Changing minds and hearts
through the power of the arts

Reviving the Tree of Liberty at Zeitgeist

by Nick Sousanis


With a media dominated by pictures of car wrecks and political sounds bites and a time when questioning one's leadership often results in charges of being anti-patriotic, how do we make our voices heard? It's not easy.

Granted the newsmedia has often focused on the sensational rather than the thoughtful - this is nothing new. However, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, which temporarily brought people together has instead come to mean that "you are either with us (or our agenda, that is) or you're with the terrorists." In a country created by "We the People" and built on a foundation of political discourse, such language has no place. The very right to dissent is patriotic. Peaceful demonstrations and protests are often summarily ignored. The President went so far as to describe hundreds of thousands of protestors as a "focus group." Which of course he must know is a highly inaccurate description - the use of the word "focus" should give it away that it means a small group of people standing in for a larger population.

Despite some of the difficulties of getting a broad range of voices heard, there have been some exceptions - most notably made by filmmaker Michael Moore and his critique of the Bush administration "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Bruce Springsteen and friends and the "Rock for Change" tour. (For coverage of the locally produced Anti-Bush Film Festival click here.)

But right here in our communities people are coming together and expressing their hopes and ideas. Without star power and hype their voices seldom make it into the media, but what they have to say is important. And if such things are happening in our community, then similar things are happening all around the globe.

Before the Iraq war Detroit artists participated in a number of world-wide cultural events. On February 12, 2003 poets everywhere gathered to express their resistance to the impending war, in Detroit this took place at Zeitgeist Gallery. (Reported in our special events page from February of 2003.) On March 6,2003 the theater community stagedreadings of "Lysistrata" the 2400 year old sex-comedy about the women of Athens and Sparta, who band together to stop the war between their cities by withholding sex from the men of Greece until they agree to bring their war to a halt. Over 800 such readings took place around the world, with two of them taking place in Detroit! (Check out our March 2003 editorial for more on that.) More recently Jane Martin's "Laura's Bush" played at 1515 Broadway. (For more info: nosuchgroup.org and laurasbush.com)

Every year at Swords into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery, they hold a show of children's art in recognition of the UN's Charter for the rights of Children. (Sadly this year's exhibition slipped through our review schedule over the summer, but you can find words about last year's here.) This year the children focused most of their attention on the war. What is striking about their work is just how inclusive it is. Everywhere, children were making work depicting people of many colors holding hands stretched around the circumference of the planet. The children don't seem to be stopped by divisive of political borders, just common concern for the rest of humanity. If this is our future, it's an encouraging sign.

This past weekend the adult artists got into the act, with "Reviving the Tree of Liberty" at Zeitgeist Gallery. This show, directly before the election is part one of two, with the follow up coming November 20, some weeks after the election (but perhaps before the outcome is determined.) The show saw a range of pieces either directly focused against the war or more often than not against the actions of the Bush Administration. (For the record this writer was asked to participate in the exhibition and his artwork that appeared in the show can be seen here.)

Vito Valdez created an Ofrenda for the exhibition, with some freshly and exquisitely colored paintings to make his statement. (One image is depicted at the very top of this page.) Diana Alva's painting "The Terrorized Voter" portrayed an image of Lady Liberty which emerged from a combination of snippets of newspaper articles and vibrant color. Marilyn Zimmerwoman(!) juxtaposed Condoleezza Rice into different contexts making for some sharp commentary. Maugre made a number of significant contributions to the show from his own primal anti-war drawings, to collages of poignant and powerful newspaper clippings culled together from such sources as the New York Times and the Michigan Citizen. Maugre also created for the show three alternative "Voting Booths." Respectively the "Cynical", the "Confusing," and the "Surrealist" attendees of the show were asked to choose between such stellar presidential candidates as Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster. (Bringing new meaning to the whole "lesser of two evils" thing.)

Eric Mesko served as the driving force behind the event. His own work consisted of clever, sharp, and somewhat subtle attacks on the administration. He plastered his "Vote Republican" posters all over the inside walls of a mock voting booth. For those who have seen his work in the past and his most recent show (at Zeitgeist) this irreverence is no surprise. Some examples of the posters are: "Vote Republican, You've made disastrous decisions before." This one featured a picture of Richard Nixon. Another reads "Vote Republican, Power not Peace." (Mesko also held a tree pruning/art installation a few days before the show, more details at a later date.)

While the approaches the individual artists took varied, they were all linked together by a common concern for their fellow Americans as well as other people living on this planet, and a definite passion about our shared future.

For a look at artists around the country partaking in similar activities, click here or here.)

Democracy demands our participation. Inaction in the face of injustice makes us participants to it. Even if we don't take our voices to the streets, we have a way to find our voice through art, writing, poetry, film, and through our ballots.

The election is November 2, 2004. The work for peace and justice continues every day.

 


"REVIVING THE TREE OF LIBERTY"
AN ARTISTIC POLITICAL EVENT
Opens Saturday, October 30, 2004, 7pm-12pm
Show runs to Nov. 13

"RESTORING THE TREE OF LIBERTY"
ANOTHER ARTISTIC POLITICAL EVENT
Saturday, November 20, 2004 (after the election). 7pm-12pm
It will include an entirely different batch of art work, performances etc.
at least in part responding to Bush returning or Kerry winning. (also from 7pm to midnight).
Both shows will include solo work, collaborations & "performance" work (some of it interactive with the public).
Yet both shows are not entirely about the elections.
They're also about the ENTIRE complicated spectrum of USA & global politics as they relate to art and artists.

Zeitgeist

2661 Michigan Ave.
Detroit, MI 48216
Friday 12pm - 4pm, Saturday 12pm - 5pm
(313) 965-9192
gallery@zeitgeistdetroit.org


 

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