
And now Frances Lincoln are working on a new book for Amnesty, What is Freedom.
I was given these lines.
Freedom not to be hurt.
‘ Oh I will love the day when I break out of this cage,
Escape this solitary exile and sing wildly.’
by Afghanistan poet Nadia Anjuman.
I painted this: the week before Maya Angelou died. She knew why the caged bird sings.
The bird is in a cage, and yet the cage has no back to it. Sometimes we place ourselves in cages. We say, I will write, when I find the right space, when my children are grown, when I can find the time. All these things we put up as bars before us and we see the bars rather than the spaces between them. It is the same with painting. Sometimes the cages we make for ourselves are dark, sometimes they are gilded. Here the bird has the freedom to escape. The picture is ambiguous.
Nadia Anjuman did not have the kind of cage I describe above.
Nadia Anjuman was beaten by her husband. She died of the injuries she received at his hands. And still, while she lived, she wrote.
A poem by Nadia Anjuman
Translated by Mahnaz Badihian
No desire to open my mouth
What should I sing of…?
I, who am hated by life.
No difference to sing or not to sing.
Why should I talk of sweetness,
When I feel bitterness?
Oh, the oppressor’s feast
Knocked my mouth.
I have no companion in life
Who can I be sweet for?
No difference to speak, to laugh,
To die, to be.
Me and my strained solitude.
With sorrow and sadness.
I was borne for nothingness.
My mouth should be sealed.
Oh my heart, you know it is spring
And time to celebrate.
What should I do with a trapped wing,
Which does not let me fly?
I have been silent too long,
But I never forget the melody,
Since every moment I whisper
The songs from my heart,
Reminding myself of
The day I will break this cage,
Fly from this solitude
And sing like a melancholic.
I am not a weak poplar tree
To be shaken by any wind.
I am an Afghan woman,
It only makes sense to moan
Ghazal by Nadia Anjuman
Translated by Khizra Aslam
This book, and We Are All Born Free, is one of the reasons I am proud to work with Janetta Otter-Barry, Judith Escreet and Frances Lincoln.