The Left loses an inspiring artist and comrade

I’ll never forget first seeing a work by British anti-war artist, Leon Kuhn.

I was blown away by its gruesome and straight to the point message. It was a cartoon styled photo manipulation of Israel’s then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert brandishing a meat cleaver, sitting in the lap of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

They both sported grotesque smiles and wore blood-splattered butcher’s aprons – a family portrait of murderers. Sharon proudly announces to the world: “That’s my boy!” It was a reference to the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon under Olmert’s leadership, mirroring Sharon’s own history of war crimes. Kuhn understood only too well the murderous role played by Israel in the Middle East.

The truly talented artist died in tragic circumstances on 19 December. He was a rare figure in today’s art world. To say he was even from that world is a disservice. He rejected its elitist institutions, choosing instead to associate with the “unwashed masses” by supporting striking workers and attending progressive rallies.

Not only did he view the world in a way considered passé by the art industry – in class terms – he proudly defended workers and the oppressed. He is known to have attended countless demonstrations, holding huge placards of his artworks which screamed at the barbarism meted out by our rulers. As his comrade and friend Chris Bird pointed out:

“Leon never identified with the stuffy world of art for art’s sake. The need for social justice inspired Leon to take the side of the oppressed.”

As a socialist and trade unionist, Kuhn was clear on who our common enemy is. His unabashed and jarring artworks followed the tradition of revolutionary artists who sought to expose and condemn the rich and powerful as part of the fight for a better world. His work deserves to be celebrated and remembered as standing on the right side of history.

[Leon Kuhn’s work can be viewed at leonkuhn.org.uk.]