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Acclaimed Banner Man Ed Hall talks Truth To Power with Jeremy Goldstein

Truth to Power Cafe visits Barnsley Civic, UK - 4th July 2019 from Jeremy Goldstein for LAP on Vimeo.

Jeremy Goldstein: This Sunday is our only London date for Truth to Power Cafe at Conway Hall as part of Bloomsbury Festival. The show is a place where my worlds of art and activism converge. I worked on the show with Ed Hall who is the UK’s leading banner maker for the Trade Union Movement. 

Jeremy Goldsten: Tell us about you Ed?

Ed Hall: I am Ed Hall, I have had a typical life of the post war period. My hometown is Norwich. I am an Architect having studied at Sheffield University, and first worked in Liverpool and then Lambeth in London.

Jeremy: What inspired you to start making banners for the Trade Union movement?

Ed: When I was working at Lambeth, we were building one thousand Council Houses each year.  It became clear that the thatcher Government would stop Council House building and worse,  start selling off the existing stock. I became politicised and was first the UNISON Convenor for the eight-hundred staff building and maintaining the Council Houses, and later the UNISON Branch Secretary for the twenty-thousand staff of Lambeth.

I learnt how important trade unions are, how independent they are, and how democracy works.  I was an office holder at the start of Women’s Groups, The Black Worker’s Group and the Lesbian and Gay Group.  This was an answer to bring many more voices into decision making and to make a start on the subject of equality.   

Jeremy: What role do your banners play in public life?

Ed: I have made banners for a long time, and they are everywhere. I am so proud of this. I think I do understand the arts and the importance of showing the values of a campaign or a trade union in beautiful works.  Banners have a long tradition, they get onto the streets, at a picket line, on the TV news and in the press. If the banners are carefully made with great titles, images and slogans, they will have the effect of promoting their causes. I take care to remember that often they are seen by thousands at Mayday or an anti-cuts march.

Jeremy: Did you ever envisage your banners being shown in an artistic context, and tell us about your working relationship with Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller?

Ed: I met Jeremy Deller in 2000 at the Brockwell Park Country Show, early one morning when I was setting up a UNISON stand. His parents live near the park.  If I had to list, the top ten artists he would be in that ten.  He has personal qualities, but he gets so effectively inside his subjects and his work although a social commentary, is also art in that it enthrals, sets a thought process, and engages people.

Jeremy has asked me to show banners and make banners for his exhibitions.  He has the great advantage of being known and successful, and so can use the great gallery spaces of the world.   His exhibitions are the opposite to "pictures" on a wall, and gain large audiences and reach out.  He is perhaps inadvertently very media friendly. He once said of a banner I had made to celebrate the landing of the Windrush in 1948 - part of his Turner Prize submission, that he thought it would look well in the Observer colour supplement, I scarcely thought much more about it but next Sunday it was there with my name. Incidentally I have met wonderful people through him, as Jennifer Reid - her banner is part to this show.

Jeremy: Wow!! Jennifer took part in ‘Truth to Power Cafe’ at Touchstones in Rochdale.  

Can you tell us some stories about your banners?  

Ed: I have stories about making the banners, my South Yorks UNITE banner, was shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had to make a replica, travel up to Sheffield and ask for a swop and permission to show it.  The swop was necessary as the V&A "does not show copies".

The World Transformed banners plot the rise of the current Labour Party. Their festivals which run alongside the Labour Party Conference, are packed out and this year at Brighton will be huge.  Sarah Thomas, who died in police custody, who had just finished making the mosaic table when she died is on a banner.

I am always proud to show the Domestic Workers banner.  This is for workers mainly from the Philippines who work in the houses of the superrich.  They are "family members" with no real rights, and make me feel quite humble and inadequate.  The banner has travelled and been into the enclaves of the European union.

More topically I made the banner for the campaign against climate change in 2004, long before Extinction Rebellion, a small group met each week outside the US Embassy in protest of America not signing the Kyoto protocol.

Jeremy: What does speaking truth to power mean to you?

Ed: Truth to power.  Martin Luther King said it all, to be judged by one's character.   

We live in days when the truth is ridiculed, good men and women are vilified, and attacks are made on people I admire from all angles and are grossly unfair.  Through the work I do, I try to counter this by artistic endeavour, and putting time into causes I love.  

Often on banners are the words, Unity is Strength.  I am in the camp which tries to make these words mean something, and life does not mean crawling into bed with reactionary forces.  The families of those who have died in police custody have the slogan No justice, no peace.

London Premiere for Truth to Power Cafe at Conway Hall as part of Bloomsbury Festival on Sunday 20th October.  Doors 3pm. Show 330pm-430pm.  All tickets are free but we strongly advise you to reserve tickets in advance.


[Acclaimed Banner Man Ed Hall]