Wasteland

Vik Muniz’s work in Brazil is inspiring in the social activist work documenting his efforts entitled “Wasteland.” Muniz himself is well versed in the poverty he captures in his art; he was born in one of the many slums in Rio De Janero and made it to America with less then 3 dollars to his name. Working in a department store, Muniz found he had a pashion for collecting the refuse that people threw out and making art with it. This unique approach to art got Muniz an immense popularity and following that rocketed him to high status in many art circles. Muniz took this fame with him to the trash heaps back in his native Brazil in an attempt to docuemnet the troubles faced by the residents there. I cannot say much on Wasteland past this point that wouldn’t spoil the amazing film, but I will leave this post with a great picture that shows the impressive scope of the social activist art that Muniz undertook. I highly encourage that anyone reading this post go and see this amazing film.

trash

Waiting for Katrina

 

Paul Chan and Creative Time produced Waiting for Godot in New Orleans in two neighborhoods— the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly— in partnership with the University of New Orleans, Xavier University, and Dillard University for the benefit of the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In conjunction with the play, Creative Time and Paul Chan co-produced an experimental film entitled The Fulness of Time, which explored the lives and psychological state of Hurricane Katrina survivors. The film, directed by Cauleen Smith, was filmed concurrently with Chan’s production of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, and combines elements of science fiction and documentary film to express the range of emotions had by those who experienced the trauma of Katrina. The Fulness of Time amply captures the joy and despair of post-Katrina New Orleans through its series of vignettes which do not follow a narrative structure. The goal of the cast and production team of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans was to contribute to the society that they came into, which influenced Chan’s choice to not charge for tickets to the show or any of the subsequent events. Instead, Chan set up a “shadow fund” which raised money for the neighborhoods where Waiting for Godot in New Orleans was performed. Waiting for Godot in New Orleans was described as “a socially engaged performance at the heart of a national crisis, and direct support to the community is an essential component of the project”.

Beauty and the Streets

Two summers ago, I travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina for six weeks on a Study Abroad Program to study the Spanish language and culture. Buenos Aires is a luxurious city influenced by Italian architecture and the cosmopolitan capitals of the world. The people on the streets are beautiful and exceptionally kind. Yet there is a stark contrast in the beauty of this city compared to the beauty of the rest of the country. This difference is not necessarily something bad, yet it turns negative when these differences divide the population in terms of power, status, and opportunities.

Due to the Great European Immigration Wave in Argentina in the 20th century, most of the residents of Buenos Aires are of European descent. The concentration of lighter skinned Europeans being located in the largest city in Argentina led to a beauty standard that resembled more closely the Europeans rather than the majority of the darker skinned Argentinians. When I was in Argentina, even in other parts of the country all of the advertisements depicted light skinned models who looked nothing like the major population.screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-55-48-pm

This idolized beauty standard led to noticeable mistreatment of those who did not slightly resemble this image or come from European descent. In order to challenge the status quo, the street artist duo Primo took to spray painting large murals of solely dark skinned and indigenous people on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Primo is made up of two artists, Sasha Reisen and Nicolás Germani, who stand out from other street artists because they exclusively paint darker skinned people which drastically contrast with the abundance of advertisements featuring lighter skinned models. The intended effect of these murals is to not only show that there is beauty in all shades of skin, but also to bring the presence of the darker skinned Argentinians into Buenos Aires in a beautiful way. One piece that I find particularly stunning is the mural of a young dark skinned woman with a pony tail. The image is simple. In this simplicity, Primo is able to show the normalness of having different skin tones. In addition, the angle of the woman’s head is slightly up showing that she is not hiding, she is proud.

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While many people specifically in the street art community praise Primo’s work for the beauty of the portraits, not everyone treats them with the same appreciation. One mural of a black man with a snake coming out of his mouth had not been finished in one day, so Primo wrote “mural en proceso” (mural in process) only to return the next day to see that someone had painted over the image. The vandalizers instead wrote “mural en DESproceso” as well as “Y el respeto?” (and the respect?), “No se tapa, se respeten” (don’t paint over it, show some respect), and drew a speech bubble that said “no respiro” (I’m not breathing) as if the black man was saying that he couldn’t breathe now that the vandalism had covered his face[i]. While it is not clear if these comments are in regards to Primo not having respect, black people not having respect, or just a silly prank, the effect of this vandalism was that the mural was ruined and Primo had to start over in another location. According to the article by BA Street Art, the artist duo commented on the vandalism by reporting that they felt hurt and angry that these people implied a lack of respect and that they wasted a lot of time and resources just to have to start over again[ii]. This act of vandalism could have been a meaningless prank, but it also could have been targeted towards Primo since they are creating somewhat controversial murals by solely painting darker skin people. Since the vandalizer left their street art name “Lake” on their tag, it does seem as though they are directly challenging Primo.

