Earth is Sum of its Parts with Strings Attached
As the environmental crisis gains traction, I am re-publishing a blog post of January 2011. Although, my focus in art is printmaking, I have also created some textile art, one of which featured in this post. Your comments are welcome:
Social commentary has been expressed in art forms back to cave drawings. Social movements, war, politics, religion, oppression and more have been given a point of view and voice with brush, pen, film, theatre and many other mediums. Think of John Lennon's "Imagine", Dorothea Lange’s photography of the Great Depression, Charles Dickens, or the art of children in concentration camps, just to name a few examples.
Recently I watched the first in a six part, documentary series about poverty worldwide on Link TV entitled "The Price of Cotton." The documentary, filmed in Mali and Texas, relates the story of cotton farmers in Mali, trying to gain access to markets juxtaposed to a Texas producer whose fate is in the hands of the American market system. In both instances, the small, non-corporate farmer falls victim to a system that serves the large agri-business system worldwide.
The cotton farmers in Mali are unable to compete in the market due to the price set by World Trade Organization (WTO). The family farmer in Texas is dependent on farm subsidies to remain in business - subsidies that will likely soon be discontinued. Farm policies favor the corporate farmers worldwide. There is no cohesive policy within any country or countries to stabilize the farm sector.
In my textile art piece, "Earth is the Sum of its Parts....with Strings Attached," my intention was to reflect the disconnect and disregard of nations to the impact of their policies on the environment and people in other parts of the world. Policies are implemented by Governments to serve interests within their own boundaries, ignoring the resulting consequences to other nations, their environment, economies and people.
The documentary, “The Price of Cotton*,” shows clearly the influence of powerful nations in setting world prices and markets for cotton has affected already impoverished African farmers, and now hits back to the American family farmer too. It also shows the power of art in the form of documentary to tell a story.
*"The Price of Cotton", as well as the other documentaries in the poverty series can be viewed on Link TV online.
Your comments are welcome! Do you make social commentary with your art? What commentary in art form has moved you to action or informed?
SUBSCRIBE: My blog is a weekly release with features about art happenings, mine and others, as well as ....commentaries. I also write a periodic newsletter and you are invited to subscribe. My newsletter is a quick update on new art, events and blog releases.
Comment on or Share this Article →
University Press Published Books
The demise of the books, newspapers and more mediums of the printed word has been a big topic in recent times. Just this week, great alarm has been sounded over the impact of Amazon.com on the purveyors of books around the nation. It is alarming, yes, but wait, what part do we the consumers play in the trend? It's not just about the easy shopping the web offers. It's more about the quality and content of what is available now ...and what is disappearing quickly. So it's about us...our culture...which is a reflection of us.
In a recent article in Guernica Magazine, a journal of arts and politics, writer Leah Carroll gives us the alarming news that the University of Missouri announced in June that they will close their university press department. This has happened at many other universities around the USA. University Presses at universities were established to publish faculty work and topics of regional interest. These are scholarly works, important for the history they record, advancement of ideas, telling of societal change, movements and the people involved documenting our culture and history. This includes the arts in every medium. For example, the University of Missouri University Press published an outstanding work on Langston Hughes, considered a classic today, and more works on the civil rights movements.
The budget portion to sustain University Presses is small compared to the funds allotted to America's passion for university sports. And there's the rub-to bring in the money to fund the university budget, the school must give the people what they want. And they want football more than good books of scholarly work it seems. That's certainly a reflection of our culture. What do we really want to read, watch, do, see?
Perhaps a group of graduate students in sociology or a university professor has been working on a research study for decades on the demise of print publishing, even the content and quality of same. It probably speaks to the evolvement of hyper-consumerism, mindless and isolated electronic devices activities, even the craze for high violence level and extremely loud Hollywood movies - all the same plot...if there is one. This incredible piece of scholarship has no doubt documented the "dumbing-down" of public education, which of course would impact what is being read...or not. But alas, we probably won't see such a report, at least not from a University Press. Check Amazon.com -- maybe they have it...in a e-book edition maybe?Comment on or Share this Article →
Matt Taibli, "Rolling Stone"
Revolutions and protests have through history sparked art in some form and Wall Street has history in this regard. Currently, the participants in OWS have put forth a vast amount of visuals reflecting the guts of the movement, the fears and determination too. Cartoons, signs, photography, film, graphics, drawings and prose now reflect the voice, strength and determination of OWS worldwide. Some of this creative outpouring will become iconic images of the 2011 Revolution of the 99%. And there is more to come no doubt.
