My mass incarceration sculpture, Juliet Seignious’ chalkline paintings, andour collaborative art were displayed in a pop-up show Re/Viewing Oppression at the Ann Arbor Art Center. At the same tiime period, a show with emphasis on protest art was displayed and a panel of activists engaged the community. Both the show and panel were invigorating as we witnessed the power of posters, signs
and slogans and explored changes in our politics. At our Re/Viewing Oppression’s closing reception, gallery visitors pulled up chairs, snacked on grapes, cheese, pizzelles as we discussed images on imprisonment, and the killing of unarmed black men and women by police.
All art, especially novels, where we make up our own images, and films where we fold into the image, narrative and sound of someone else’s invention, have the potentiality to carry us away from our customary identities. Visual art enlarges our understanding and redefines it as we experience someone else’s images, someone else’s visual interpretation of our shared world. With visual art, we can appreciate our world in a new way. Andy Warhol redefined commercial products and the shades of human flesh; Basquiat unveiled the beauty of urban streets, Picasso displayed changing interpretations of forms and faces inspired by a new love.
I never considered art as an agent of change, but as an expression of images that fascinated me–beautiful or ugly or distressing or glorious. But always compelling as displays of new visual imagination. I had not thought of art as a catalyst for political, societal exploration, transformation, and insight. And yet, the group at the reception made it clear that art eased sharing and increased understanding. Just like a novel or film can carry us into someone else’s experience, so can art. The dialogue at the closing reception proved visual art can be a bridge between people to discuss issues and feelings. Yes, art can provoke. And yes art can make it easier to explore issues.
When we display images, we can be confronted with problems yet to solve; we are reminded of history that can stagger again to reemerge. Issues of oppression do not vanish by themselves.
Art is a gateway allowing us to discuss, share, explore. And as Juliet says, “….bring it into our consciousness. And this is how art can be really valuable.”