Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Selma Waldman's Black Book of Aggressors V

These are only two images from the most recent Wall of Perpetrators by Selma Waldman.
The Wall consists of a total of 40 images all drawn on black perforated paper.
The intense chalk lines are bearing witness to the atrocity of the torture.

The top drawing in red and blue chalk on black paper is Testicles V
The prisoner is sprawled helplessly over a stool with his hands shackled to his ankles.
He is being given electric shocks by two soldiers on either side of him. His body arches in pain. One soldier holds the wires directly to the prisoners testicles, the other sends the shock from a box.The red is the red of fire, of electricity, of pain, of torture
The second work is Waterboarding. It is one of six images of waterboarding in the series. Each one specifically describes the process with detailed writing. Waldman carefully researched exactly what happens during water boarding. She forced herself to penetrate to the factual heart of this darkness and to represent it. This one shows the prisoner on his back, shackled as two soldiers on either side simultaneously pour water on his face, which is covered with a cloth. The soldiers stand resolute, one is smoking a cigarette, the other looks fixedly at the stream of water and the suffering prisoner with no expression. The white is the white of drowning.

The other waterboarding images have texts
"strapped to board upside down
immersed in wet towel to fake drowning
used to impose anguish without leaving marks. "

Another has this text
"tied to board
unable to move
head lower than feet
cloth held tight over face
waterpoured over cloth
fear of death by asphyxiation

A third has this text
water poured over cellophane pressed to face
gag reflex kicks in
drowning detainnee screams in agony to stop

Another says
"waterboarding falls into the area of professional interrogation techniques" ex CIA head

The image above is the last image.
All of these acts are present. Look at these works and think about the loss of humanity for all of us as these acts are committed. They must be exposed in order to be understood and protested. Just below this is my grandson. All of these prisoners and all of these torturers came from a mother's pain and joy and love. How did we all get from there to here. We must stop this inhumanity.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

my new website and my new grandson

www.artandpoliticsnow.com is now online and available for everyone to see!
and this is my brand new grandson for everyone to see!
Art and Politics has a lot to do with the future of our planet which belongs to this tiny infant and the other children of the world. Let's make sure we stay on the task of making it as good as possible.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Roger Shimomura Minidoka on my Mind

Roger Shimomura American Infamy no 2 Acrylic on canvas 72 x 120 inches
Currently on view at Greg Kucera gallery, Seattle
"I offer this exhibition as a metaphor for the impending threat posed by current times. ..." Roger Shimomura 2007
Roger Shimomura's new work shown in his exhibition "Minidoka on my Mind" at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle confronts us directly with both the past and the present.

This is Shimomura's fourth series on the subject of the Japanese Internment during World War II. He based earlier series on his grandmother's diary, and as he has described it to me recently, memories that have become fact: "memories that were galvanized from retelling and then spawned other memories, and got longer. "
He was in the camps himself as a very small child, so he does have some memories, but that is not the point of this exhibition. He has made these works in deep conversation with Western modernism, both minimalism and Pop Art, as well as a particular period of Japanese art, Namban.
Namban screens as seen here are the work created in response to the arrival of Europeans in Japan during a brief period of time, in the late 17th early 18th century.
Namban means "southern barbarians" and refers to the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese by ship, bringing both commerce and religion. While the subject can find a parallel in the Iraq war invasion, as to how we perceive ourselves vs how the Iraqis perceive us, (certainly as Barbarians), as well as the overlapping of religion and commerce, the comparison also extends to the compositions of these paintings and their colors. ( This comparison was suggested by a current exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, Japan Envisions the West, and its symposium, December 1, 2007)

This large Namban screen, ( the right half of a six panel group by Kano Naizen, the whole measures five feet high and over ten feet long) ) uses aerial perspective, a palette of gold and black, and tiny figures very much like Shimomura's American Infamy above (which is an overwhelming 6 feet high and 10 feet long). In the Namban screen, a large ship on the left looms in the black water. It bears religious icons and trading items. The screen bears an intriguing comparison to Shimomura's large painting. In Shimomura's work the person who is above the scene is not implied but depicted as a large foreground figure with binoculars looking down from a watch tower on the inhabitants of the camp. The camps were in arid desert settings, so the gold ground of the Namban scene is echoed in the yellow of the desert. Between the small structures are many small specific figures, a panorama of types in both paintings. Shimomura declares irrefutably that surveillance controls lives. In the Namban painting that is not so obvious, although the Jesuits were forced to leave Japan in the early 18th century because the shoguns recognized that they were threatening traditional values in Japan.

Shimomura's smaller paintings are no longer intended to be memories or facts. They are constructions, based on a highly sophisticated transformation of a grid setting into layers of space, insides, outsides, barbed wire and cheap housing, modernism turned back onto itself from utopia to prison. This grid ( so lauded in modernist theoretical discussions) is flat, it barely separates those who are free and those who are not.

In Classmates, the blond blue eyed girl has a dress that touches the shoulder of the Japanese American girl behind the wires. Both hold apples, both are dressed in fashionable clothes, both smile, both are the same age. The wire thin line that separates them is both literal and metaphorical. These girls could be representing today's shattered friendships as the Immigration and Homeland Security forces sweep into neighborhoods and remove random people ( Arabs? "Immigrants?) for no declared reason, intern them in prison without charges, shatter families, friendships and lives.

