Double Fantasy — John and Yoko

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They used their fame to campaign against war

Double Fantasy is an exhibition showing the lives of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their own words, personal photographs, artefacts, music and art. The exhibition focuses on the tumultuous years of the 1960s and early 1970s. There are numerous film screens and two enclosed theatres.

In part the exhibition is a tender display of John and Yoko’s relationship, while charting how their creative talents and fame were used to campaign for peace, civil rights and the ending of oppression.

One comment in the visitor’s book is that “the exhibition was calm and peaceful, you can feel the vibes of John and Yoko”. This is certainly true.

The exhibition is divided into different sections. It begins by setting the political and social context of the 1960s, alongside John and Yoko’s personal relationship, creativity, and individual politics and philosophies. The audience is invited to contribute their personal thoughts and political comments through a public message board. Many were about world peace, and being free of oppression.

The first section, which sets out the tone of the exhibition, shows clips of the Cold War, Black Civil Rights protests in the USA, Martin Luther King, a United Automobile Workers union strike — black and white workers fighting together for workplace rights, and anti Vietnam War protests. John and Yoko’s relationship was seamlessly placed alongside the political.

Yoko progressed from being the first female accepted in a Japanese university to study philosophy, to become a radical multimedia artist. She fought through an art industry that was dominated by men. She explored how the experience of art can be used to question topics like oppression and liberation. She used her conceptual art more radically from the mid-1960s, fitting in with the new counterculture mood of anti-authoritarianism arising due to unhappiness about where society was going and the role of the USA in the Vietnam War. “Cut Piece, 1964” a short film aimed at confronting gender, class and cultural identity, demonstrates her pioneering abilities in conceptual and performance art.

The “Power to the People” section covers issues John and Yoko were directly, or indirectly, involved in through their art, recorded music, live gigs and benefit concerts, or actually participating in protests. These included black civil rights protests in the USA, ban the bomb and anti Vietnam War demonstrations.

John and Yoko used their artistic and musical talents to address many diverse social issues. In the “Give Peace a Chance” section, John Lennon is reported to have said he wanted to write a song that people would sing in the pub, or on a demonstration. In other sections the exhibition shows them to appear in public with activists such as Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and, founder of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale.

When John and Yoko moved to the USA they came under the gaze of the American FBI due to their political activity and ability to give voice to the oppressed and the anti-Vietnam war movement.

John and Yoko’s most radical album, “Some Time in New York City” (1972), illustrates their shift to the left. This album addresses oppression, peace and celebration of liberation. The moving track “Angela” was written in celebration of Angela Davis’s political life as a prominent counterculture activist, fighter for women’s liberation and supporter of the Black Panther Party and Black Civil Rights Movement. From the same album, “Bloody Sunday”, was written in anger over the murder, by the British State, of innocent Catholic civil rights protesters in Northern Ireland in 1972. John and Yoko described this state murder with these lyrics: Well it was Sunday bloody Sunday/ When they shot the people there/ The cries of thirteen martyrs/ Filled the Free Derry air.

The new radical culture of the 1960s held within it a tension. There were those who looked to personal liberation and challenging the assumptions of growing up in capitalism through the use of drugs, music, eastern mysticism and dropping out. This “hippie” subculture embraced tens of thousands. However, this counterculture existed alongside a smaller political left who looked to transforming, or smashing the system. For a few short years there was a two-way traffic between these two strategies. In the end the harsh reality of the concentrated power of the capitalist state had to be confronted. It was hard to go underground, and drop out, when the Vietnam War raged and workers suffered when capitalism went into crisis in the early 1970s.

John and Yoko positioned themselves between the new counterculture and the political left for a short time and were able, in their own way, to give it a voice. Lennon’s song “Working Class Hero” was a criticism of an oppressive class system. But to end such a class based system required more than personal liberation. It needed mass action by an organised working class. The oppressed and exploited had to come together, united to rebuild society.

Towards the end the exhibition states that since John Lennon was shot in 1980 over 1,400,000 people have been killed in the USA. Since his death Yoko has campaigned for gun control in the US.

The organisers of the exhibition advertised it as “a moving account of how a deep and powerful love and a quest for peace transformed the lives of two individuals and music culture for ever”. I felt they achieved this and more.