There is one specific image that I have never been able to remove from my mind: an image of a Guatemalan solider pointing a gun at the belly of a young pregnant woman. Ironically, I have no recollection as to the source of that specific image. Part of me wonders if that image even existed, or if it was a confabulation of my youth, created in response to the countless stories of political massacre in Guatemala that my father described to me on a regular basis.The Power of ImageRecently I attended a symposium on Architecture, Art and the Experience of Blackness, where I was greatly moved by the words of Hamza Walker, who serves as the Director of Education and Associate Curator for the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.In an effort to outline “blackness” or the “black experience”, Walker alluded to the profound impact of the publication of the casket-side Emmett Till photos in JET magazine.The Till incident began with the brutal beating and murder of an 11yr old boy, whose only crime was whistling at a white woman. In a surprisingly high profile trial the two men accused were almost immediately acquitted by an all white jury. The boy’s grieving mother insisted on an open casket funeral so that the world could see what had happened to her beloved son.Walker said, that the media transmission of these transgressions confirmed the collective understanding shared by African Americans that this treatment was the reality of the judicial system. If they were to ever “compromise the integrity of a white woman” what happened to Till would happen to them.Is exposure to explicit images of human brutality the proper way to insure that these incidents do not repeat themselves?How many times have we seen the same iconographic holocaust pictures?But do we know who is in these images and what is taking place?Has seeing the same images a million times done anything the stop the Iraq war or prevent genocide in Darfur?Perhaps the issue comes down to the dissemination of information to young people. Without providing a proper context for the interpretation and dialogue surrounding these explicit images, the depicted incidents become far removed from our lives, and we become numb to their reality.Why a Coloring Book?Coloring Books, emerged in the United States a part of the movement towards the “democratization of education”. They are commonly utilized in popular education models as, accessible teaching tools for often illiterate audiences.This coloring book provides the platform for the introduction and the critical re-evaluation of social movements the context in which they occurred, and the individuals who have preserved and made a major impacts upon the world.
Last weekend Carianne and I went to NY for the 2008 Whitney Biennial. As we expected from a survey of Contemporary American Art, not everything in the exhibition appealed to us. However neither of us was disappointed because we were not expecting to be unilaterally wowed. Upon leaving the Whitney, we got into an in-depth discussion about individuals' preconceived expectations, and the role they play in the determining interaction/interpretation/enjoyment, with actual works of art. Soon after this conversation, I was put to the test. As any young MFA student (traveling to New York) who has any hopes of some day having a career, Carianne and I were preparing to leave our hotel, to visit the elusive Chelsea Galleries, when I came upon an announcement for a show at El Museo Del Barrio, ARTE ≠ VIDA: ACTIONS BY ARTISTS OF THE AMERICAS
“Arte no es vida” surveys, for the first time ever, the vast array of performative actions created over the last half century by Latino artists in the United States and by artists working in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America.
Many of the works included in Arte ≠ Vida have subtle or overt political contexts and content: military dictatorships, civil wars, disappearances, invasions, brutality, censorship, civil rights struggles, immigration issues, discrimination, and economic woes have troubled the artists’ homelands continuously over the past four decades and therefore have infiltrated their consciousness. According to curator Deborah Cullen, “the exhibition title challenges the commonplace idea that art is equivalent to life, and life is art. What is proposed through these many works is that while art affirms and celebrates life with a regenerative force, and sharpens and provokes our critical senses, artistic actions which address inequalities and conflict are not equivalent to real life endured under actual repression.”
Over 75 artists and collectives are represented in Arte ≠ Vida, including ASCO, Tania Bruguera, CADA, Lygia Clark, Papo Colo, Juan Downey, Rafael Ferrer, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Alberto Greco, Alfredo Jaar, Tony Labat, Ana Mendieta, Marta Minujin, Raphael Montañez-Ortiz, Hélio Oiticica, Tunga and contemporary practitioners including Francis Alÿs, Coco Fusco, Regina José Galindo, Teresa Margolles and Santiago Sierra. The exhibition is arranged in four major sections, in which each decade is represented by several specific themes that often cross national boundaries. 1960-1970 looks at select precursors, signaling, destructivism and neoconcretismo; 1970-1980 considers political protest, class struggle, happenings, land/body relationships and border crossing; 1980-1990 focuses upon anti-dictatorship protest and dreamscapes; and 1990-2000 references the Quincentenary, multiculturalism, postmodernism and endurance. An additional section highlights interventions that artists have carried out on television over the past 20 years. In these chronological, thematic groupings, viewers will be able to explore the interconnections among various artists’ actions as well as the surges of activities triggered by specific events in certain countries.
