Story and Photos by Lee Daley.
In Prague, my husband and I were trying to find the John Lennon Wall. “Just turn down the path along the river and follow that road over the bridge for about twenty minutes,” a local teenager told us as he gestured toward a riverside path below the Charles Bridge. Dressed in tattered jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket, he could have looked like a local anywhere. “Yes, that’s right”, he shouted as we followed his lead and left behind the castles and cathedrals of central Prague.
After many twists and turns, we found the Holy Grail of the John Lennon Wall, but not before we crossed over yet another bridge, this one colloquially called the Love Bridge. Here, couples placed padlocks on the bridge rails as a testament to their enduring love. The ritual included carving initials on the locks before securing them to the bridge and then with a kiss or two, flinging the keys into the canal waters to watch the ripples flow outward. Adorned with so many locks, the bridge appeared in danger of collapsing. Somehow though, the idea of enduring love seemed like a good omen.
As if on cue, the melodic sounds of guitar music soon filled the air. As we drew nearer, a male voice rang out: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” Picking up the pace, we came upon a tree-shaded secluded square. Along one side, an expansive wall was covered in a rainbow of graffiti, the John Lennon Wall. The late afternoon sun was painting the wall a mellow gold.
With his guitar case spread open at his feet, a young, shaggy-haired musician offered a moving tribute to Lennon. Amidst the decorative imagery behind him, one image stood out: a large red heart inscribed with the Sixties’ signature phrase, “Peace & Love.” The anonymous artist had brought the decades-old phrase into the present with the date—2014– scratched beneath the heart. Beatles’ lyrics, messages of hope, signatures and dates all paid tribute to the beloved icon.
Near the heart, another drawing caught my attention: an almost life-size sketch of Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon was depicted with long hair, Ono dressed in her legendary black As the singer’s voice flooded over us, my husband and I held hands. We were a captive audience wrapped in the nostalgia of the past and, for the moment, our love of the present.
Located in the secluded square across from the French Embassy, the Wall became a symbol of protest against the then Communist government when an unknown student artist painted an image of Lennon along with Beatles’ lyrics shortly after Lennon’s 1980 assassination. The Wall is an ever-changing canvas. The government forbade Western images so authorities whitewashed the graffiti daily only to find protestors returning each night to, once again, scrawl symbolic messages of freedom. “Imagine” lyrics became the mantra; Lennon, the inspiration. Almost overnight, it became the John Lennon Wall.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”– Yoko Ono.
Like the ripples caused by the love lock keys hitting the water, Lennon’s message reverberates still. His namesake wall stands as a call to peace, a poignant memorial, a living lesson about public art. As someone who had never liked graffiti, for the first time, I saw it as an art form, a call to action. Experiencing the John Lennon Wall taught me the value of its use as a public forum for those who have no other voice. Surely, this is a thing of beauty.
After our departure, I found myself thinking of Yoko and the haunting image of her and John I had seen painted on the Wall. Many years have passed since she witnessed her husband’s assassination. I learned the couple met in 1966 when John visited an exhibition of Yoko’s art at London’s Indica Gallery. Inseparable until his death, Yoko was highly influential in John’s personal and artistic development.
The lyrics of “Imagine” were inspired by Ono’s poetry in her 1964 book, Grapefruit. In the book’s poem ‘Cloud Piece’, Yoko wrote, “Imagine the clouds dripping; dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” Lennon later said: “Imagine should be credited to Lennon/Ono.” Clearly this love song to humanity can be said to be the creative peak of John and Yoko’s professional partnership. Yoko Ono is now credited as co-writer of ‘Imagine‘.
On December 5, 1980, Lennon gave his final interview to Jonathan Cott of Rolling Stone magazine. Looking back on his seminal song, he said: “We’re not the first to say ‘imagine no countries’ or ‘give peace a chance’, but we’re carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation… and that’s our job. Not to live according to somebody else’s idea of how we should live.” ”And the world will be as one.”
Yoko’s liner notes for the Imagine Album read: “Imagine was created with immense love and concern for the children of the world.”
The last years of the couple’s time together involved many peace projects. For Yoko, the torch’s flame has never dimmed. Her Wishing Tree Project began in 1981 a year after John’s death. A Wish Tree –inspired by Yoko–recently stood in my California home town–every branch blanketed in white tags proclaiming peace and accompanied by expressions of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
If you go, cross over the Love Bridge to this tucked away enclave. Once you’ve signed your autograph on the Wall, spend a few moments admiring more messages from around the globe. The Wall’s deeper history remains part of its legacy. Take those memories home to share. Join John and Yoko in their invitation:
“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.“
After the Velvet Revolution signaled the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Czech Republic gained independence from Communism with the eventual creation–in 1993–of two separate nations: Slovakia and the Czech Republic with its capital city, Prague. A student march took place on November 17, 1989, giving birth to the moniker, the “Velvet Revolution” because–after that date–not a single person died in the rebellion. By 1989, the John Lennon Wall had served as an inspiration to the country’s oppressed citizens for nine years.
As more time has passed, what influence, what inspiration has the Wall and the lyrics of Lennon’s most influential
ballad, “Imagine” continued to impress upon us? Especially now, with a pandemic raging, people of color fighting for justice and totalitarian governments squashing human rights, Lennon’s and Yoko’s message resonates. For its part, the John Lennon Wall has become a site that calls people to activism worldwide.
The Legacy: The same hope that fueled Prague’s student activists decades ago, the same lyrics that shouted “Imagine all the people living life in peace” have inspired actual Lennon Walls all over the world. Most express democracy demands for Hong Kong. Walls have appeared in Vancouver BC, Seoul, London, Taipei, Toronto, Tokyo, Calgary and Berlin. More than 150 Lennon Walls can be found on Hong Kong Island, despite efforts of police to remove them. During the 2014 democracy protests in Hong Kong, a Lennon Wall even appeared outside the Hong Kong Central Government Offices. To this day, more continue to be created.
Yoko: Throughout her life, Yoko Ono has preached world peace, gender equality, and acceptance for all. To this day, well into her 80s, Ono is a working artist and activist—she has let nothing, especially age, stop her. Ono is a role model for us all. In honor of her late husband, Ono erected the Imagine Peace Tower in 2007 on an island outside Reykjavik, Iceland. This outdoor structure sends a light beam high into the sky each year between the days of Lennon’s birthday and his date of death. At its base, a container holds many of the wishes that were pinned on Wish Trees around the world.
Yoko Ono’s contribution to the University of Liverpool–the city of John Lennon’s birth–has just been announced: The university’s new teaching & performance center will be named after long-standing supporter & honorary graduate, Yoko Ono. “The Yoko Ono Lennon Centre will add to the rich cultural landscape of Liverpool.” Yoko said, “I am thrilled to be recognized with the naming of the new performance center at the University of Liverpool. I hope it will be a home for creative expression and learning for many years to come. Thank you to the University and to the people of Liverpool for this wonderful honor.”
Read more about Yoko’s Wish Tree Project and where it can be seen around the world here: https://travelexaminer.net/yoko-ono-wish-tree/
Related Post: Another iconic contributor to groundbreaking art and the art world is the legendary Peggy Guggenheim: Read her story here: Peggy Guggenheim at Home in Venice.
Related Post: And another groundbreaking artist here: Georgia O’Keeffe.