Left Cultures magazine holds the political left within a ‘lexicon of stories past and present.’ These stories are both personal, effecting and are upheld by a strong, positive use of illustrations throughout. Its opening note states its mission and view of the current media climate, as well as highlighting socio-political issues. There is an overarching passion for change to happen but Left Cultures also brings these issues to the forefront of its message. The individuality of the stories held inside the red covers of Left Culture speaks to the past through the author’s personal experiences. The opening note reads – “how culture from the past has influenced and inspired them,” therefore shaping the person they have become in some way, shape or form. This has created a diverse, eclectic set of articles that provide insight into a life, offer opinions on the current state of affairs, highlight song lyrics that resonated with the listener, or find itself craving change. Reading the magazine can feel like walking down a street with an ear to the ground, or reaching behind the curtains of everyday life and extracting its overwhelming realities and its even darker past.
An early correlation in the magazine is watching the show Top of the Pops, a British chart music show where artists would perform their latest music. First airing in 1964, its weekly run ended in 2006, but with continued Christmas airings since the beginning. The article ‘Tony Benn’ by Matthew Brown discusses an evening whereby he chose to not watch the show, but to discover Tony Benn via watching Question Time, a politics show on television. This decision is an ironic contrast to that of ‘The Message’, a piece that pays homage to the artist Grandmaster Flash. Written by Professor Shawn Sobers, he discusses the memory of watching the act on Top of the Pops when he was 10 years old. He wrote, “this song opened my young eyes and ears to many things, most notably – conscious (socially aware) hip hop, and the articulation of poverty and social inequality.”
There is a conscious theme of romanticism evident through the pieces around the idea of a hero, or someone that is admired by said person. This may be the likes of Emory Douglas on page 17 – a pivotal graphic designer in the civil rights movement of the 60s and beyond. Or it could be public-facing political figures whose ideals match with your vision of the past, present and future. Even past footballers such as Volker Ippig (page 42) who stood out from the crowd with their alternative look and radical views. There is also the idea of revolution and where its roots may lie. Carollina Bandinelli’s piece ‘Revolution: A Story of Love’ reminisces on a childhood rooted in ‘leftist’ fairy tales which left an indelible mark on them. The idea of transforming reality is stated in the piece, which looks at revolution’s relationship with love and idealism. She notes, ‘if reality is disappointing, both art and revolution are daringly absurd attempts to transform it.’ She adds, ‘[The] revolution, just like love, can unfold only from the implicit assumption that there is a future to create and live through.’ This air of finality in the piece is underpinned by an acute awareness of the current pressures of life.
"Left Cultures doesn’t avidly aim to sway, or persuade - its bones lie in the enlightenment it can provide through creativity."
Stuart Williams, Owner of Overleaf
These underlying pressures that are undoubtedly a personal affair, resonate as the magazine continues to deliver thought-provoking narratives across a huge variety of diverse subjects. These narratives are brought to life by illustrations with a broad range of styles to boot. With the visuals evidently linking with the writing, it adds that extra layer of understanding when reading – demystifying the piece with a flare. Page 39’s piece by Bart D’Angelo sits in accompaniment with ‘The Banks are Made of Marble’, a written piece by Della Duncan. They note a song under the same name that tells the story of labour workers (miners) and their struggle. The full page illustration shows an unoccupied banking hall made of marble and evoking feelings of grandeur. This immediately sparked a reference to the 1927 movie Metropolis and its visual narrative. The movie focuses on life in a futuristic city – a ‘Utopia’, which has an underworld of mistreated workers, a similar theme to that of the song. The hall with its sharp light streams and vertical architectural features paired with a nostalgic visual style brings a direct reference to Metropolis. Although science fiction, it sits as a pivotal talking point within futurism and holds a culturally significant message.
Further oppression focused articles reference miners – most notably the strikes that occurred in the 70’s in the piece by Theresa Easton. Theresa notes their memory of the miner strikes and its impact on family – “Nana handing her flask of hot tea to striking miners picketing a power station.” This is no doubt the reality of a lot of families as the UK has a long history with miner strikes. Theresa explains that a lot of this history showed them the power of “collective action” which led to diving into further crucial political and social periods – such as the civil rights movement and occasions of persecution of the LGTQ+ community with the subsequent oppression during the AIDS epidemic. It’s this brief look back into history within the piece that defines its true message – Theresa notes, “understanding and owning our past is fundamental to organising effectively against oppression.”
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Music is also a dominant reference for a lot of authors in Left Cultures. It’s no surprise that music is a universal method of transferring ideals, ideas and opinions into the psyche of the listener. We hear about how dance inspired action for Tenaya Steed (page 70), but dancing ultimately priced their family out of the competition. “It’s about finding belonging and expression in unfashionable places,” she writes, referencing an event within a council bin in the 90s. That feeling of belonging is mirrored in the piece by Tiernan Douieb whereby they reference The Muppets as a major reference for inclusivity and community. Tiernan writes, “(It) taught me incredibly strong messages of inclusivity and the importance of community as this ragtag bunch of characters always worked together for the greater good.” But it’s the final song of the 1979 Muppet Movie, ‘Rainbow Connection’ that resonates with Tiernan even to this day – with the work of Kermit The Frog unlocking the deeper meaning. “It’s a beautiful, hopefully message and in a world driven by greed and individualism I still think it would be wise for more people to heed the thoughts of a small green frog.”
Left Cultures doesn’t avidly aim to sway, or persuade – its bones lie in the enlightenment it can provide through creativity. There is evidence of a challenge however, and one that may lay ahead of us in response to its mission statement. The large selection of authors look to extract events, people or items of cultural significance to them personally, offering truly unique perspectives and inviting the reader into a slice of their world. It’s the illustrative work that bring these perspectives to a tactile, graphical level and drives the individual narratives into a realm of possibility. Be it the whimsical, simple style of Jay Wright for the piece ‘Yokai Spirits of Japanese Folklore’ to the photographed badges held within the ‘Dancin’ with Digger’ piece. All of which tell stories that engage, ignite and inspire.