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One critique of Primo’s street art is that since graffiti is a relatively new medium of art, it certainly does not hold the same impact on a community as other longstanding forms of art. People may not attribute the same respect to graffiti artists since graffiti is often associated with rebellious teenagers who are “up to no good.” Potentially, by using a medium that is not well respected, it could lead to these murals not being respected as well and have a reversed effect on the intention to create beauty around darker skinned people in Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, while this street art is not the ultimate fix to racism or changing the beauty standard, it does start conversation about what is art and what is beautiful.

 

[i] “Graffiti Wars as Primo Mural Painted Over Before It’s Finished.” BA Street Art. 2012.

[ii] Ibid, 2012.

Fan-girling

Honestly, I want to use this post to fan-girl over Jared Callahan for a quick second. He was, by far, the best guest that we’ve had in class this semester – and I don’t mean this out of disrespect for any of our others guests, because they were all awesome, but Jared just went above and beyond. His enthusiasm and energy was vibrant and contagious. Honestly, I enjoyed his films but I loved them even more after hearing him talk about them and his passion for helping individual people and allowing the world to look at someone specifically and view their story while he tries to make you “fall in love” with them.

Jared’s enthusiastic personality about his work and what he does was just so refreshing and inspiring. I think I talked about this a little bit in a previous post but this semester has really opened up my eyes. I’ve never known what I wanted to do with my life and finally I’m starting to see a clearer path or at least a direction that I would like to pursue. I’ve never even thought about doing documentaries before but this class in particular has provided me with a newfound interest in social practice art and specifically in documentaries. Honestly, Jared is someone I can see myself wanting to be like – he is just so passionate about what he does and expresses that through his words, actions, and films. I just want to find my passion and I want to be able to discover myself and the complexities of the world in which I live in.

I’ve never been a super materialistic individual but this course has made me even less of one. Everyone talks about how important it is to have a good job and make a good living and be able to provide for yourself and your family. While I don’t disagree with that statement, I do disagree with the extent to which people take it. I’m never going to be the person that needs the latest iPhone or next model of sports car; that’s just not who I am. I’ve come to realize that all I really want to do in my life is make a difference, and maybe that’s an idealistic way to think, maybe I should be focused on making a living and being able to send my kids to college but at the end of the day, I just don’t believe that. Is it important to make enough money to live comfortably? Yeah I would say so. Is it important to save for your kids’ future and your own future? Yes of course. But is it really important to make more money than you need, buy things out of desire, and spend money like it’s your job? To that I’d say no.

I know that this post is kind of all over the place but I just needed to express how much I love this class and am so grateful for the opportunities, insight, and perspective that it has given me.

Jared Callahan Comes to Class

When Jared Callahan came to speak to us about his pieces, I found him to be the most relatable guest we have had thus far… at least in my personal opinion. He was very realistic about funding, where to begin projects, etc… and I also liked the fact that he told us which classes he took in college, such as production, and how they have been helpful… or not helpful… for him today. I think learning from him really put into perspective my goals in the near future, and what I should strive for as a senior at Emory.

I really appreciated Callahan’s sense of positivity that he implements in the films he creates, or at least the ones we have viewed. The fact that he always attempts to put his subjects in a good light is refreshing to see in documentaries, rather than just showing the audiences what all is wrong with the world. Like he said,

“the camera is a source of compassion.”

That really resonated with me, and I hope that I can use that idea in films that I create myself.

While watching Janey Makes a Play, it was easy to see that the filmmaker was emotionally connected to central subject, Janey. I feel like otherwise the documentary as a whole would have never been created.

Callahan at the Lone Star Film Festival

While watching, I admired Janey and found her entire story to be entertaining. However, I did feel a sense of a disconnect. It might have been because I have never met this woman, or simply because this community theater is a place I have never been to. I’m not entirely sure of the cause, but I did feel a lack of connection to this documentary, and found my eyes glazing over at times, maybe just because I do not know those people, and have no personal connection. I also wonder if because Callahan knows her and always wants to put a great face on his characters, if that this created a sense of falsity within the movie as well.