I pass along an excellent study, found online, authored by Lana Swartz, PhD Student at USC, Annenberg and Dr. Alison Troupe, Clinical Associate Professor, also at USC, entitled: "Visual Culture of the Occupation: One Month and Counting." Swartz and Troupe have compiled a historical look at the art and visual expressions from protest movements back to many others related to inequities. In her introduction, Ms Swartz says, "Since September 17, the Occupy Wall Street movement has produced an overwhelming array of visuals, offering a significant lens on the movement itself, its ties to history, its divergent voices, perspectives and styles, as well as its multiple distribution channels from mainstream outlets to social media. Despite the criticism from experts who do not necessarily see much potential in Occupy’s “brand,” the visual aspects of the protest clearly have impact and traction. "
OWS is evolving and definitely growing and with it, documentation in visuals, music, theatre and the written word. Stay tuned for more.Comment on or Share this Article →
"The Fleet's In." Paul Cadmus, '34
A few weeks ago I wrote about the mural project of the WPA under President Roosevelt. In researching for the article, I could find no compilation of all the murals or even much about the various other WPA art programs during the 1930's. Curious. Of course, many of the murals have been destroyed as old post offices and government buildings came down and new ones replaced them. But why is there no documentation of all these works of art? I would suggest that politics played a role, as we see today in ongoing the ongoing anti-National Public Radio debate.
Politicians, the morality police or aspiring mind controllers have through history, used art to illustrate the decadence of the artist mind, Bohemians all to be sure, and the immoral influence of their work. Diego Rivera's mural work in the US was extremely controversial during the thirties, as were many of the works of many American artists in the WPA projects. Some WPA mural plans were censored by governmental officials who directed the subject content be changed. Prospective murals subjects, as well interpretation, were indeed reviewed before the artist could actually paint!
Pictured here is one such such mural depicting sailors wolf whistling at some pretty girls who in turn were enjoying the attention. Artist Paul Cadmus's "The Fleet's In" is an oil on canvas, painted in 1934. The painting was selected for inclusion in show of PWAP art the Corcoran Gallery of Art, prompting a viewer to write an irate and indigent letter to The Evening Star (WDC). "It reflected unfairly on the men of the navy," said the Secretary of the Navy in response and "The Fleet's In" was removed from the exhibition. The painting was "stored" in various places, certainly not in public, until 1981 when the Navy had it restored. (Find an interesting chronology of this episode at http://www.history.navy.mil/ac/cadmus/cadmus.htm.
In fact, President Roosevelt's detractors used the immorality of the arts created in the WPA project as anti-Roosevelt campaign fodder. Didn't work though.Comment on or Share this Article →
When I go to the Ames, Iowa Post Office, I don't mind standing in line. Adorning one wall of the old building is a mural painted by artist, Lowell Houser in 1938. Houser was commissioned to paint this mural by the Federal Art Project, division of the Roosevelt Administration's Works Progress Administration (WPA). The painting, "Evolution of Corn," is an oil on canvas depicting the history of corn from Mayan times to the farmer of the 1930's.
The WPA Federal Project One (a division of the WPA) during the 1930's included work programs for artists of all genres. Artists, actors, musicians, writers, and playwrights left the big city theaters and elite galleries to work and teach in schools, the community centers and parks of America. People who had never been to a play or concert or been to a gallery were enjoying the arts in small towns and rural community across America-for the most part free. For people struggling during the Depression, the experience and exposure to the arts touched people emotionally and intellectually. Thousands of artists were employed by FPA and over 225,000 works of art were created for the American people.
