My Alexandria is snowy and serene. Outside it’s cold and icy and schools are closed today for inclement weather. I’m lounging around in leggings, sipping my coffee, with my puppy dog snuggling as close to me as he can get on the couch. I have fifteen browsing windows open on my laptop– more than enough unrestricted access to the outside world. On my TV, the poor soul the White House threw to the press struggles to answer questions about the protests in Egypt. One thing seems to be clear– we believe that freedom of speech, expression and assembly is valued and necessary. I should hope so. What else is there? Right now, women my age in Alexandria, Egypt probably aren’t so cozy. I’m sure they believe the same things, and may be desperately trying to get that point across as safely as possible.
We can’t underestimate the importance of the freedom to express our opinions, even protest, through art. Even in art, which has become acceptably edgy, people get uncomfortable when an opinion is too marginalized. The best exhibit of modern art I’ve seen in quite a while was recently the subject of controversy, all because a group who provided funding wasn’t entirely comfortable with the nature of expression of one of the pieces. That show was “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which is up through February 13, 2011. If you’re in the area and haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! The artwork in question was David Wojnarowicz’s, “Night Train Dream,” which was ultimately removed from the exhibit. Regardless of the curator’s decision to honor the removal, I am extremely proud of the decision Art:21 (PBS) made to step back from taking sides long enough to foster an educational discussion. This post on the Art:21 blog resulted, providing an educational perspective that furthers the original purpose of the exhibition: Teaching us to step into each others’ shoes and appreciate the guts outsiders have to have to express their experiences. We need to remember the importance of allowing them the space to do so.
I started to think about women artists who have focused on the theme of protest in their work. I would love to see how the late Nancy Spero would respond artistically to this crisis in Egypt. I imagine if she did, it would look something like this installation, called “Cri du Coeur,” meaning, “Cry of the Heart,” which she did in 2005. Her work, centered around protests, wars and the image of Artemis and Egyptian hieroglyphics, seems apropos for representing the art world’s response. In fact, if you’re in NYC, go see her installation at the 66th Street/ Lincoln Center subway station, entitled “Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers”. I suppose it’s still there. It’s graceful, and draws from feminine power within, yet subtly hints at the battles women face to express that power. You can hear Spero talk about it on Art:21′s website. It feels silly to be talking about feminism in the US these days, where I have the opportunity to go to grad school and study practically anything I want, but when you think about current conditions for women growing up in other areas of the world and the limitations they face, it’s a different ballgame. Artemis was a tough one. Not a goddess to be played. She did not allow her space to be violated (literally or figuratively).
What happens when we can’t allow people the space (another word for freedom) to express their beliefs and relay their experiences? It’s really about space, isn’t it?
Here’s how one of my favorite contemporary artists contributes to the idea of making space:
Israel/ Palestine Wall: Banksy Graffiti
Thank you, Banksy.