The title work Minidoka on My Mind is perhaps the most astonishing. It shows a young boy painting a "minimalist" composition, but here is no red, yellow and blue primaries, or black zips on a white ground referring to the "Stations of the Cross" and inferring higher realities. Here are horizontal and vertical yellow lines and black squares. Looking closer the painting within the painting is an exact replica of the actual construction of the building the child is painting. It is a representation of the idea of prison when imagination is confined to the wall in front of you. It takes the minimalist/grid tradition and turns it on its head. The blackness becomes not an opening, but a closure, the empty spaces that we have glibly interpreted in Mondrian's subtle compositions, are now flat, cheap walls. The child is obsessively painting a row of dots, these are the nails that hold the flimsy structure together. The grid continues to the left of the building and the child, scoring the landscape, the sky, and the world with its rough wire lines.

Shimomura and other members of his generation are offering information on the history of racism in this country with their work on this topic. It is now more current than ever.
Shimomura fears that the persistance of racism in our society is not fully grasped by the younger generation, (70 per cent of Asian Americans, for example, are in biracial relationships.)

This little boy is about much more than painting, it is about forgetting and willfully eliminating the larger context of what that internment camp meant in the context of the large social forces that shape decisions. He cannot see beyond the wall that he is painting, but we can. We are outside his space, looking down on him, like the soldier who is standing in the watch tower. Surveillance is available to us, but we do nothing to liberate this child, to understand the conditions of imprisonment, or to ensure that laws will prevent it. In the end Shimomura's work turns back to us as the perpetrators. We are still outside the prison, but for how long will we remain there, if we ignore reality. Our position is not one of power, it is one of ignorance. The little boy understands his situation more completely than we do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Iraqi Women by Nadje Sadig Al-Ali

Since I am on the subject of books. Iraqi Women is another crucial book. The subtitle is "untold stories from 1948 to the Present" . Nadje has interviewed a cross section of women who left Iraq at various times ( some only briefly), provinding one window into the history of Iraqi women since the 1940s, with a brief look backward to the early twentieth century. It discusses the incredible support for women provided in the 1970s, professional training, child care, good salaries, transportation to and from work. A model of what a society can do that trully wants to support women as full human beings. But already in the 1980s the situation changed, during the Iran Iraq war, when women were encouraged to produce babies, and in the 1990s, during sanctions, problems escalated exponentially. Since 2001, everything has gone down hill to the present almost total destruction of the country of both the past, present and future of the country as Reshad Selim, another major Iraqi artist puts it.
This painting is by Maysaloun Faraj, the artist and director of Aya Gallery London.
The title is Weeping Palms, Stolen Childhood, 2004

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone Read It

Dahr Jamail's book, Beyond the Green Zone Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, is an essential book to read for anyone who wants to hear another side of the situation in Iraq. What makes it so potent is that he is not aggrandizing himself, he is not reporting the war per se, he is simply talking to as many Iraqis as he can, especially focusing on the bombing of hospitals, shooting at ambulances, using cluster bombs as well as phosporous incendiary bombs on civilians. As a sub theme he accounts his own observations of the continual degradation of life in Iraq.

Of course as a man he had access to a lot of places that a woman would not have been able to report on, and his interviews are almost entirely with men. This is the new Iraq, where formerly secular women are now covered from head to toe in black when they leave the house, unable to work, and unavailable, for men to talk to outside of their families. The new Iraq from which the Middle Class is leaving as fast as it can.
( See http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/http whose writer is now in Syria as one record of life from a woman's point of view) .

Most of Jamail's contact with women and children was encountering them wounded in a hospital, or observations of their impossible day to day challenges of lack of water and electricity, lack of medical care, and basic security. In those observations he brings home in one way the day to day nightmare that families are experiencing in the war.

And Congress just keeps voting money for the corporations (disguised as support for the troops). Bought and sold to their pieces of the pie.

A particularly potent part of Jamail's book describes the absence of any of the promised multi million dollar reconstruction by Bechtel . Based on his own on the ground observation and interviews with people who have no water in chapter 6 Craving Health and Freedom"

Here is a quote from near the end of the book, commenting on the second assault on Fallujah.
"The second assault on Fallujah was a monument to brutality and atrocity made in the United States of America. Like the Spanish city of Guernica during the 1930s, and Grozny in the 1990s Fallujah is our monument of excess and overkill. " 239

Another major contribution is Jamail's documentation of the disconnect between mainstream reporting and facts on the ground. Repeatedly the US military and media reported outright lies, distortions, and invented stories, as well as suppressing other stories and the reports of unembedded journalists. For example, Jamail describes the rally by the resistance after the first attack on Fallujah, after the embedded journalists and military withdrew.
Therefore, today, as we see the New York Times report on "Baghdadi's sigh of relief," because of the "success of the surge" we can place it in the bigger picture of the complete disaster on the ground and the campaign of disinformation that Jamail reports on in his dispatches and his book.

