The present meets the past head on in Ruined – currently on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – an exhibition in which young people on the Image Liberation Force (2016–2021) project radically reinterpret Scottish history.
These young Scots have mashed up historical paintings in the National Galleries of Scotland’s Scottish art collection and made them live again. In their videos and performances, they challenge the accepted narratives about who we are and how we got here.
The soundtrack to these films has been created by Edinburgh rapper and producer, Mercurius MC (Matt Tulloch), whose visceral delivery spares none of the ghosts of Scotland’s past. As one of the participants on the project puts it: ‘We are the history’.
This alternative illustrated history of Scotland features seven chapters whose themes are: We are Ruined (Introduction), Borders, The Sackening, Violence, Riot, Victorius and Peasants.
The following films may not be suitable for all — particularly children — because they explore difficult subjects such as violence and suicide.
Chapter one: We are Ruined
Buried under the rubble of the past, a new generation can rise up to shake off the dust and break free from someone else’s history. Freedom is making up your own story … seeing what you see … speaking in your own voice … getting together and being heard.
‘We are ruined. It lies sad and ruined, but it breathes. It revives … because it is you, because it is alive, because it is true.’
Chapter two | Borders
Why are we divided from each other? Why does a line on a map prove that people are different on either side of it? In this time - when we need each other more than ever - why are we taught to exclude others and differentiate ourselves because of myths of race, colour, class or nationality?
Borders … badlands.
Chapter three | The Sackening
Do young people still have to conform to what society wants them to be? The metaphor of the monastery - its self-repression and its rigid rules – asks if this is why so many of this generation feel despair, forced to condemn themselves as not good enough … but in whose eyes?
‘The Cult is society. The Cult is demanding. The Cult is overwhelming. The Cult is everything. The Cult is not us.’
Chapter four | Violence
‘Violence … is bred by the tyrants … forcing some defiance … to gain rights they’ve denied us.’
This says it all … about how history celebrates the winners and legitimates the violence that has always been wielded by those in power to maintain their rule.
Chapter five | Riot
There’s only one place to go when things get unbearable – out on the streets.
‘Time tae make a change … channel all oor rage. We’ve been put tae the side too many times.’
Chapter six | Victorius
We bear the shame. Scots bought in to the British Empire and the exploitation of the people and wealth of India and Africa. General Sir David Baird is the tough guy in the painting, who ordered the brutal massacre of 10,000 women and children, the moment after his ‘glorious’ victory at Seringapatam in 1799.
The Image Liberation Force members also faced up the statue of the Scottish explorer of Africa, Mungo Park, in Selkirk. They wanted to release the spirits of the Africans who were enslaved as a result of his explorations and are now chained to his monument as statues. Heavy stuff to bear for the nation.
Chapter seven | Peasants
This is for all the ‘faceless peasants’! This is what they think of us and how they see us as ‘the little people’. When will we be seen on the stage of history? Artists used to put us in their pictures just for entertainment … but now, we make the pictures. The ‘faces’ are back.