Working class ground into the dust: artists mourn 'broken dreams' of Blair's vision of New Labour

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair has spent the past two years wooing every section of society, from diehard members of the Women's Institute to the beleaguered professional classes. But more work appears to be required if "New Labour" is to win the artists' vote, judging by a new exhibition of the same name.

In the New Labour exhibition at the Riverside Studios, west London, artists have passed their first judgement on the cleaned-up Labour Party - and their verdict suggests that, for them at least, it isn't working.

This unexpected side-swipe from a traditionally left-wing community is to be unveiled on 3 September. The works in the show, which has been funded by the London Arts Board, will include a disturbing image of a man falling through the air without a safety net and an oil painting of a young black builder whose image is partly blotted out by white squares. Also to be shown is a floor-based installation by Brian Deighton, an artist based in Paddington, west London. In it the words "the working class" are stencilled on the floor so that visitors grind them underfoot.

The show is to be opened by Mark Fisher, Labour's spokesman for the arts, but he may find food for thought in its content.

Peter Kennard, the senior Royal College of Art lecturer who is curating the exhibition and whose photomontage was used for a recent Labour Party poster, describes the show as an assault on "prejudices, received opinions and broken dreams".

"There is a feeling that under 'New Labour' a lot of the humane ideas of the Labour Party in terms of equality - artists are always concerned with the underdog and the poor - will not be dealt with much differently than by the Tories," he said.

In The Working Class, Mr Deighton will depict junk scattered around a west London squat, and the title phrase will be stencilled on a floorboard. "The idea is that there are exclusions in what 'New Labour' can talk about, and that people at the lower end of society are no longer on the agenda, it seems," he said.

Gill Calvert said her painting of a builder, The Dignity of Labour, was a comment on the difficulty of speaking openly - as exemplified by Clare Short's demotion - in both the political and artistic arenas.

"The art world covers everything up in irony to make it safe, just like the Labour Party covers everything up in media-speak." she said.

Ms Calvert added that she worked with teenagers, many of whom were unemployed. As in her painting, the issue was covered up by society. "The idea of the white panels was also that the message of 'New Labour' is obscured because they are so incredibly cautious ."

The show is the inspiration of the Riverside Artists Group, which promotes west London artists.