Above is art work by Hana Mal Allah Baghdad Artist. It is a book called Baghdad Map, US Map. Hana Mal Allah, see my earlier entry on her work, actually burns her work in partnership with the burning of the city of the ancient and beautiful city of Baghdad. The work is currently part of the exhibition Red Zone/Green Zone at Gemak den Haag, an exhibition focusing on "urban security policies and the withering of public space from Baghdad to Den Haag" http://www.gemak.org/tentoonstellingen.html

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Kara Walker

Kara Walker has really started to talk loudly about miscegenation. Although I have seen her works for years, they always seemed to me to be perpetuating racism rather than countering it, but her recent retrospective as well as her new works, on display at Sikkema Jenkins and Co in Chelsea, are unavoidably challenging.

In the newest work Walker links abuse of African-Americans based on research with contemporary examples of torture and abuse in Iraq and Sudan, the message of the abuse of humans is loud and clear. White people actually
can't avoid the past here. It is all so clear that torture is an American way of life.
The work here is part of a series based on research in the "Bureau of Refugees, Freedman and Abandoned Lands - Records, "Miscellaneous Papers," National Archives M809 Roll 23 (anyone can access this source)
The show is called:
"Search for ideas supporting the Black Man as a work of Modern Art/Contemporary Painting; a death without end and an appreciation of the Creative Spirit of Lynch Mobs" .
The title is complicated and ironic. It is worth an essay in itself.

What Walker confronts us with are the horrors of the racist acts of which the US human male is capable based on documentary evidence. There is a direct correlation in the language and actions of today's US human males and females in the war in Iraq and in the starving of millions in Sudan. Our roots in terrorism, both of Blacks and Native Americans, are deep and permanent. Today's world is simply a continuation of that horror.

Title of the Kara Walker work above:

Bureau of Refugees: May 29 Richard Dick's wife beaten with a

club by her employer. Richard remonstrated - in the night was

taken from his house and beaten with a buggy trace nearly to

death by his employer and 2 others.


Cut paper on paper

30.75 x 20.375 inches

Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins and Co.

Extreme Interiors Olive Ayhens

Olive Ayhens expressionist nightmares of contemporary life currently on view in New York City at Frederieke Taylor Gallery are tour de force paintings that present us with the chaos of our contemporary world.
One recent series represented interiors of computer labs where the wiring has taken off on its own in a nightmare of disorder. At the same time, her paintings are detailed, complex compositions with bold offbeat color that jars the viewer. These cannot be passed by quickly, both because of their arresting content, their layers of details, and their complex formal devices.

Computer Lab 2005-2006 oil on canvas 52 x 61 incehs

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rashad Selim Iraqi artist in London

Baghdad Pavement 2006

"I have a sense of devastation within me. The works I have deal with devastation. " Rashad Selim

"Art has to do with debris, breaking up, assymetry, loss of grammar. "

The layers of this collage include both old manuscripts which he has torn up and debris. Rashad is echoing the break up of both history and the present in his work.

He speaks of the corruption of language as in the word al Qaida which now means international terrorism, but actually means "fundamental base" in Arabic. It was appropriated by the CIA after 9/11.

"We don't want to lose that last bit of humanity in a state of destitution."

He speaks of the four dimensional war, that includes the destruction of the past, present and future. Depleted uranium is destroying the genetic pool of the future in Iraq.
"There is an absoluteness in this occupation that we have never seen before."

Fragments from the Ministry of Justice, 2007
The large installation was constructed in London as a reference to the devestation in Baghdad.

Fragments from the Seven Eyes

Much of his work addresses symbols of unity such as the intersection of the star of David and Islamic pattern, the importance of symbolic numbers such as the six pointed star, seven eyes, and the circle, symbols that come from the Bible, Buddhism, and many other sources. Here also old manuscripts have been incorporated. Rashad is addressing the possibilities of unity, fertility, goodness and well beingn, as a counter to the divisive language of international politics.

Rashad is the nephew of Jewad Selim who created the Moument of Freedom in 1958. "It is a visual narrative of the 1958 Iraqi revolution told through symbols meant to protray a verse of Arabic poetetry. It is both modern and embedded in Assyrian and Babylonian wall-reliefs."
( Strokes of Genius, 41)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hana Malallah

"I am soaked in catastrophe like a sponge."

So states Hana Malallah a major artist based in Baghdad who is currently in exile in London.

Hana Malallah is a prominent contemporary artist who has been teaching at the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad University until last fall ( October 2006), when she reluctantly left the city.

She said recently in London

"My work is about catastrophe. I am soaked in catastrophe like a sponge. I am stamped by Iraq's wars.
During the Iran Iraq war I was 20. There has been war after war.

My pen is a knife. "

This painting is called Baghdad City Map, 2007

The canvas has been burned and painted with black as a record of the destruction of the city. The one green star is a reference to the stars of the Iraq flag, the black stars refer to the US flag.This work is part of an ongoing series about Baghdad the city. Here is another one.

