Saturday, November 20, 2010

Women Call for Peace: Global Vistas

Helen Zughaib's Prayers for Peace
When I was scouring the November issue of Happenings magazine, a monthly publication that covers Southwest Florida's arts and entertainment events, I saw a full page ad for an exhibit called Women Call for Peace:  Global Vistas that intrigued me.   The show is a traveling exhibit put together by ExhibitsUSA and the Center for the Arts in Bonita Springs (http://www.artcenterbonita.org/)  sprang for the $12,500 to house the show for a ten week period.  It is an incredibly powerful exhibit, featuring 53 works by 13 women artists.  The glossy brochure explains the premise of the show:  "Women are rarely the perpetrators of violent conflict but they nonetheless suffer its devastating effects--the loss of their sons and daughter, brothers and sisters, husbands and homes.  Therefore, women are assuming responsibility for ending violent human conflict on all fronts:  political, racial, religious and social.  They are raising their voices against violent aggression..."    A lofty goal, and this thought provoking exhibit makes its mark.

This multi-media exhibit has three components that flow seamlessly from one another:  war and peace, race and gender and religion and conflict.  The first work was a large quilt created by Linda Freeman entitled The World Was (9/11).  Freeman is a quiltmaker, filmmaker, painter and poet, and she used all of her skills (other than film making) in her works that were included in this exhibit.  The 9/11 Quilt was a rain of flowers overlaid on a poem that started "The World Was Numb from 8:45 on Tuesday..."    The contrast between the beauty of the quilt and the horrific events that inspired its creation was striking. 

Aminah Robinson's Bedouin Woman
Some of my favorite works in the show were from the series Sacred Pages:  People of the Book created by by Aminah Robinson.  It's difficult to tell from the picture on the left, but the Bedouin woman's veil is made from men's neck ties.  This struck me as an incredibly clever device and was more eloquent than an essay about the oppression of women in many Middle Eastern cultures.   Other works on display included a portrait of Yassar Arafat and a Hasidic Jew at Mount of Olives. 

Flo Oy Wong is an artist who calls herself a visual storyteller.  On display were two of her works from the series 1942:  Luggage from Home to Camp, which tells the story of Japanese Americans who were sent to interment camps during WWII.     People who were sent to internment camps were only permitted to bring two suitcases each, and Wong developed this series after thinking about "the emotional and psychological cramming of their lives" into these suitcasesEach suitcase (which was actually used for the internment) had a wealth of information about its owner and his or her life:  pictures of friends and relatives, small items representing their interests and professions and a small mirror to reflect the changes as their lives changed so radically.

Irene Hardwicke Olivieri's Nature's Clean Up Crew

Nature's Clean Up Crew by Irene Hardwicke Olivieri was one of the few blatantly anti-Bush works in the exhibit.  In India's Parsi faith, it is a custom to leave the bodies of corpses outside in a location where vultures can devour the remains.   According to a WSJ article, Parsis engage in this practice due to their belief that "ritual purity of fire, soil and water should not be sullied by pollution from a defiling corpse." (This practice is apparently falling into disuse because of the drop in the vulture population.  If you want to read more, go to: http://www.meerasub.org/Articles_files/WSJ_A%20Crisis%20for%20the%20Faithful.pdf )  In Olivieri's work, the corpses of Cheney and Bush are left for the vultures to pick clean.  The blurb about the work explains that this is one "act of charity" in which the two men can participate. 

Each work in the exhibit was beautiful in its own way.  Some works would need to be truly studied in order to understand their full impact.  For instance, one piece by Faith Reingold was a map of the United States with acts of violence that occurred in each state set out.  One of the events in New York was the Attica prison riot in 1971 in which 1000 inmates took control of the prison, holding 33 staff hostage.  Their demands were not for immediate release but for better living conditions.  At the end of the four day stand-off, 39 people were dead and 28 of the prisoners' demands were agreed to.  (To read more about this event, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attica_Prison_riot .) 

In looking at ExhibitUSA's website, it appears that the show is going back home after its stint in Bonita Springs.  (Most of the works are on loan from ACA Galleries in New York.)  Are no other galleries or visual arts centers in the United States interested enough in this topic to pay the fee to house the show?  If so, I wonder if this a result of economic conditions or representative of a more general malaise or a lack of support for the arts.  I feel fortunate that the Center for the Arts in Bonita Springs had the vision to bring this exhibit to Southwest Florida and I am glad that I made the time to go see it.

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