The most famous of these is International Workers’ Day, celebrated to commemorate the achievements of the labour movement and in remembrance of the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago, Illinois.
While events to celebrate May Day are organised year after year all over the world, I feel that the idea of coming together and speak about vital contemporary issues, from the precarisation of labour and life to championing the rights of net/temp/flex workers and building a society centred on the human person rather than on capital and imperialism, has been sadly reduced to an extended weekend of fun and superficial optimism.
Too often fighting for social and economic justice is simply considered as something "out of fashion" and, if you have a job, you feel too lazy to fight for those who haven’t got one or read in the papers about people committing suicide because they've been out of their jobs for months while you sip your coffee as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world.
Exploitation is rife in our society and fashion can be considered as one of the industries with the highest exploitation rate, built on underpaid workers in developing countries, young unpaid professionals (from fashion designers who have just graduated to journalists and photographers, models, stylists and make up artists – because you’re all collaborating to make a great magazine for the joy of it and you don’t need to be paid!) on one side and a few rich people on the other, enjoying wealthy lifestyles and splashing their money on clothes, boats, villas and drugs.
What amazes and enrages me the most is that if you dare talking about such things you’re suddenly uncool, because you sound terribly apocalyptic, while life, and fashion in particular, are about joy and fun.
It really makes me sad thinking that rather than walking all together like the workers in Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo’s painting Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate), moving towards the light that symbolically represents a future of justice and progress and leaving behind the darkness of oppression and social injustice, we are constantly moving towards a future with no rights and even less social justice, a future in which the collective identity is replaced by a sort of egomaniac trend.
So I hope that you will dedicate today to ponder a bit about labour and social issues and, if you want to think about such topics without neglecting the world of art, well, check out the Shepard Fairey exhibition at New York's Deitch Projects.
Entitled "May Day", the exhibition references the multiple meanings behind May 1st, from spring celebrations to Labour Day, but its title also echoes the distressing urgency of the emergency signal (from the French phrase 'M'aidez',
meaning 'Help Me') used by pilots, police and fire fighters to indicate imminent danger.
The exhibition features the portraits of revolutionary artists, musicians and political activists Fairey admires, and images supporting free speech and critiquing corporate
“If we stay silent, there’s no hope,” Fairey stated in a press release, “but if we make noise, if we put our ideas out there, then maybe we can make a change like the people in the portraits have done.”
So, remember, make of today a distressing call frustration, raise ethical, political and social issues and never forget to pursue higher ideals, promoting social equity and justice.
Shepard Fairey's "May Day", 1st-29th May 2010, Deitch Projects, 18 Wooster Street, New York.
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