Hana survived the Iran Iraq War, the First Gulf War and most of the most recent war. She is a deeply committed artist who has left here city only to get the word out
"I didn't want to leave my country. I want to do a project about the burning city so the world knows what I have seen. When I was in Iraq, every time I was in the street I had to know that I might die at any moment. I passed many dead people everyday, I took a minibus to work that had to follow long detours because the streets are blocked. Troops are everywhere. When I go shopping there are soldiers with guns pointed. I lived without electricity, water, little food, one hour of electricity if you are lucky. Hell is more comfortable than Iraq.
Baghdad was a beautiful city like London."
She had major works on display in the Modern Museum in Baghdad which have now disappeared as have all of the works in the museum although the scholar Nada Shabout is working to locate them.
Each page of this large format book refers to Baghdad's history and destruction. The City of Baghdad was laid out in a circle in by al Mansour in the mide 8th century AD at the founding of the Abbasid Dynasty. The Abbasids sponsored a flowering of Islamic culture for several centuries.

Ineffective Game I
Anyone can play by moving the red squares around. Obviously it is a reference to the futility of the current situation in Baghdad, and the pointless games played by all participants. It is also a reference to the invention of games in ancient Mesopotamia such as the Royal Game of Ur.

Hana Malallah bases the pattern on the surface on the Sumerian patterns on pottery. She has studied the geometric principles of Islamic painting
and here disrupts that perfect order
The cone like projections are based on the ornamentation of the Temple of Warka in Iraq

Her generation of Iraqi artists emerged during the Iran Iraq war. They were unable to travel abroad, so they studied the history of Mesopotamia and incorporated references to archeological history in their contemporary paintings at the newly established Iraq Archeological Museum only steps away from the Institute of Fine Arts. For Hana Mal Allah the destruction of the archeological museum was a major part of the catastrophe of war, it was a place where she used to spend days studying the art. It is part of her heart and soul.

Hana wrote in Strokes of Genius Contemporary Iraqi Art, ed by Maysaloun Faraj Saqi Books 2001
"Those artists who choose to remain in Iraq despite all the obstacles are building new aesthetic and epistemological values in painting which are drawn entirely from the Iraqi reality with all its current influences and shifting sands." (64)

For more images of Hana Malallah's work see www.ayagallery.co.uk The Aya Gallery, London, which recently hosted a two person show with Hana Mal Allah and Rashad Selim . More on the art of Rashad Selim in another posting.
For a film on these artists see


Monday, October 1, 2007

Not only possible but also necessary, optimism in the age of global war

The lengthy title of the 10th Istanbul Biennial suggests Hou Hanru's desire to address the role of art in the midst of the pressing social concerns of the contemporary moment. To a surprising extent he was successful.
There were several reasons for his success.

First, he looked at the modern and contemporary history of Turkey, rather than being seduced by stunning ancient sites such as a Byzantine cistern or the monumental Hagia Sophia, sites which have so often been used as venues in the Istanbul Biennial. Those sites entirely dominate any contemporary art. There was little or no connection between the art and the site.

Second, Hanru selected venues that have a strong resonance with current issues of gentrification, globalization, urban migration, war, social movements, as well as current concerns in Turkey about relationships between the traditions of the secular Republic founded in 1923 and new economic and social realities. Rather than coming as a tourist to Turkey, he read about the modern history of Turkey, the founding of the Republic, and current texts that examine the Republican legacy such as the work by Resat Kasaba and Sibel Bosdogan, Rethinking Modernism and National Identity in Turkey, University of Washington Press, 1997. ( Apologies, there appears to be no way of including Turkish accents in this blog).

Third, he almost entirely eliminated empty art that said nothing. He placed social concerns in a primary position.
Many critics will bemoan the absence of traditional beauty, poetry or aesthetics, but in fact, intense poetry in a new voice emerges in the collective concerns of artists working in various media that communicate clearly through maps, videos, installations, and even diagrams, about the issue they are addressing. These artists are optimists in the sense that they believe that by exposing issues,rather than simply ignoring them, they can make the world a better place. Hanru was not interested in easy superficial viewing, nor in art that would attract buyers. He wanted people to suffer, to think, to experience the city in the different places that were required to go, off the beaten tourist track.

The title "Not only possible, but also necessary, optimism in the age of global war" suggests that art must play a primary role in addressing current concerns. The word "optimism" is the oddity, sitting in the position where you would expect the word "art" , a word which does not appear in the title. In banners throughout the city, the title was changed in Turkish to "Sanat hic bu kadar, iyimser olmamisti. " There has never been so much optimistic art" " So what do we make of that? The slogan makes it sound like all the art is optimistic, when in fact, the opposite is true. Optimism comes from the fact that artists are addressing problems, not simple platitudes of modernism.

It would seem that by avoiding the word "art" Hou Hanru is purposefully saying that art as such, the tradition of aesthetics, is not what is necessary, but rather, a production that presents the current world even as it offers some way forward. Optimism paired with consciousness is necessary. Optimism can come, he perhaps proposes, not from art itself ( that is a tired idea from modernism), but from our collective experience of the artists' ability to address social concerns, their freedom to expose the horrors of war, the divisions of the left, the impact of globalization, as well as their ability to offer alternatives.

