Brexit is now a reality. But beyond the huge financial, economic and political implications, we cannot forget that at the core of this debate is our basic humanity.
Nobody embodies this better than Jo Cox — the British parliamentarian who was murdered a week before the EU referendum. One of the youngest UK Members of Parliament (MP), Jo Cox was also an activist, humanitarian, wife, and mother of two young children. Cox felt passionately that Britain was stronger in Europe: her husband Brendan said Jo symbolized “something much bigger in our country and in our world, something that is under threat — her belief in tolerance and respect, her support for diversity and her stand against hatred and extremism, no matter where it comes from. Across the world we’re seeing forces of division playing on people’s worst fears, rather than their best instincts, trying to divide our communities, to exploit insecurities, and emphasize not what unites us but what divides us.”
Shortly after her death, I received a message from some friends of Jo who were planning to memorialize her and make a stand against hate: “What resources, time or talent can you contribute?”
I was on another continent — so I couldn’t offer help with logistics. But as an artist, having met her, I wanted to express my support and serve Jo’s memory through the thing I knew best, art.
But something was needed immediately, and my portraits or sculptures typically take months. So I painted Jo’s face in ink on paper, to best capture her bright and soulful eyes. But given the time crunch, I sketched her body as an iPad painting. It seemed fitting to combine both traditional and modern art techniques. While working on the portrait, I watched Jo’s maiden speech to parliament over and over again; her words echoed in my ears, “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
Late at night, I emailed Jo’s friends the artwork. When I woke up a day later, countless photos of people gathering for Jo were flooding in on social media, newswires, TV. Thousands of people in Trafalgar Square were holding up the portrait of Jo on posters, boards and pledge cards. People from all walks of life were doing the same in Batley, Dublin, Buenos Aires & New York.
The image had taken on a life of its own as part of this larger movement — it was being carried by love, with people building their own meanings on top of it, all of them resolving to #LoveLikeJo. Tears arose in my eyes.
In this photo by @multifaith, the portrait was being held by four people of diverse faiths
Particularly moving were the many children participants, from various nationalities. They give us hope that Jo’s legacy of love can still win over hate, cynicism, and xenophobia.
These children are the “Jo Cox Generation” — the ones who will make our world more peaceful and inclusive.
In this photo by Instagram account @colombiana247 a beautiful child of Colombian-British descent holds the portrait carefully in his hands. A little girl came walking up to him from the crowd and said: can I see it?
In the photo below by @Mariafamm, a blond girl lies on her stomach with the portrait in her hands.
There are hundreds more photos on social media via the hashtag #LoveLikeJo. It was clear that the portrait of Jo did not reside in a single image anymore. All of these stories and people — young and old, of diverse races and faiths, became a part of a broader tribute celebrating not just Jo, but her life, her ideas, and her values. It was, and continues to be co-created with the people who engage with it both offline and online. This was an open, participatory piece of art.
After the memorial, people took Jo with them. On Twitter and Instagram, they have posted images of the portrait in their children’s bedrooms, in their windows, and even office cubicles. I believe Jo will be watching over all of them.
People have hung the Portrait of Jo on the walls of their children’s bedrooms (far left), in their windows (middle) and in their office cubicles (far right).
If you are interested in a limited edition print of Jo’s portrait, sign up here. 100% of the proceeds would benefit Jo’s causes.
Drue Kataoka is a Young Global Leader and Cultural Leader of the World Economic Forum. She is an artist integrating ancient Japanese ink painting techniques, mirror-polished stainless steel, brainwaves and time dilation. You can follow her on twitter @DrueKataoka