Brexit Parallels With Edvard Munch's The Scream

This week sees the launch of the Edvard Munch exhibition ‘love and angst’ at the British Museum in London. Often considered a universal symbol of anxiety, Munch’s The Scream encapsulated both the internal and external factors around him during the late nineteenth century. This timely exhibition evokes a question of parallels between tensions in society over a century ago and the levels of anxiety growing rapidly through the UK on the subject of Brexit. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by BBC Radio 5 Live and asked to take part in an interview on the Breakfast Show on the 11th April which you can listen to here.

Edvard Munch - The Scream

Edvard Munch - The Scream

Munch’s work sought to articulate his experiences of life throughout Europe; a continent that was rapidly changing. Not only were numerous conflictson the rise around this time, but tensions were running high across Europe as technology was advancing at a rapid rate and the general mood of this era reflected a huge question mark over the future of society.

Munch created his initial painting of The Scream after a walk along a fjord in Oslo, which he recalled as he walked along the road with two friends 

the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

In this sense Munch refers to many factors which influenced his work at the time; the shifts in society and perhaps fear of the unknown. Slightly out of shot however, also stood a slaughterhouse and lunatic asylum which his manic-depressive sister Laura Catherine had recently been committed to. The Scream was originally titled The Scream of Nature, which he attempted to illustrate with the vivid blood red sky although Munch may have recalled the effects of the powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa, which deeply tinted the skies red in parts of the Western hemisphere for months between 1883 and 1884. The sexless individual within the painting however perhaps represents a metaphor for both his internal and external anxieties along with subconscious influences. This sense of anxiety and frustration could indeed be seen as a parallel to the current angst felt by so many in terms of Brexit.

As a visual form of art, Munch’s images of the Scream appear silent, yet speak volumes in the powerlessness felt by so many at the end of the nineteenth century and indeed the same powerlessness felt in contemporary society in spite of democracy. The Scream conveys our fears and frustrations in a way which perhaps words cannot. Whether you voted to leave or remain, the process and direction which our Government has taken over Brexit, has led many to feel an uncertainty that leaves a bitter taste in a future unknown. The Scream may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s unwitting metaphors may certainly be the one thing that unites us all.


Also published on the HuffPost 10/4/19