Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, December 12, 2004
by Susan Ives
Janet Southwood assumed the young man with the video camera was just an enthusiastic amateur, so she didn’t give another thought to the brief interview she gave last year during an anti-war rally in downtown San Antonio.
Until the e-mails started coming.
The nice young man was Jeremy Deller. The video he shot that autumn day became part of “The Memory Bucket,” a multimedia art installation of video, photographs and Texas souvenirs reflecting the social, political and natural elements he encountered while on a residency at ArtPace, San Antonio’s foundation for contemporary art.
His work was shortlisted for the 2004 Turner Prize, a prestigious and controversial British award for contemporary art. On Monday he won the honor and the $49,000 cash award that goes with it. San Antonio’s Quaker Lady was famous.
Janet Murgatroyd, a fellow Quaker from England, sent an e-mail last week to the Friends Meeting here, saying, “Imagine my surprise when I visited this year’s exhibition to see a bumper sticker on the wall saying ‘Quaker Lady for President,’ complete with stars and stripes!”
It was the first Janet and her husband, Ken, heard about it.
Murgatroyd explained that Deller invited community groups associated with topics in the videos to talk to visitors at the exhibition, on display for three months at London’s Tate Gallery. A number of Friends took him up on his offer.
“Our outreach section at Friends House has been kept busy,” she noted. “I’ve been a couple of times myself and had some good conversations about faith, art, community and other things, with hundreds of leaflets being picked up.”
In an interview last week with the BBC, Deller talked about the Quaker Lady.
“I went up to her and asked her why she was here and she was fantastically concise about their faith and why they had to be present at this demonstration and what the Quaker faith means in contemporary political terms. It was amazing. It’s just about in the middle of the film and it brings everything into focus.”
Here’s what Southwood said:
“I’m here representing the Quaker meeting and of course Quakers believe there’s been always a ‘that of God’ in everyone and we value human life. So we’re really concerned about the administration’s policy right now. Invading Iraq: Is that something we should do? Is this acceptable? Losing the friendship of the United Nations and other countries, and just a real concern about what’s happening to the money gone into the war.
“There’s billions of dollars, instead of taking care of the poor, especially here in San Antonio. We have a large homeless population. And the schools: The money’s being cut, the mental health services being cut … we just think we need to speak out about this.”
“That of God” is a traditional Quaker saying, summarizing a belief that there is a spark of the divine in everyone. It has led Quakers to be pacifists, to speak out against oppression and injustice, to attend anti-war rallies. And now, to become something of cult figures in the contemporary art movement.
Deller didn’t know much about Quakers when he started filming, but now he’s captivated. When handed his prize in front of a national audience on British television, he dedicated it to “everyone who cycles, those who look after wildlife and bats, and the Quaker movement.”
Almost everyone in Britain has listened to San Antonio’s Quaker Lady. Every town in America has its own Quaker lady. Maybe it’s time we listen to them, too.