To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
On the 25th of April 1974 – i remember it well – the military and the people of Portugal expelled the dictator Marcello Caetano, who fled to Brazil.
Now the way was open for Portugal’s colonies to become independent and for the Portuguese state to wrestle itself from fascistoid military authoritarianism, a legacy of the Interwar period.
My father, a decent social-democrat, was delighted seeing it on TV and it was as if the revolutionary blood of his pre-war youth ran through his veins again in all its redness.
The revolution became known as the Carnation Revolution as red carnations were put in the muzzles of the soldiers’ guns by the people and by the soldiers themselves.
Red carnations – like red roses – are symbols of love and affection, and of socialism and as such of social justice.
For a flower with almost no fragrance (and with no thorns) this was quite something.
It also reminds me of how at my mother’s cremation the undertaker had changed the red roses we as a family had ordered, for white ones, to our despair.
White roses are bland, without any love or passion. They represent an icy kind of virginity.
Quite different from, for instance, the whiteness of magnolias.
Magnolias represent or symbolise nothing in western culture as far as i know.
That may be because its name was used only from the 18th century onwards, a scientific name given by a Frenchman in Martinique.
It was named after the French botanist Magnol.
Magnolias had their native range in the Americas, and were later on spread over the world as a decorative plant, and so the name of Magnol and part the history of French colonialism became household, without most people knowing it.
But there is another *imperialist* story connected to magnolias.
They belong to the oldest groups of flowering plants, which conquered the world during the Cretaceous, the age of dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and the likes.
Flowering plants became part of the ecosystem of the world that both cultivated such monsters as well as survived their demise.
Maybe magnolias would be a good symbol of survival.
They are not as intricate as orchids, not as passionate as red roses and it may prove difficult to put them in the muzzle of a gun, but they are simple, even a bit primitive. Isn’t that enough?
Can you be revolutionary and like flowers? That is the question.
Well, to many revolutionaries it was quite out of the question.
But still, flowers are silent witnesses, and as symbols of almost everything one could think of, they are indelible in the history of human thinking and imagination.
The wonderful exhibition Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers? at Nest is accompanied by a 78 page publication.
It has a good and comprehensive introduction by Laurie Cluitmans and some text by the artists about their favourite plants and flowers.
There is so much text in it, that it would be superfluous for me to write a long article about it in Villa La Repubblica, although it would deserve it.
Instead here are some impressions of the show and some private musings which may or may not give you an incentive to go and take a look at the show yourself (as long as corona measures permit).
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© Villa Next Door 2021
Contents of all photographs courtesy to all artists and Nest, Den Haag
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