Freedom for Humanity
Freedom for Humanity was a temporary mural by the American artist Mear One (Kalen Ockerman), painted on a wall in Hanbury Street, London in mid September 2012. It depicted suited men seated around a table, under an Eye of Providence, playing a Monopoly-like board game that rests on the backs of bent over naked figures, with a background of industry and protest.
The mural attracted criticism as antisemitic, due to what some saw as stereotypical depictions of Jews, together with its reference to finance and the monetary and Masonic associations of the Eye of Providence.
A local Conservative Jewish councillor likened it to antisemitic propaganda in pre-war Germany. Lutfur Rahman, then Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said "the images of the bankers perpetuate antisemitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions", and sought to remove it.
Mear One responded:
"I came to paint a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class elite few, the Wizards of Oz. They would be playing a board game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. The symbol of the Free Mason [sic] Pyramid rises behind this group and behind that is a polluted world of coal burning and nuclear reactors. I was creating this piece to inspire critical thought and spark conversation. A group of conservatives do not like my mural and are playing a race card with me. My mural is about class and privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti-semitic. This I am most definitely not... What I am against is class."
Nick Wright, in an article for the Morning Star, wrote that while, of the six figures depicted only two were Jewish, the piece "clearly exaggerates the distinctive features of all six men" and that "exaggerated depictions of Jews are created, disseminated and understood in a historically defined context that includes a powerful, even dominant, discourse that draws upon the long traditions of anti-semitism embedded in the dominant ideology and expressed, over the centuries, in the dominant visual culture". Further he states "the subterranean narratives around notions of the Illuminati, Freemasonry and bourgeois conspiracies cannot, in much popular imagination, be disentangled from deeply suspect discourses in which alien, semitic and covert elites are the controlling forces in our lives", and concludes "This is bad art and worse politics".
Jeremy Corbyn controversy
When Jeremy Corbyn received via Facebook an image of the mural with a message from Mear One that it was to be effaced the following day and appealing to freedom of expression, he asked "Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Rivera [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin." His response was queried by The Jewish Chronicle in November 2015, and in March 2018, Luciana Berger demanded an explanation. Corbyn replied, "I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic." The revelation and Corbyn's response fuelled accusations of insensitivity to antisemitism against him which, together with other examples, prompted protests, public debate and a number of internal reforms within the party.
- Brooke, Mike (3 October 2012). "Fury over Brick Lane's 'anti-Semitic' mural". The Docklands and East London Advertiser. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
- "Watson apology over Corbyn mural post". BBC News. 2018-03-25. Retrieved 2020-02-16.
- "Kalen Ockerman mural to be removed from Brick Lane". BBC News. 5 October 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
- Whitehouse, Geoff (8 Oct 2012). "Mear One's Brick Lane Street Art: Class and Societal Inequality Not Racial Hatred". 'International Business Times'. Retrieved 13 Feb 2019.
- "A Note on "Mear One" And Jeremy Corbyn". March 26, 2018.
- "Mear One's mural – bad art and bad politics". Morning Star. April 4, 2018.
- Merrick, Rob (23 March 2018). "Jeremy Corbyn forced to backtrack over apparent support for antisemitic mural". The Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
- Dysch, Marcus (6 November 2015). "Did Jeremy Corbyn back artist whose mural was condemned as antisemitic?". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
- "Corbyn 'regret' over anti-Semitic mural row". BBC News. 23 March 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.