More to follow on the art.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art

On a positive note, Seattle has an extraordinary exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at the Asian Art Musuem until December 2
Originally curated by Wu Hung at the University of Chicago for the China Institute Gallery it was supplemented in Seattle, due to the efforts of the assistant curator of Chinese art, Josh Yiu. Yiu was able to add to the original exhibition with Xu Bing's famous and still stunning Book from the Sky, borrowed directly from the artist.

The exhibition is an opportunity to see a full range of well known Chinese artists
in some cases with little known works.

Cai Guo-Qiang for example is represented by a piece about Japanese pirates in the Middle Ages which he never realized for political reasons. Professor Gu Xiong, now residing in Vancouver, shows his notebooks from his years of re education during the Cultural Revolution in which he made detailed sketches of his life and that of the peasants from whom he learned how to do backbreaking work for three years.
There is an amazing piece by Song Dong, A room full of Calligraphy Model Books, 1995, 158 books all shredded and lifted up by an electric fan. They seem to be dancing on their spines as they reach helplessly out of their bindings.Unreadable and unusable, they nevertheless speak about the poetry of the book and calligraphy in China.

But the Book from the Sky is still the tour de force of all works from China about the book. Everyone knows the story, that the artist invented 4000 characters that cannot be sounded or read. It is piece that sings with beauty and complexity of meaning. Beautifully installed in a self contained gallery, It hangs over our heads like a sweeping sail of a new type of ship. It fills the gallery floor with a sea of books, it covers the wall with panels of text that are like windows to a world we cannot penetrate. The photograph here is a detail from an installation in Albany.

The unreadable books created in the late 1980s are subversive on so many levels, for an artist who grew up during the Cultural Revolution.

For all of these artists, the book was destroyed in its traditional meaning, literally, as they were asked to burn libraries as young red guards and commit other acts of descrecation against what was labelled as "capitalist" culture and decadent aesthetics. They themselves were forced to read only the Little Red Book. Yet calligraphy survived. Mao was a calligrapher and a poet himself. So in spite of the destruction, the book is a sacred tradition in China still, and that reverence can also be felt in the exhibition. Finally, the transformation of the book physically, and the departure from the ideology of the Little Red Book, as capitalism has taken hold in China, also permeates the work in their scale, media, themes, and presentation.

Willie Cole in Seattle

The exhibition of the work of Willie Cole at the Frye Art Museum is a stunning installation by a major American artist. Cole's relationship to the masters of twentieth century sculpture and painting is obvious in every work. This postage stamp photograph of With a Heart of Gold, shoes, stone, wood screws, metal, staples and 85 x 16 (Alexander and Bonin Gallery) doesn't do him justice. His genius is overlapping many different meaning sfrom aesthetics to history to modernism, to found objects, to transformations, to spiritual, to everyday life, to Civil Rights, to racism, and as part of that mix, there are some intentional riffs and echoes of African sculpture.

Unfortunately at the Frye Art Museum they paired Cole in a conversation with a curator of African Art and tried to pigeon hole him in that one box. They basically primitivized him, rather than honoring him for the extraodinary artist he is. They further belabored the African theme with films on African art during his exhibition
His conversation was at the same time as a Friday night open house and held in a gallery, so it was impossible to hear. But when a food critic, who had top billing at 8PM came on, everyone was asked to be quiet. Let's see how many other ways can Seattle demonstrate its oblivious racism?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

James W. Washington, Jr. Creativity as a path to freedom

This sculpture by James W. Washington, Jr, The Chaotic Half, was made in 1945, long before the so-called era of Civil Rights in the 1960s. I say so called because African- Americans had been fighting for their Civil Rights ever since they arrived on Slave ships.

Washington made this sculpture one year after he moved from the South to the to the Northwest (through Civil Service Employment). He wanted to speak in his art to the injustice that he had experienced in the South. He found a lot of racism in Seattle as well, but he felt freer to express his real feelings in his art. He only did three art works directly calling attention to racism, all in the 1940s.

On the right a hand puts a ballot in a box. Behind a diagonal line which serves as a partition is a KKK hood, a noose, a cross and an "all seeing eye". The eye is the eye of surveillance, suggesting the constant vigilance that Washington had to practice growing up when, as he declared "he lived in fear most of the time."

Growing up in Mississippi, Washington experienced the preachings of organized religion as part of the oppression that affected his spirit as much as the KKK threatened him physically.

He celebrated creativity as a means of freedom in all of his art work. When we think of the cuts in support for art programs in the schools and in our nation as a whole, we know that the freedom he spoke of, the creativity that he celebrated, is a revolutionary idea. He believed each person could find their own talent and make it work for them.

It is a radical idea even today. If culture can be liberated from materialism, ambition, elitism, academia, and its other prisons, it can speak of escape from oppression.

That is what Washington did in all his art work even after he turned to more symbolic work and away from explicit images of oppression.
And he succeeded. By the end of his life he was a celebrated artist.