I think my favorite films of the three was definitely American Moderate. Being from Texas, a state that has a VERY large Republican background, I found myself relating to Liz’s character. My father is a die-hard conservative Republican, and my mother is socially Democratic. At times dinner had some heated conversations haha. Regardless, I think that Liz’s story is one that we can all relate to. This presidential campaign has had the most media involvement in history, and this fact definitely effects the polls, along with family, friends, etc…

In the documentary, I liked how we never found out who Liz voted for. This ultimate question is then sort of asked to the audience– who do THEY want to vote for? I also think that not having her say in the film who she voted for was interesting because it also expresses the idea that media (including films) should not effect one’s own personal ideas and political opinions.

However, after finding Liz’s twitter account that she spoke of so much, it is clear to me that she has indeed voted for a particular candidate, and I think her saying so on Twitter sort of diminished my delight while watching. I wish I didn’t know, because then the mystery question would have been for the audience to decide.

I found The Many Friends of Sommer Caffarella to be the most uplifting for any audience to watch. It could easily touch anyone’s heart and reach to a broader audience. I think it was a good decision of Callahan’s to not have a tone that just basically says “feel sorry for those with disabilities,” but rather shows them as people, in this case Sommer. In this way, Callahan was able to go into a much larger issue in society through Sommer’s personal life, and how she dreams of being a star.

Call Me By My Name: Stories From Calais and Beyond

This week I looked at the project Call Me By Name, an exhibit run by the organization The Migration Museum Project that focuses on issues of migration and British nationalism. The exhibit’s goal was to share the lives of the thousands of refugees living in the Calais camp with the world.  Through a multi-media, multi-perspective, multi-cultural platform, Call Me By My Name shook it’s viewers with it’s art work that displayed what life really is like as a refugee. From painting,to sculpture, to photography, and written works and auditory pieces performed by the refugees themselves, Call Me By My Name acts as a visceral representation of the migrant experience.

The project humanizes the refugee situation and creates more than sympathy in it’s viewers.  Each piece encourages deep community engagement and reflection and binds the viewer and subject in a way that sensitizes us and nurtures basic human connection. Each piece urges us to show humility, engage with the material, and think critically about the big issues surrounding immigration.  The subject’s voices speak through the art work. One young child living in the Calais camp draws his father and brother drowning during their crossing to the camp.  His drawing is part of Safi’s larger piece that displays work done by Calais’ children.

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Another aspect of the exhibit is the many workshops and discussions held in the art space.  One such workshop took children from refugee backgrounds and American children and had them come together to talk about these issues.  This sort of deeper engagement prevents someone from thinking they have done their part by simply viewing the artwork on display.  I think this unique overlap between subject, viewer, artist, and community allows for the farthest reaching social impact without undermining the integrity or rights of those being “looked at.”

This honest representation of the refugee crisis with a continuing education component really sets this exhibit apart.  Below are some of the most impactful art pieces on display:

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-55-36-pmNikolaj Larsen creates the sculpture, Wanderers to display the reach of this crisis.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-56-11-pmSarah Savage created an impactful piece titled The Dignity of Life. This part of the exhibit shows lifejackets that mark the journey these refugees take to get to the Calais camp.

These pieces just offer a taste of the rich exhibit.  With a hugely positive reception, Call Me By My Name goes beyond a rigid discussion of immigration, and rather poses larger questions of human rights, ethics, and humanity.

Feminism can’t be reduced to a “trend”

I decided to do my midterm essay on H&M’s new ad campaign, the video of which can be found here: H&M’s New Advert

Honestly I came across this advertisement on Facebook, as it was part of an article that was actually critiquing the extremely popular and praised ad. The article was by Gemma Clarke who founded this website called “Global Hobo,” which is described as “a space for writers to share original views on destinations, experiences and social trends. Our aim is to open our readers’ minds to fresh perspectives, show them new parts of the world and have a good laugh at ourselves and each other.” Clarke’s article can be found here: Gemma Clarke: Don’t Fall for the New H&M Campaign