The Mural Project in particular was accessible to people everywhere as the murals were installed in post offices, other Federal buildings, schools, libraries, city halls and airports. Institutions commissioned these works, agreeing to pay for the materials and paints, while the artists were paid by Federal Project One. Not only were thousands of artists thus employed, but local craftsmen and workers were put to work as well in the preparation of walls and structures needed to produce the large and magnificent murals. Themes for the murals were often nationalistic in nature, but also depicting America's cultural history, agrarian scenes, and everyday life.
There were about 2500 magnificent murals created in public spaces across America, many still exist today. Grant Wood, John Stuart Curry, Francis Robert White, Thomas Hart Benton were just a few of the artists creating murals under the WPA art project. Check out the old post offices near you-maybe you'll find a mural and start mailing by snail mail instead of email.
*Sources: The Institute for Cultural Democracy online; General Services Administration website; wikipedia; Nick Taylor's book, "American-Made".
Subscribe to my newsletter, also from my website here, emails once or twice a month, announces new artwork, events or exhibitions of interest, and current blog topics. It is also short and sweet!
Visit my gallery to view my textile art and silk art wearables.
Comment on or Share this Article →
"Sharecropper" Elizabeth Catlett
Does your art make a statement, revealing your passions, interests, view of the world? Back in the 1930’s a movement of “social realism art” emerged (not to be confused with socialist realism). Artists revealed their advocacy for social justice and the plight of those suffering economic devastation during the depression years. Many were activists and teachers who then had opportunity to take their message even further. For others, their view of society was born of values instilled by upbringing and education. Artists who themselves experienced social inequities were also inspired to paint, write, create plays and music with a message.
The list of notable artists who used their art to raise social consciousness on issues about which they were passionate is very long and includes painters, sculptors, photographers, writers, playwrights, musicians, and poets. Here’s a sampling of artists of the 1930's, some more recent:
Elizabeth Catlett, granddaughter of American slaves, is a sculptor and printmaker. She was the first black to receive a MFA in sculptor (1940) at the University of Iowa. The intention of her work was to show the dignity of African Americans despite the hardships and injustices they suffered. Her work, “Sharecropper” is pictured above in this post.
Diego Rivera, 20th century Mexican painter well-known for his fresco mural paintings that reflected his concern for the impact of technology on human development. He painted his murals in public places, in Mexico and the United States, where the common man would have access to his message.
Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is still revered today as a classic anti-war statement. In this work, Picasso depicts the devastation of war to people, animals and buildings and created in response to the 1937 Spanish Civil War when German and Italian warplanes, at the behest of Spain’s national forces, bombed Guernica, Spain. A tapestry copy of this work hangs at the UN Security Council.
George Segal, (1924-2000) another American sculptor whose work in bronze “Depression Bread Line” tells the haunting story of the 1930’s. Segal completed this work in 1991. He was known for his work portraying human values and the toll of economic turmoil on working people. George Segal received the National Medal of Honor for his life's work in 1999.
Certainly, John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and other works reflect the times of human struggles and despair. Woody Guthrie’s now classic songs also told the story, but were also uplifting and hopeful. Maya Angelou's writings brought awareness and understanding of blacks in America to millions through her stories of struggle and triumph too. John Lennon's "Imagine" became the theme song for the anti-war movement. The list of artists revealing their own views and passions in their art is endless and worldwide.
More next week on this theme.....
My newsletter, also from my website here, emails once or twice a month, announces new artwork, events or exhibitions of interest, and current blog topics. It is also short and sweet!Comment on or Share this Article →
Detroit: photographers Marchand & Meffre
French photographers, Yves Marchand and Roman Meffre, have created a stunning reality check on the impact of economic downturns in our lives. The artful eyes of these two photographers capture the devastation, the ruin of lives in the images of crumbling structures that once were the pride of a community. You will not get far into this book without grabbing for the Kleenex.
The book is The Ruins of Detroit. From the artists' website, here is their statement about this work:
"Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies
and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.
"The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at
some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires.
This fragility, the time elapsed but even so running fast, lead us to watch them one very last time :
being dismayed, or admire, making us wondering about the permanence of things.
"Photography appeared to us as a modest way
to keep a little bit of this ephemeral state."