Friday, July 6, 2007

"Stuff Happens" David Hare

Last night I saw the new David Hare play about the Bush administration march to the Iraq war. It was terrific.
Even though we knew the whole story, we were still sitting on the edge of our seats with the tension and stupidity, arrogance, malice, and ignorance of the whole thing. Colin Powell was the central tragic hero of the story, who tried to stand for what he believed in but was trapped into using his integrity to support lies.
The only weakness in the story was the conclusion when the Iraqi came out speaking about the tragedy of destruction and death that has been visited on their country and ends by saying Iraqis should have taken control of our own country ( as though it were the Iraqis' fault that the US invaded them and as far back as 1953 have been meddling in their politics by overthrowing a democratically elected leader who was affiliated with Nasser's socialism. We put in Saddam Hussein, trained him, sold him weapons, encouraged war with Iran, boycotted him, then we took him out as well as the entire country. ON the other hand, the Iraqis have a resistance which is fighting hard in order to get rid of us, in the midst of all the convolutions of terrorism that we have spawned in Iraq, and the Iraqis have not signed the oil bill that the US wants that gives away their assets ( so called "progress towards democracy." in Bush speak.

The play has little emphasis on the economic motives, it is all about raw power .
Only at the end do we learn that Cheney's stock options in Halliburton have gone up to 6 million in value since the war.

watch this video on Impeaching Cheney

Then get out and make it happen! Everyone do what works for you, but do something.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Shahram Karimi and Shirin Ebadi

In the 2003 Istanbul Biennial the artist Shahram Karimi showed a work with the title "Traces" which he referred to as presenting the creative people of Iran who participated in the "collective struggle toward modernity." Painted on rice sacks, he made realistic portraits of 248 intellectuals many of whom are dead or in exile. Beside the mural he showed a video that wandered through a deserted city, suggesting as Shirin Neshat has stated "a melancholic sense of intended annihilation and erasure of history" ( Poetic Justice 126).
I conclude about the work in my forthcoming book on Art and Politics Now,

"This work achieved a perfect dialectic between high and low culture, the political and the poetic. The mural is in a material and style of the street, and speaks to everyone directly, the video with all of its vacancies and absences is the material of Biennial culture, but it uses that vacancy as a metaphor of the absences of history. "

Here is the mural part of the work. I don't have a photograph of the video, but I am also posting the list of writers, novelists, poets, composers, musicians, political leaders, theater directors, rug weavers, social workers, singers etc. Itis a powerful statement and record of both accomplishments and losses in contemporary Iran.

One of the people listed ( not in this detail) is the Iranian lawyer and Human Rights activist, Shrin Ebadi. She won the Nobel Prize in 2003. She is still in Iran working for legal rights for women and children, freedom of the press, the rights of political activists and other important causes. She announced in May that she would defend the scholar Haleh Esfandiari who was recently arrested in Iran. Ironically Ebadi had to sue the United States for the right to publish her memoir Iran Awakening in this country.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Venice Biennale: A Note on Turkey and Lebanon

For the first time Turkey and Lebanon are officially represented at the Venice Biennale. Those of us who cannot afford to go there can visit the sites online. Turkey is represented by a quirky artist Huseyin Alptekin . Alptekin has been doing offbeat interventions in Europe and Turkey for quite awhile.

In Albania, for example, he hired Kiaja Kiuru from Finland to create a lace covering to cover one of the 500 bunkers left behind by a paranoid dictator.
Here is a photograph of one of her lace covering as shown in a gallery in Istanbul. Kaija Kiuru, originally from Lapland, created “Chamber” in 2002. Using dozens of antique circular tablecloths that the artist collected in secondhand shops, she constructed a temporary domestic shelter from the fruits of thousands of hours of work. Kiuru is concerned with the nature of home and women’s lives and the fact that 80 percent of the world refugees are woman and children. The simultaneous fragility and semi transparency of the tent created a stunning resting place.
I discussed Alptekin's work with Kiuru in
Sculpture , May 2004. Here's a quote:

"Alptekin invited Kaija Kiuru to create a lace cover for a bunker. The lace domesticated these useless shelters. The Bunker Research Group (BRG) connects reality and paranoia, derelict socialist structures and contemporary art, change and stasis."

As for Lebanon, it is one of the hottest places in the world from the perspective of wars, politics, and artists who are actually in the midst of it, figuring out ways to both simply survive and to engage with what is surrounding them as an ongoing reality. The result is a multmedia experimental group of artists who collectively address the insanity of war, suicide bombings, and public pathologies.
Here is Rabih Mroue, a performance artist:
"Searching for a Missing Employee", as performed in 2004 at the Lift Theater Festival. He uses video, news clippings archives, narratives, and a diagram of the information to try to "find" this person who has disappeared (as thousands did in Lebanon during the Civil War 1975 - 91) with only traces left of their existence)

The result is that we realize once again that history is a fabrication based on narratives and procedures that make no sense at all. If that isn't pertinent to our present moment, what is?
Mroue is not showing in Venice, but this gives a little context.
Walid Sadek ,who is showing in Venice, works in texts.
Last year in "Out of Beirut" at Oxford Modern Art he showed labels for landscape paintings by Moustafa Faroukh, a well known Lebanese artist, leaving a space for where the art work would have been and adding a poem of his own which invoked the missing landscape ( both the missing painting, and the landscape that no longer exists because of war).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Word into Art Artists of the Modern Middle East

These pictures are from a stunning exhibition last summer at the British Museum "Word Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East"
second is the entrance to the exhibition with a sculpture Heech in a cage 2005 by Parviz Tanavoli.
first is a column by Dia al Azzawi Blessed Tigris. A poem is inscribed on it by Muhammad Mahdi

I greet you from afar, O greet me back,

O blessed Tigris, river of gardens green.

