Renowned artist Anita Chowdry defends smoking as inspiration in Forest’s webinar on ‘consumer voices uncut’

Forest U.K. Chairman Simon Clark introduced renowned artist, painter and sculptor Anita Chowdry to the two-hour seminar by Forest saying that “Anita is a visual artist, a researcher and educator based in London. She’s been involved in gallery and museum-based education for most of her working life, running public workshops and education programmes and staff development workshops. Institutions she has worked with include the British Library, the British Museum, the visual arts, the school of Oriental and African studies and the bodily and libraries in Oxford which makes Anita sound incredibly established but she’s a smoker and I’ll start, Anita, by a) welcoming you, but also can I ask you when did you start smoking and why?”

Anita Chowdry: “Oh thank you very much Simon. Well I started smoking in the late 70’s when I was an art student and I think I’d probably started smoking because it was cool to be an art student and cool to be a smoking art student but actually I found very quickly that it wasn’t really about appearance so much as me actually enjoying it to the point where it was an adjunct to my creative work, so now I’m terrified of stopping because I don’t think I can think or do creatively without feeling I’ve got those cigarettes there, so I get terribly nervous if I’m running out and I think I’ve got a ship load of work to do, how can I do it if I don’t have enough cigarettes?”

Simon Clark: “That’s interesting because I mean David Hockney makes very much the same point that he says he doesn’t actually smoke a lot while he’s actually painting or working but he does like to have regular cigarette breaks perhaps every 15′ or 20′ minutes or so, he says it’s good for his mental health. I mean would you agree with that?”

Anita Chowdry: “Yes definitely, definitely, I think I’ve smoked so consistently since so that’s eighties now more than years and a day and unapologetically that I probably would not know myself as a person who doesn’t smoke.”

Simon Clark: “I mean it’s interesting you mentioned that you perhaps started because you wanted to look cool or fit in perhaps with, you know, other – other students and we do think of people in the arts being more bohemian than most and therefore one would think they would be more tolerant of things like smoking. Is that your experience or has that changed over the decades?”

Anita Chowdry: “I think it’s changed greatly because there’s a lot of,… there’s a huge fraction in arts and education particularly which is involved with disseminating work that has a social conscience, and so of course what better than to take alongside this the whole anti-smoking campaign and of course it’s so easy because the canned arguments against smokers are there, the propaganda to demonize the smoker is already there, it’s ready made, so I think that I’ve noticed there’s been a growing fraction in the sort of art and education community, has been very much anti-smoking, so you know another, another opportunity to patronize and, you know, talk down to the poor deluded smoker, yeah, now when you are a member.”

Simon Clark: “Remember the audience when we had a webinar with Ranald McDonald last year, and Ranald was being very optimistic about how things would sort of come out after covid, but you said it was beginning to feel like in terms of civil liberties and you asked, have we already given away too much; I mean are you or do you share any of Ranald’s optimism or are you very pessimistic – pessimistic about the future in terms of civil liberties?”

Anita Chowdry: “I must say I really admire Ranald’s optimism. It’s very refreshing and it’s lovely to hear somebody speaking with such an overriding confidence and we’d like, I‘d like to have more people like that but I cannot help particularly in the wake of covid and the hysteria that has attended, what are perfectly sensible proportions, but there’s always the sensible proportions, you know, which you could really translate into. Yes, there are reasons why smoking’s not bad. You know nobody’s going to dispute that but it always tacked on to this. Let’s go over the top with some real nasty hit hard propaganda that we can really hit people with and we can create a scapegoat group and we can brainwash people into this kind of playground politics attitude where we will point to a target and you’re totally in your rights to go and vilify that person. Now I found that growing not necessarily just in the creative community but in community in general, I began to notice it from the start where it seemed to be perfectly okay for perfectly civilized people to completely forget all the conventions of common courtesy and civilized interaction with other people and to say with absolute conviction to a complete stranger the equivalent of you are a nasty person. You know they could be gratuitously rude to me or anybody else who smokes without having an iota of guilt that they were transcending the basis, basic codes of decent interaction. I mean I wouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger standing out outside the shop and make some judgmental remark to them. I mean how, day one, but because of the propaganda I think there’s this sense that it’s okay for perfectly nice people to turn into these playground bullies as soon as they see the designated target and I think this is where my pessimism comes in, when I see how easy it is to manipulate public opinion, how willing people are as a group to find a target to accept your scapegoat and to throw all your, you know, your metaphorical shit up this accepted scapegoat, you know it’s what the original concept of a scapegoat was. Wasn’t it in the ancient Jewish community, where is that right I don’t know exactly what it is, but every year losing me about this. Yeah, yeah I mean the scapegoat was an actual fact, where people would offload their sins onto a goat and send it off into the desert so it was a metaphorically shedding of your own sins. Your – your own baggage and pushing it away so that way you’re rid of it, you’re cleansed, you’re on a higher moral plane, you know it’s kind of ritual bathing, so I suppose we become the – the agency of the ritual bathing of the community that wants to feel virtuous. I think there’s a modern word for that, it’s called virtuous virtue.”

Simon Clark: “Signalling I didn’t know the background to that, so that’s actually I’ve learned something new tonight and that’s, that’s very interesting. I was going to ask you if you’ve tried vaping but we’re running out of time and so I want to actually now go to Andy Morrison because Andy can talk to us about vaping…”.

See the complete two-hour Forest seminar in the following video below – other participants include American smoking activist Emily Wieja based in Cambridge, Massachsetts who grew up in Greece and The Netherlands and is a leading member of the Cambridge Citizens for Smokers’ Rights- :


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