I Burn But I Am Not Consumed
I Burn But I Am Not Consumed
Image: Ripped-up sand dunes destined to become Trump International Golf Links Scotland’s car park, with temporary clubhouse construction visible behind adune. This area is at the edge of Leyton Cottage, the formerly remote home of Susan and John Munro; February 2011.
"The residents of Menie aren’t celebrities, but they deserve to be known. What started as a personal battle to protect their homes and community came to symbolise a much bigger struggle against a bully who operated in a global playground. Their fight made headlines and they became harder to ignore.
Alicia Bruce’s photographs give that fight longevity. Newspaper headlines pass, but their story is preserved. Mike, Sheila, and Molly Forbes have become part of our national narrative. Their portraits were acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland in 2011 and have been displayed at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery alongside – and with equal importance to – notable Scots including Robert Burns, Annie Lennox, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Future residents of Menie will know how they fought for their corner of the Scottish coast.
And this is a form of protest. A quiet, dignified act of rebellion. Because Trump is proud of his Scottish heritage, that his mother came from the Isle of Lewis. Instead of a glorious entrance into the nation’s collective memory as president of the United States and successful business tycoon, his mark on Scotland is remembered by his poor treatment of its citizens and the destruction of its unique landscape. The motherland won’t forget.
And now there is this book. More than ten years have passed since Alicia Bruce first met the residents of Menie, and in that time Trump has risen to president of the United States and crashed back down again. Millions of people have been affected by his whims. Many more communities have suffered. The defiance of a small Scottish community has a greater resonance now than we could ever have imagined. A taste of what was to come – a warning sign to America. This book is a permanent record of Menie’s part in raising the alarm.”
“Trump said my house was a pigsty when they tried for compulsory purchase orders. Well, it’s my pigsty. I said, it’s my home and they won’t put me out of it. There’s been nae positives. He’s ruined the dunes; he’s just ruined everything. Everything he touches, he ruins. He’s scared away all the wildlife apart from deer – that’s about all ye see doon here now. Afore Trump you’d see otters; you name it, they used to be here. He maybe thinks he could make things bonnier, but there’s nothing bonnier than nature.
They couldn’t put a clown in charge of America, surely? But they did! I went over there, but they wouldn’t listen to me. He lost his seat. He thinks he was cheated out of it. I hope he doesn’t get back in again because if he does, he’ll just take America to its knees.”
—Mike Forbes, Menie resident, 2023
“Mike and his wife Sheila’s confrontational portrait breaks the mould. In contrast to the others in this series, theirs ‘trips up Trump’ on his home ground through an appropriation of an oft-parodied American painting in an American collection. This choice offers a witty riposte to the personal remarks made about the Forbes family property. In American Gothic, Grant Wood imaginatively depicts an austere colonial couple posed outside their Gothic Revival house. The artist seems to challenge the idyllic scenes of rural agriculture of the period by introducing a more sombre social commentary. Bruce’s portrait of Mike and Sheila is also importantly set outside their home, Mill of Menie – the one they will not, and should not, ever be forced to leave.”
Dr Catriona McAra, University of Aberdeen
“The actual destruction of this area was brought home to me one day when bulldozers arrived and ripped out the young wood directly in front of my home. The waste of it all was that they were taken away on trucks to further south on the estate and just buried in a hole that they [the developers] had dug the previous day. They now have problems with water lying there and they wonder why; trees drink lots of water.
This is just one example of the destruction. They also wish to destroy my home, which my husband and myself have spent years extending through our married life and has become part of us; it’s like our baby. We have built it with our own hands; it has our blood, sweat, and
tears in the walls. It’s part of us and cannot be replaced, as it is a oneoff, like each and every person is.”
—Moira Milne, Menie resident, 2010
Inspiration for the books title comes from 'I Burn But Am Not Consumed', a song by Karine Polwart written in protest of Donald Trumps inauguration.
“This is your apprenticeship:
The Gulf Stream doesn’t know your name,
nor does the splendid, blazing sun
that alters how the currents run.
The North Wind never heard you roar:
You’re fired! You’re fired!
My back might burn, and the blaze run wild,
but I am not consumed, my child.”
From song: ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’ by Karine Polwart
Read the rest of Louise Pearson's essays as well as contributions by Karine Polwart and Lesley Riddoch in Alicia Bruce's monograph, I Burn But I Am Not Consumed.
Alicia Bruce: I Burn But I Am Not Consumed
Alicia Bruce is an award-winning working-class photographer, community collaborator, educator, and activist based in Scotland. Her photography sits between documentary and staged imagery focusing on communities, environments, and human rights. Alicia’s photographs are held in several public collections including the National Galleries of Scotland, the University of St Andrews, the Royal Scottish Academy, and the UK Parliament. She is a teaching fellow and tutor at Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh. In 2014 Alicia received the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy Morton Award. In 2023 she appeared in the BBC documentary The Women Who Changed Modern Scotland. Alicia is also a member of Women Photograph.
Louise Pearson is a curator of photography at the National Galleries of Scotland. She was recently awarded an Art Fund grant to increase diversity in the National Galleries of Scotland photography collection. Louise has previously held positions at the Smithsonian, the Royal Collection Trust, and the National Library of Scotland. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/
Karine Polwart is a multi-award winning Scottish songwriter and musician, as well as theater-maker, storyteller, spoken-word performer and author.