I greet your banks, seeking to quench my thirst.

Like doves between water and clay aflutter seen.

O blessed Tigris, oft have I have been forced to leave

To drink from springs which didn’t my thirst relieve.

O blessed Tigris, what inflames your heart

Inflames me and what grieves you makes me grieve.

O wanderer, play with a gentle touch

Caress the lute softly and sing again

That you may sooth a volcano seething with rage

And pacify a heart burning with pain. ( translated by Hussein Hadawi).

Homage to Palestine

As the news in Gaza gets worse and worse, I am posting some images of contemporary art from Palestine by way of affirming the fact that many people are working hard to keep Palestine culture and history alive.
This is from an installation of Palestinian art in an exhibition called Made in Palestine
The work in the foreground is by Mary Tuma
Home for the Disembodied 2000
In the background left to right are
John Halaka
Stripped of their Identity and Driven from their land from the series Forgotten Survivors 1997-2003
Samia Halaby Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and
Rula Halawani Negative Incursions2002

The exhibition was organized in 2002 in Houston and was shown in New York City in 2006.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2007
We can remember it for the dreadful passageof yet another appropriations bill by the spineless Congress.- 98 Billion to continue the war, to continue to provide "military training for the Iraqis to defend themselves" and to "support out trips." In other words to pour more money into the hands of the corporations and to escalate the conflict in Iraq.

I am offering here three images as a protest. First, the ephemeral sculpture by Mike Magrath placed in Occidental Square last fall on the anniversay of 9/11. It was based on a photograph of an Iraqi man with the dead body of his son in hisarms. The sculpture is made of salt and intended to gradually disappear, just as our sense of death of Iraqis barely registers. Beneath the sculpture sleeps a homeless man, victim of the same corrosive forces of greed capitalism, that are the reasons for war and the excuse for the government to de-fund even our minimal social services.

At the time of the installation of this sculpture
(one of several) a Butoh performance brought to life the sense of struggle, oppression, and survival of the marginal others of our society. They poured sand around a second statue of a young prisoner with his hands bound behind his back and gestured to a third young boy awaiting his fate.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Online vs in the street a debate on activism

I am having an ongoing debate with my thirty something daughter about street activism vs internet activism. I tend to dismiss people who just sit at computers all day as not "real" activists".

She claims that "internet activism is *equally* important, and that if you focus more time on one type of activism but not the other, that doesn't mean you aren't an activist. In other words, just as people who only go to protest marches but never use the internet can still be activists, so can people who are active in internet communities but don't go to rallies."Her example is that the Gonzales scandal is a result of internet activism at salon.com and Talking Points Memo http://talkingpointsmemo.com/

I think that people with signs in the streets, and especially with brilliant street art, is still best way to get our message out. It is also exciting, stimulating, and makes anyone who participates feel better. She feels street protests are claustrophobic and finds anti war demonstrations depressing.

I participated in A28 action last weekend, all over the country people wrote out impeach, passed out signs, and banners, etc. It was huge, and we all felt connected, even though we are also an online community. It will live in in both cyber and reality.
I say you have to have BOTH.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Iraq in Fragments and Orientalism

Independent films can be racist without realizing it, much like racism in a place like Seattle in general. The film Iraq in Fragments, made by Seattle filmmaker James Langley presents a classic liberal view of a racialized, impoverished, fanatic, backward, “other.” The focus on impoverished “primitive” families reinforces prejudice about life outside the United States and the need to “save” people with “democracy,” a thinly disguised translation of the manifest destiny of the nineteenth century. It is discouraging that this film has been so widely celebrated. Its nomination for best documentary demonstrates that the entire film industry is oblivious to its own Orientalism, and ignorant of the realities of the fact that Iraq was a modern country before we got there.

The fact that the well meaning and courageous Langley uses the voices of young boys and old men almost exclusively, underscores his paternalism toward the poor communities to which he turned his lens. An outtake from the film, a section that focused on a young mother and her sick child, equally emphasized impoverished living. The setting of impoverishment against stunningly photographed landscapes is a tourist perspective, much like the imagery that comes with requests for funding from many well meaning agencies.

What a film like this doesn't tell us is that many Iraqis are well educated and accomplished professionals, with one of the best medical and educational systems in the Middle East. Legally, women had more rights than in most countries in the Middle East. It was a secular country.

We have destroyed that. Most of the middle class, artists, writers, poets, playwrights, dancers, singers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, dentists, have been forced to leave ( mostly since 2006, when Langley made his film, they were still there). Women have been prevented from working and forced to cover themselves and leave the house only with men, while living in fear of being killed (for that transformation see Baghdad Burning blog, the author of which has just announced that she must also leave ( April 26). The clerics are controlling women's morality and legal decisions after decades of secular law. Now the only people left fan the flames . The isolated puppet government has no support to resist signing the oil law that gives away all the resources to multinationals. Then Bush can declare a victory and leave.

