Stunning images as XR Red Rebels take to Cambridge streets
Extinction Rebellion’s Red Rebel brigade has brought mythic theatre to the streets of Cambridge, but what is it about the group that creates such a profound impact?
The breakout XR group recently conducted its first major Cambridge event, a solemn walk from Parker’s Piece to the Zoology Museum, then to Castle Mound and Grand Arcade before returning to Parker’s Piece.
Having only become active this summer, the Rebels' look is already clearly defined. Most of the protestors are female - where men take part, they are expected to adopt the feminine clothing and make-up of the classically female acolyte.
Each Rebel's face is painted white, with red lips and rosy cheeks (optional), which suggests a mime troupe. Like mime artists, they work in and through silence. Their masks are their voices, allowing the witness to see suffering, pain, judgement, destruction, indifference - whatever you want, all wrapped up as an archetype or a character in a classical Greek play.
They wear only scarlet red clothing. Red is blood, and conveys energy which, when combined with the white visage, triggers a number of potential associations, from Greek tragedy to the apparitions from a dream - or a nightmare. The message is opaque: they are potentially frightening, but possibly uplifting, they are mythical and timeless, but in the moment. The intention, however, is clear: they are channelling the furies, and the guardians. The ancestors are warning us, trying to wake us up before it's too late.
In art, timing is essential, and the Red Rebels have come to town at what is clearly becoming a defining moment in the history of our ecology, because red is also fire and, with the Amazon now burning, the terrible catastrophes that will likely be inflicted on us all - post-Biblical catastrophes of floods, firestorms, starvation and ultimately extinction - are becoming apparent. This, in truth, is the "do or die" issue of our nation, of our species. Other manifestationsof this proverb trivialise our real plight.
So here they are, the blood-drenched women, silently pleading with us not to destroy ourselves.
“It seemed to surprise and delight many people,” said campaigner and photographer Jeremy Peters who tracked the protest through town last weekend. “We had hundreds of conversations.”
Red Rebel, Cambridge artist and engagement worker Hilary Cox Condron described the group’s intention as “symbolising the common blood we share with all species, that unifies us and makes us one”.
“In the words of my beautiful rebel sister Linda Richardson, this is not street theatre.
“It is mythic, and something that evokes profound reactions in western people who have forgotten their own understanding of a ritual act, and the power of standing between worlds.
“[It is] a privilege to walk with beautiful people and among them on the streets, even if they themselves, in this consumer culture, have forgotten that they are truly amazing.”
The Red Rebels brigade is part of Extinction Rebellion and has been created by XR Invisible Theatre, which has 2,000 members and three groups – Oceania and Circus Train alongside Red Rebel Brigade. XR Invisible Theatre is the brainchild of Bristolian Doug Francisco, who founded The Invisible Circus launched as a street performance troupe in 1993.
The group of rebels were surrounded by Extinction Rebellion volunteers who engaged with the public on the climate emergency and the organisation’s demands to “act and tell the truth”.
This year has seen a huge surge of activism on the issue of climate breakdown, from the setting up of the Cambridge Schools Eco Council- the first in the country - to Cambridge's first traffic-free day. Now, the Red Rebels are adding the possibility of some sort of alchemical transformation to the Extinction Rebellion mix.
Describing themselves, they say:
“The red brigade symbolises the common blood we share with all species
That unifies us and makes us one.
As such we move as one, act as one and more importantly feel as one,
We are unity and we empathise with our surroundings, we are forgiving
We are sympathetic and humble, compassionate and understanding,
We divert, distract, delight and inspire the people who watch us,
We illuminate the magic realm beneath the surface of all things and we invite people to enter in, we make a bubble and calm the storm
We are peace in the midst of war.
We are who the people have forgotten to be!”