When I did an introductory arts course with the Open University a few years ago, one of the modern arts we analysed was Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry painting. Chris Ofili is also known as the “Elephant Dung Artist,” as he created his work using elephant dung, including one inspired by the grief of the parents of Stephen Lawrence.
I arrived in London on a grey day in May 1996 and Stephen Lawrence was the name I constantly heard during the years I was trying to grips with the British culture. “Who was Stephen Lawrence?” As a foreign student I often wondered who this fine young man was and how his murder rocked the nation. The murder of Stephen Lawrence dominated the press for two decades.
Stephen was 18 when he was murdered in a race attack in south-east London. On that fateful night of 22 April in 1993, Stephen was waiting for a bus with his best friend Duwayne Brooks in Eltham at around 10.30pm. Stephen had walked a short distance from the bus stop to see if the bus was on its way. Somehow he was set up by a few white youths and was stabbed twice. Stephen and Duwayne managed to run for about 250 yards before Stephen collapsed, and later died.
Chris Ofili created No Woman, No Cry while the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence was being held. The picture depicts a weeping black woman and her tears flowed like a river. Inside each tear shed by the woman is a collaged image of Stephen Lawrence’s face. The words ‘R.I.P. Stephen Lawrence’ are just discernible beneath the layers of paint. The figure, representing Stephen’s mother Doreen Lawrence, wears a pendant of elephant dung.
Who is Doreen Lawrence?
I flew back to Singapore last summer on the same night of the grand opening ceremony of the London Olympics. When I watched the opening ceremony on Youtube a few days later, I was astonished to see Doreen Lawrence as one of the eight flag bearers, among other high profile flag bearers, including Ban-ki Moon, the United Nations secretary general and Muhammad Ali, the sportsman who “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.”
I murmured “Why her?” for a few seconds, but very quickly, I agreed it was absolutely right that Doreen Lawrence was chosen for such a significant event in the British history, for her to tell a worldwide audience what she represented, a mother who fought for justice for her murdered son. She bravely challenged the authority and persevered until justice was achieved 18 years after her son’s death.
Doreen Lawrence did not believe the Metropolitan Police investigation was conducted professionally, citing incompetence and racism as their flaws. Her campaign resulted in the conviction of her son’s murderers. A subsequent inquiry described the London police force as ‘institutionally racist’ and condemned officers for ‘fundamental errors’. You can read about the Stephen Lawrence murder timeline on Telegraph.
I was totally consumed by the Stephen Lawrence case. The strength, perseverance, and the power of love shown by Doreen Lawrence are humbling. Nearly two years ago, I wrote two blog posts in Chinese to inform my Chinese readers about this case: 最伟大的母爱 (The Greatest Love of a Mother) and 妈妈的每一颗泪珠里都是爱 (Mum’s Love in Every Single Drop of Her Tears).
“18 years! What a torturous road for Doreen! She fought for 18 years to get justice for her son.”
“Such was the power of a mother’s love. Doreen, you have my profound respect.”
I commented on Doreen Lawrence’s dignity. How did an ordinary, physically small woman with no special connections or wealth dare to take on the British police establishment? And she won. She did not resort to violence nor street protests. She won through the course of the British law.
I wrote in my Chinese post in January 2012:
“Through Doreen Lawrence’s incessant fighting, her spirit, and her eyes engulfed with rage and sorrow, she overthrew the British police force, which was almost impenetrable. She made the British white examine themselves. She also enabled the non-white to live with dignity in this land.”
From 最伟大的母爱 (The Greatest Love of a Mother) by Janet
Doreen Lawrence has now been made a Labour peer in the British House of Lords, 20 years after her son Stephen was murdered by racists. She wants to use her House of Lords peerage to “give a voice to ordinary people”.
My next post:
In my next post, I will write about another legal fight over the truth of a killing. Batang Kali massacre happened in December 1948 in the soil of Malaya during the Malayan Emergency, in which 24 unarmed rubber plantation workers were killed by British troops. 65 years later, the families from Malaysia are still fighting for the truth from the British government. Their fight is astonishingly painful; their journey torturous. However, will the truth ever come out?