The Ruins of Detroit was published by Steidl, May 2010. The authors website has many photographs from the book.Comment on or Share this Article →
Artist Islande Henry, Haiti
Art reflects back to us every aspect of life. Art interprets. Art inspires. Art heals. Beverly Bell, author, social activitist, and associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote the following article about a Haitian youth art program.
"Everyone expects there to be a new problem daily in Haiti. I can't concentrate on problems each day," said Roseanne Auguste, coordinator of a youth art program in the sprawling, under-resourced Port-au-Prince section of Carrefour-Feuilles. The program is run through the community clinic Association for the Promotion of Family Integrated Health (APROSIFA).
Roseanne swept her hand across hundreds of paintings and drawings waiting to be packed up for an upcoming art show. "And people come and say Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I hate to hear that. There's so much richness in this country." Roseanne, who is director of APROSIFA as well as a nurse and community organizer, held up one painting. It featured two hands nurturing a brilliantly colored women's head; the hands seemed to be helping the woman open her mouth. "They're envisioning all this despite the earthquake,"”Roseanne said. "These kids hear about violence every day," Roseanne said. "We have to concentrate on what another country could be. That's what interests me. If we had cultural centers in each shantytown, imagine what we could do. Culture and citizenship: if youth came and talked about this every day, found different ways to express their views on the matters, we could have a different country."
"Other countries want to control us, giving us a little money for elections, a little money for development, while keeping the country as it is. But if we really had the chance to do for ourselves, if we had the means, you'd see what we could do." APROSIFA's youth art program began in 2009 in a couple of cement-block rooms in the back of the clinic. A few professional artists donated their time to teach. Today, 68 youth from ages 8 to early 20's are painting and sculpting. A few of the youth who began learning two years ago are now teaching the others.
The artwork represents the daily stuff of Haitian life, like forms of labor, scenes inside village huts, vodou imagery, and landscapes. The work also feature historical heroes, maps of Haiti, and Escher-like clocks ticking away the country's past. When the young painters have canvas and paints, the images are bold, the colors brilliant. Often they have only sheets of typing paper and a pencil or a Bic pen. APROSIFA raises money to subsidize the supplies. "We give them string to fish with," Roseanne said.
In late January, APROSIFA sponsored the Haitian Renaissance show at a hotel in downtown Port-au-Prince. On opening night, hundreds of people journalists, artists, advocates for women, dignitaries, and especially youth from Carrefour-Feuilles - squeezed into several rooms whose walls were covered with art.
The theme of the art was the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 and took effect in 1981. Haiti ratified the convention in 1981 (unlike the U.S., which never has), though it has never been applied. Roseanne had given copies of the document to the young artists and had asked them to express their opinions creatively.
One youth whose work was featured [above] is 22-year-old Islande Henry. She spoke in front of one of her paintings, of two women talking in front of their home, inspired by Article 16 of CEDAW which protects women and children's rights in family relations. Islande said, "To me, CEDAW is a beautiful thing. It speaks to the restavèk [child slavery] system and how those kids have no rights. It speaks to violence against women, and how women are mistreated in society, and how there are so many things they can't do from serving in Parliament to playing ball." Our artwork says, "No! Women can do anything. Women must have access to everything this society offers."
Islande said, “"I have a lot of capacity and I always knew I could paint, but I didn't have any support. You know, sometimes your family can't really step up and help with resources. But I found APROSIFA in 1999. I feel proud as a woman to sit with a canvas, with all my pride, and create paintings. We young artists come with our imagination, our inspiration, our understandings. We can paint anything.”What I've gotten from APROSIFA, I want to pass along to other youth so this country can have another future."”
When asked what her hope is, Islande replied, “"My hope is that I can be a great painter so the entire world can know my work and can know that Haitians need solidarity, unity, patience, love, and peace. I have a lot of hope for that."
Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book "Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance." She coordinates Other Worlds (www.otherworldsarepossible.org), which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.
"Wife Number Two" Sheila Mbaso
This is a story of African women who when faced with the devastation of AIDS in their families, turned to textile design skills of their culture to raise funds to support of their own grandchildren. This is also a story of women across the world reaching out to help.
