Sunday, 13 April 2008

Tottenham Icons

“All Iranians have pictures of the Shah,” says Reza, shuffling through a collection of black and white images on one of his numerous phones. Reza’s a Christian convert, and along with the Iranian royal family, has a couple of particularly florid Jesus Christs, one rising up to Heaven, one on the cross. He’s the only one of my Iranian friends that has religious iconography, although most of their mums have a picture of Emam Ali somewhere about the house.
As to the Shah, I’m certain that none my hard-core-Marxist Iranian buddies has any such thing. Quite the contrary. Ali has a fetching selection of iconography carefully placed on his book shelf, just above eye-height for a tallish man. Two images arranged in classic diptych formation, on the left, Emam Karl Marx, on the right Emam Che Guevara. The latter it seems is the safe bet for all disenfranchised, and disenchanted lefties with awkward cultural and political affiliations. Bilgun, who’s Kurdish, saunters past on his way to the shop, sporting, yep that’s right, a Che tea shirt, pretty new-looking I’d say. He’s virulently anti PKK, equally virulently anti Turkish army, well they did torture him, so hardly surprising, and vitriolic in his condemnation of the AK which he considers a threat to the secular state. So what’s to be done? He’s another one waiting in the Gulag for god knows when. Immensely inconvenient when Kurds have real politics and the Home Office cant just tick the PKK box and hand him the visa, which is what they usually do. The shop in question also displays a fine iconographic selection. Above the counter, again just above tall-man-eye-height, are three images: Emam Ali, all feminised and surrounded by pink flowers and cute children to the left, in the centre, baby Jesus, pink and pudgy, and on the right, Diana Princess of Wales. “You know, people just don’t care,” mutters Hussein, carefully polishing Diana’s face. He’s the seriously unpleasant gangster-heavy who owns and runs the shop: “You call the police and they’re back on the street in three hours.” This apparent non sequitur turns out to be a reference to our lovely local pimps, a particularly choice set of crepuscular vermin who clutter up main drag at dusk and duck in and out of the ‘pound shop’ which has no discernible icons unless you count the skunk, whose image might as well be hanging over the door, for all the effort they make to hide the fact that this is in fact the neighbourhood dealing den. They don’t even bother trying to sell anything else, pound or five pounds.

I’m starting to feel a bit left out of this Icon business. But who would I place in Icon position in my hallway? There was a shop in Green lanes for a year or two which had its icons hanging in the window, one on either side of the door. These were an adaptation of the form being fashioned from acrylic tufted carpets. They too went for the transcultural pairing of Emam Ali on the left, and Emam Princess Diana on the right. So it seems you can choose from religion, royalty or bandana’d freedom fighters. I might just go for Phoolan Devi then. She’d certainly make short work of the pimps and, you never know, even the Loathsome Byrne might finally dematerialise under her steely glare. Article on Phoolan Devi by Arundhati Roy part 1 here part 2 here, more comments and pictures here and here. Beautiful blog here with picture of Phoolan under 'women's lives' section, link here.