I didn't know what to do. This sounded to good to be true, but we also knew we were supposed to visit the Chelsea Galleries. I considered just buying the catalogue to the exhibition and skipping the show. I don't know if it was faith or instinct that got us there, but I can say with out any doubt in my mind that this was single handedly the best exhibition I have ever attended.
"¿Quién puede olvidar las huellas?," Regina Galindo. 2003.
Galindo walking through the streets of downtown Guatemala City, wetting her feet in a blood-filled bucket, and leaving a path of footprints from the Constitutional Court building to the Presidential Palace, where she was welcomed by a police battalion. The Court had just validated former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, the country’s foremost author of genocide, as a presidential candidate.
Oscar Bony (1941-2002) hired a working-class family at twice their going wage to pose in a Buenos Aires gallery as a living work of art
"Arte Reembolso/Art Rebate" by Elizabeth Sisco, Louis Hock and David Avalos. 1993.
[...] "The current economic recession has been debilitating for many artists regardless of the content of their work. Since this climate is characterized by a particular hostility toward controversial art, it is especially significant that Elizabeth Sisco. Louis Hock. and David Avalos have maintained a reputation for causing trouble in San Diego. Their collaborative public art projects receive scandalous reports in local and national news media and are often used as examples of the National Endowment for the Art' inadequate standards of quality. Their most current collaborative project Art Rebate (1993) refunded $10 bills to 450 undocumented workers along the San Diego, California/Mexico border. It was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and Centro Cultural de la Raza as part of the "La Frontera/The Border" exhibition. In response to recent attention to border relations due to NAFTA and other government policies, the artists wished to refute the popular misconception that undocumented Mexican workers do not pay taxes as well as demonstrate. albeit with a small symbolic gesture, their appreciation of the undocumented as valued members of Western states, communities. Furthermore, I believe their work has significant implications for undocumented workers from other nations, residing in other regions of the United States - Caribbean workers in Florida and New York City, for example. If the communities in which the undocumented workers from these areas work and reside could also acknowledge their common contributions, in the form of taxes among other things, then perhaps we as a society could also begin to address the crimes inflicted upon these groups and apply our democratic notions of human rights to those within our national borders. [...]
"The projects are clearly controversial. That's not an accident. It's not as if someone latches onto the projects and holds them up as problematic. We intend to create something that is provocative and engenders a public discussion. It is public art, not art in the public. The work is defined by its performance in the community. The public discussion is crucial to the project. In order to begin a discussion we initiate an action - for example, a bus poster or a $10 rebate - that starts the ball rolling. We definitely aim to draw in the broadest spectrum of people, including those in power for the discussion. Obviously the media is not a neutral mechanism for communicating the events that unfold during the projects: it has an agenda that shapes its participation in the discussion. For example, much of the language used to describe Art Rebate in the press was the same inflammatory rhetoric promoted and laid out by the politicians who had given a profile of blame to the undocumented. Similarly, the press had a hard time imagining, and therefore was unable to fairly convey, the undocumented as taxpayers. The press was invited to experience the act of rebating these signed $10 bills. They were encouraged to ask the opinion of undocumented workers concerning their status as taxpayers, but the responses failed to appear prominently in the news media. The media coverage was not a means of evaluating the project but rather a component of the project. Their viewpoints describe a conceptual social space in which they situate the taxpayer and the undocumented in different realms."
"The Parthenon of Books/Homage to Democracy, Buenos Aires," Marta Minujín. 1983.
In December 1983 the Argentine Conceptual artist Marta Minujin and a group of helpers spent 17 days building a full-scale model of the Parthenon in a public park in Buenos Aires, Roberta Smith writes. Except for a metal scaffolding, it was made almost entirely of books wrapped in plastic. All the books had been banned by one of the most oppressive juntas in the country’s history, which was just being dismantled after Argentina’s first democratic election in a decade. “The Parthenon of Books/Homage to Democracy,” as Ms. Minujin’s work was titled, stood for about three weeks. Then the public was allowed to disassemble the piece and keep the books.
partenon de libros marta minujinAvenida 9 deJulio y Avenida Santa Fe. Buenos Aires. Argentina. Concebida como un monumento a la democracia y a la educación por el arte, Partenón constaba una estructura metálica, réplica del partenón, recubierta con prohibidos durante la dictadura militar.
[...]In a similar fashion to the live human spectacles of the past, Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed the role of cultural "other" for their museum audiences. While on display the artists' "traditional" daily rituals ranged from sewing voodoo dolls, to lifting weights to watching television to working on laptop computers. During feeding time museum guards passed bananas to the artists and when the couple needed to use the bathroom they were escorted from their cage on leashes. For a small donation, Fusco could be persuaded to dance (to rap music) or both performers would pose for Polaroids. Signs assured the visitors that the Guatinauis "were a jovial and playful race, with a genuine affection for the debris of Western industrialized popular culture . . . Both of the Guatinauis are quite affectionate in the cage, seemingly uninhibited in their physical and sexual habits despite the presence of an audience." Two museum guards from local institutions stood by the cage and supplied the inquisitive visitor with additional (equally fictitious) information about the couple. An encyclopedic-looking map of the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, showed the supposed geographic location of their island. Using maps, guides, and the ambiguous museum jargon, Fusco and Gomez-Peña employed the common vocabulary of the museum world to stage their own display[...]