Valerie Hearder, Canadian textile artist, happen to hear a radio interview with Stephen Lewis* about six years ago about the plight of the African Grandmothers working to support their grandchildren, orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Determined to help, Valerie very soon created "African Threads," to help these women sell their beautiful embroidered art, which is both reflective of their culture and the impact of AIDS in Africa.
I asked Valerie Hearder to tell us more about the African Grandmothers. Here she tells us about a small sewing group of 15 women, "Isipethu", based in KwaZula Natal, South Africa.
"Thanks for asking about African Threads. I buy fairly traded goods from 8 women’s groups in Africa, all of them chosen for their beautiful quality work. I’d like to highlight one group that I’m fascinated with.
" 'Isipethu' is Zulu for 'going to the fountain.' It’s the name of a small sewing group of about 15 women based in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. I’ve been buying from this group since 2006 and visited with them in 2009. Several of the embroiderers have art pieces in collections in the U.S. and one, Cynthia Msibi, won a major South African art award in 2010. The majority of the women are single. All are supporting their extended families with their needle art, some supporting up to 13 people.
"The small appliquéd and embroidered art pieces created by the Isipethu group as wall hangings, have a cohesive, recognizable style, but individually, each artist's work is distinctive. I am fascinated by their highly personal stories; a small handwritten statement is attached to each piece. The daily lives of these women is told through their art in cloth which serves as strong social commentary about contemporary life in KawZulu Natal. I’ve seen scenes of traditional healers, cultural ceremonies, soccer, rural life and domestic scenes that speak of both harmony and conflict. Sometimes I come across a piece that makes my heart skip a beat, such as 'Wife Number Two' by Sheila Mbaso. It’s 14” x 12”. (see photo insert above)
"It shows a bride in her flouncy dress with her groom wearing a ceremonial headdress. They are approaching a woman sitting on the orange woven mat. The scene is set in a rural Zulu kraal (family compound) as depicted by the beehive shaped huts. However, the hand written story attached to this work revealed a darker element:
Men are sometimes unfair. This man has left his wife and three children in the country. He has gone and married another woman. He spent all his money on the wedding rather than sending some to his first wife and children.
"Zulus have a polygamous society where men can have as many wives as they want if they can pay 'Loboloa', which is bride price in heads of cattle. This cultural right to polygamy, when combined with the HIV/AIDS virus, contributed to creating a “perfect storm” of conditions for the pandemic that has ravaged South Africa. Husbands working in the cities have girlfriends and second wives and then carry the deadly virus home to the rural areas. South Africa has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in Africa, as high as 50% in some areas. The consequences have been catastrophic.
"Another heart-stopping textile showed women being beaten for attending HIV/AIDS education workshops because the men felt this threatened polygamy. Through their art, these women tell their stories of the culture in which they live, presented in a naïve, collage style in cheerful colours.
"A number of textile artists have started collecting works from this group. Sally Sellers says of the works she has collected: 'I believe passionately that economic empowerment of women is key to affect fundamental change. Buying these textiles has been a way to give back to the women of South Africa twice – first buying their work on a fair trade basis and secondly by donating 15% of the profits back to the 'Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers Campaign.'
"Over the past 6 years African Threads has donated over $10,000 to support Grandmothers in Africa. I have many stories to tell about my visit to women’s groups in South Africa. Next time I’ll tell you how I was able to directly connect the 'Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers' organization in Canada with women’s sewing groups in South Africa in a project that put thousands of dollars into the women’s hands."
You can find out more about the Isipetha group, and others, on Valerie Hearder’s African Threads website www.africanthreads.ca
Valerie Hearder was born and raised in Durbon, South Africa. With her husband years later, she moved in 1983 to Nova Scotia. Valerie is an internationally known artist, teacher and author. She has also won numerous awards and recognition for her textile art quilts. In establishing "African Threads" Valerie has given back in a most meaningful way, using her own artistic and marketing skills to help artisans in Africa. In doing so, the world is able to connect and better understand another culture, devastation of HIV/AIDS and to know the beautiful traditional arts of a small village in Africa.
Valerie’s blogs are http://threadlink.typepad.com/africanthreads/
*Stephen Lewis is the former special envoy to the UN Secretary-General Kofi AnnanComment on or Share this Article →