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.