The "fragments" of Iraq, the three part approach presented in the film, also is a hallucination of American foreign policy. We have created the Civil War through our selective backing and training and arming of various fundamentalist militias. Before us there was one country of Iraqis, who were a peaceful people.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Artists Against the War

Artists against the War, New York City in collaboration with other groups, handed out a petition for impeachment and supporting documents. It was designed as a tabloid newspaper and delivered to every congressional office.
This is a brilliant direct action in the halls of power as Congress is wimpering and whining and unable to really take a stand, except with a feeble bill that they basically invited Bush to veto.
AAWNYC/ART (Activist Response Team) also did a stunning banner drop with the section of the contitution about impeachment in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building .
They are potent artist activists. Images of their actions are available through their website http://www.aawnyc.org
The sophistication of the visual images designed by artists makes a huge difference in their effectiveness. It also demonstrates their courage and determination to great rid of this President who is ruining Iraq and our own country as well. The soomer artists join the activist camp, the better, we cannot afford the luxury to follow our own private paths anymore.

Multiple actions occurred in the early afternoon today inside the Hart Senate Office Building. Eight New York activists were among the 15 plus arrested.

First, in a massive distribution, A.R.T. hand-delivered a 20-page tabloid petition to every representative. It contained documentary evidence for indictments, literally putting impeachment back on the table.
Then, at 1PM, in a spectacular visual feat, A.R.T displayed the full text of Article II, Section 4 to the Senate as a 30-foot banner drop in the Hart Office Building atrium.
A second 30-foot banner read "YOUR SILENCE YOUR LEGACY". Organizers said, "We must magnify the refusal of Congress to uphold the Constitution. Their silence equals complicity in the flagrant crimes of this administration."Contact: *A.R.T. (Activist Response Team)email: stateofemergencyaction@gmail.com

Selma Waldman's Black Book of Aggressors

Selma Waldman
“Lust for power and territory is the same lust that kills man, women, children and the land itself” Selma Waldman

No artist has more consistently addressed the subject of inhumanity and its relationship to power than Selma Waldman. Waldman’s entire life and art have been dedicated to the representation of war, capitalism, in both its victims and its perpetrators. Waldman grew up in King, Texas, where everyone was a slave to the King Ranch and her family were the only Jews in town. She learned about injustice and oppression early.

She is currently showing her work at Allison and Ross Fine Art Services in Seattle, because no museum will touch her potent work that exposes the intersection of sex, war, and torture. Her most recent series is on black paper with chalk lines in blue, red, yellow. It is a tangle of passionate and fury that ensnarls interrogators and victims in a process that has no moral parameters. She declares in the brochure "War is the Crime,Naked/Aggression is the work"
The work is titled The Hague Project, because she plans to show it in the Hague. The 40 drawings currently on display are called " Black Book of Aggressors". It has four parts of which only one is on display. The Abu Ghraib series is part of her ongoing project Naked/Aggression that exposes the intersection of sexuality and war.

(excerpt from my forthcoming book "Art and Politics Now") See images above.
"Waldman is a member of Women in Black. She has also participated in multimedia commemorations such as "Sleepwalking Apocalpyse" (Seattle September 11, 2005) in which poets, singers, dancers, actors and the general public took part in a procession in honor of victims of war everywhere. Waldman makes connections between war and other environmental disasters. She sat in front of a shelter on which she had photographs of Camp Katrina “Gulf Coast Toxic” and Camp Casey ( Cindy Sheheen’s one woman protest in the month of August 2005, as a mother of a soldier killed in Iraq) “Iraq Toxic” and finally the repeated images of Bush and Cheney. “Toxic Leadership wastes Lives”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cai Guo Qiang's exploding cars

Now that I have said all the pluses about the new Seattle Art Museum, I have to address the exploding cars. The installation by Cai Guo Qiang suspends nine white Ford Taurus ( tauri?), from the ceiling of the entrance hall ( that tells you how big it is). My first thought was
suicide bombers
long taut lines of blinking LED lights start from the center of the cars, alternating red, green, blue on lines of lights that end in a cluster of lights in a small bursting pattern A video shows a car being exploded and there is the exploded car in the gallery as the other half of the work.

Come on folks, this is 2007 and people are being killed everyday with suicide car bombs in Iraq. How can this not be a reference to that
One other press person I asked said no, it reminded him of latinos who like their cars ( he was from LA), or an amusement park ride, another said no, "burning man" ( he does burning man).

Flashing lines of light that end in a burst of light.
coming out of a car

That's an explosion.
How does Cai get away with people declaring it anything else.
It tells you about how people see.
The director obviously wasn't reminded of impending death, but declared it as a way to attract children.
What's wrong with this picture??

PS At the Educators opening, hundreds of people were happily partying under the exploding cars. That is, apparently, the artists real point - we are oblivious to the violence.

New York Artists Against the War Action a Success!

New York Artists Against the War did a major infiltration of the government office buildings

and a banner drop of these two banners
statements you see on the banners. This is how they described it on the scene
"the action went well!!! wedneday petitions delivered to entire senate and1/3 of the house (some were confiscated and people were told to leave;some unpleasant exprience) THEN TODAY!!! banners dropped- 8 arrested.please see photos attached!!!!!!!!!! "