"Construction of a Traditional Rural Oven,'' Víctor Grippo y Jorge Gamarra. 1972.
CONSTRUCCION DE UN HORNO POPULAR PARA HACER PAN
Intención: Trasladar un objeto conocido en un determinado entorno y por determinada gente, a otro entorno transitado por otro tipo de personas.Objeto: Revalorizar un elemento de uso cotidiano, lo que implica, además del aspecto constructivo escultórico, una actitud.Acción:a) Construcción del Hornob) Fabricación del Panc) Partición del Pan.Resultante pedagógica: Describir el proceso de construcción del Horno y de la fabricación del Pan. Distribuir una hoja. Será posible la participación del público mediante un intercambio de información.
"Untitled (Body Tracks),'' Ana Mendieta. 1974.
Guest Post by Debbie Wolen*: Ta'anit Esther and Mardge CohenI had never heard of the holiday [Ta'anit Esther] until one year ago, when Rabbi Brant said that the JRF and the RRC wanted to honor Dr. Mardge Cohen for Ta'anit Esther. Mardge asked me what Ta'anit Esther was. I had never heard of it, and I have been Jewish all my life.Isaac Saposnik is working on the Philadelphia side of this RRC/Kolot "reconstruction" of Ta'anit Esther as a Jewish Day of Justice. Ta'anit Esther is described in the Book of Esther (which I did actually read for the first time, in preparation for organizing this event. It describes Esther's initial reluctance to get involved with advocating for her people. When Mordicai first told Esther about the plot, she was afraid to intervene. Apparently, her conscience and sense of justice/solidarity/responsibility was stronger than her fear, and gave her the energy and courage to intervene. Her struggle is interesting and a process that I know I face often in my life, so I can really identify with Esther's struggle. Prior to her intervention, Esther fasted, and asked the whole Jewish community to fast with her in solidarity. Thus, the Fast of Esther is one of several Jewish fast days. (It lasts from sunrise to sundown on March 20. That is why we are having East African (Ethiopian) hors d'ouerves at the March 19 observance.)I bought an Art Scroll prayer book recently, so I looked, and sure enough, Ta'anit Esther is listed as a fast day. It is not described as a Jewish day of justice, however. This is the new reconstruction of it. I also mentioned it to an Israeli fellow, and he said, "Oh, yes, sure, Ta'anit Esther, of course." But, I have asked other people who are much more knowledgeable and involved Jewish people than I, and they had not heard of Ta'anit Esther previously.When I read the Book of Esther, I was somewhat concerned about the justice described there and the assumptions I made about what the reconstructionists meant by "Jewish day for justice." The justice in Esther is revengeful and quite bloody! I asked Isaac about this. He said this Jewish Day for Justice implies social justice, the type of justice that Mardge Cohen and others in Rwanda are working for, making the lives of the survivors of the 1994 genocide better, making the lives of the poor and powerless more empowered. Well, it was obvious, but the bloody revenge in Esther is called justice, too.Mardge Cohen, MD, is a woman who has struggled with social injustice during her whole medical career. She is really a remarkable woman, and her work is on the level of Paul Farmer, in my opinion. I saw some slides she showed at our workplace in 8/2000, of her tour of HIV projects in South Africa after the 2000 International AIDS conference. I was inspired by her slides so that I started trying to educate folks at JRC about AIDS in Africa, and to raise funds for HIV projects there. I am just one of many she has inspired by her example.Here is a jewish text study by Jordan Appel Ta’anit Esther text studyThanks a lot for your interest and supportDebbie Wolen
I'm a family nurse practitioner, have worked in HIV primary care at Cook County Hospital for nearly 17 years with people who are medically indigent and suffer the indignities of poverty. I was a public health nurse before that. I have sought inspiration from many sources. My first source of inspiration was my childhood rabbi, Leonard Mervis, who gave sermons on social justice, anti-war and in support of the civil rights movement (like you, my parents insisted on my attendance through high school, every single Friday evening! So, rather than be bored, I listened to the interesting sermons.) I am a product of Cicero, Illinois. My cousins marched against Martin Luther King when I was 15. That was a radicalizing experience that affects me even today, in my middle age. Also, your mother [Tina Escobar] was the only teacher I could really relate to in my two years at Rush College of Nursing, and she only taught our class for 2 weeks!