APOCALYPSE – Empty Streets
During these difficult and changing times, the empty streets present a multitude of complexities and questions regarding confinement and freedom, isolation and protection, and the value of human presence and labour, or the lack thereof. Empty Streets is a digital collage collection made up of pre-Apocalypse photographs that combine images of a world before our current pandemic: a world where expressive walls and bare streets perhaps did not have the same significance as in the present moment.
Our current reality reveals to us the unadulterated truth about the world we live in. A truth that exposes in full capacity the disastrous effects – in the past, present and future – of capitalism on our planet and the people who inhabit it.
In Europe, where the workforce has suffered tremendously for decades under strenuous conditions of over-work, under-payment and high costs of living, this sudden modification of life brings us to question the political statements and alleged truths that have been perpetuated by the right-wing, consequently endorsing neoliberal capitalism and sustaining exploitative systems of governance.
Within the U.K., years of conservative politics and austerity measures have resulted in vast homelessness and a housing crisis, with at least 320,000 people (some estimate to be double this number) living on U.K. streets as of 2018, 225,000 aged 16-25 in London alone, and 78,000 homeless families as of 2017. Yet, when a pandemic arises, the long-awaited funding and solution seems to be readily available.
On March 27th, 2020 the government conceded that everyone on the street should be urgently housed by relevant councils in light of the pandemic. Since the lockdown, 14,500 people were given emergency accommodation, as part of a £3.2 million emergency scheme called “Everyone In”.
When it comes to employment, according to the Minimum Wages 2020 Annual Review, minimum wage workers across Europe have been put in the simultaneous position of being called upon to provide essential services (cleaning services, agriculture, retail, hospitality, arts and entertainment) during Covid-19, as well as more likely to be made redundant or furloughed due to the impact on such sectors. The pandemic has actively contributed to the financial insecurity of such workers (with an extra 1.5 million Universal Credit claims since March 2020), while paradoxically underlining the importance and value of such workers for the economy.
Overall, the government has abruptly implemented socialist measures and taken a U-turn on their current policies. For example, in the U.K. the government has unleashed £14 billion per month (as of March 2020) with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which allows workers to be paid 80% of their wages while furloughed at home. However, such measures have only proven to be ephemeral. By July 2020, those who have been housed have been thrown back into the street and by October 2020, furlough schemes and eviction bans will be lifted, sending millions more into unemployment and homelessness.
Our capitalist world was built on a foundation of exploitation and systematic and ideological racism. Quoting the words of Ibram X. Kendi on the conjoined twins of capitalism and racism: “the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism... The life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.” Frantz Fanon also repeatedly emphasized in his works that anti-Black racism is not natural but is rooted in the economic imperatives of capitalism – beginning with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and extending to the neo-colonialism of today.
In the U.K., people from Black and ethnic minority communities, prior to the pandemic, already suffered greatly – especially in terms of lack of employment and opportunity. Now, such groups have continued to suffer disproportionately, with Black people are 4 times more likely to die as a result of Covid-19 and BAME NHS workers make up 72% of all NHS and carer deaths from Covid-19. Such disparities have been proven to be caused by socio-economic disadvantage and racial discrimination and inequalities. With Black and ethnic minority groups more likely to be working in front-line roles of the NHS as well as public-facing transport service roles, they are at increased risk of exposure and infection.
Furthermore, while prior to the pandemic, young Black men were already 10 times more likely to be stopped and search in the U.K., between the lockdown periods of March and May in London, they were stopped 21,950 times, while in the month of April alone, stop and search was used over 30,000 times: an increase of almost 50% since last year.
As Fanon proclaims, while both the Black and white subjects are impacted and shaped by class domination, they experience it in radically different ways. These collages aim to reflect the feelings of disorientation, loneliness and self-worth in a world where, ultimately, the economy has more precedent over human life. With hope, all these layers and facts should force us to boldly re-examine the histories which have led us to this point and what we can do to change our current environment and systems during and after this pandemic.