Ultimately, H&M created an utterly badass video that people have said is redefining the way we view femininity and ideals of what it means to be “ladylike.” The ad includes a wide and diverse range of models, all of whom go against the social norms of what it means to act like a lady. It’s phenomenal, and if it weren’t for all of the underlying, deep-rooted issues with H&M as a company and their morals in general, I would be just as obsessed with this ad as everyone else is. But Gemma discusses quite a few points that raise the question – does H&M truly stand for women, or are they simply taking advantage of this new wave of feminism as a marketing strategy? Staff exploitation, child labor, and stores failing to actually stock a plus-size range are some of the issues she talks about. How can a company preach one thing but act in a completely different way? Well I guess that’s actually quite easy but it’s also disturbing and disheartening. H&M had the opportunity to do something truly remarkable here, but it seems as though they are just trying to capitalize on the current “trend” of feminism for their own profit.

Honestly, it just blows my mind. It blows my mind that huge companies, famous individuals, and people with such a great deal of power just sit silent on the sidelines. The people whose voices could be most heard are the same ones who fall discouragingly quiet. And I’m not going to generalize that statement to everyone with a great deal of power, money, or following, but for the most part, I’m afraid that this is our sad reality. It’s just so unfortunate because those that could actually have the most impact fail to stand for something bigger than themselves. H&M is just one of many, many examples, but if the company actually cared about gender equality and women’s rights, wouldn’t you think they would first make some fundamental shifts in their morals and actions before presenting this image of “we love all women” to the world? I guess that’s just me being idealistic but I thought, as humans, we were better than that.

I spent 6 weeks this past summer in India, among the most genuine, kind-hearted, compassionate, and selfless group of individuals I’ve ever met – the Tibetan monastic community. Those 6 weeks helped me gain a lot of perspective and gave me some insight on what it being to simply be a “human being.” It’s absolutely crazy to think of the millions, probably billions of people that don’t go about their days in the same way – with a genuine and compassionate heart for every individual that crosses your path. Again, I’m being idealistic and I know how remarkably unrealistic that thought it, but is it really that difficult? Is it really THAT hard to just be a good person? Sometimes I swear I keep myself up at night thinking about things like this, because all of the hate, injustice, anger, and violence in the world just doesn’t make any damn sense.

“Imba” Means Conflicting Feelings

After viewing “Imba Means Sing”, I was left with mixed feelings; I consciously know that enabling African children to get an education is a good thing, but while watching the film, it was hard to shake the feeling that something about this path to education was wrong. During several parts of the film, I felt distinctly uncomfortable but I found difficulty trying to attribute my discomfort to one specific thing, especially when the organization being filmed is supposed to be a beneficial one. I thought that my feelings would be refined and clarified after the the subsequent interaction with the producer, Erin Bernhardt, but I left feeling even more confounded by the duality of emotion the film evoked from me.

The African Children’s Choir is doing work that is positively impacting the lives of the participants. The legacy of the Choir is one of prestige, and obviously the alumni valued the program, because they continue to return in order to contribute it.

And though that legacy is one that should not be overlooked, it is difficult for me to ignore some of the details of the film that were quite strange.

The experience of these African children is directly bound to American churches. Pretty significant parts of the film showed the children performing (in stereotypically “African” costumes) for a largely white congregation. The juxtaposition of the simple churches the children attended in Africa against the massive churches they performed in were shocking. These children lived with members of the church during the days they stayed in the town; even this interaction seemed like a novelty for the people housing the African children. The members of the congregation seemed to know very little about the cultures where these kids came from. They dressed them up in play-clothes and played with Barbies. I know that those activities gave the children joy, but there was something so absurd about young girls using African children as a means of dress up. Maybe it was the sense of exploitation?

That was a sense I felt from a large part of the film. The children were repeatedly told not to “disappoint” anyone; there was an immense pressure upon the children to deliver the performance these Americans wanted to see. This idea giving the people what they want was directly tied to the costumes they wore. The costumes looked almost tribal in nature, and very much subscribed to the western perception of “Africa”. The children never wore anything of a similar nature whilst in their home environments in the actual continent. The children were always asked to smile as big as they possibly could, and enunciating their english well was of importance. It’s as if the performance was aimed at presenting the exotic appeal of the African continent while attempting to separate the poverty and danger that accompanies living there.

In a way, I know that the children’s physical presence elicits more money from congregations. However, it’s difficult for me to understand why these children specifically have to dance. I wonder if its more of a formality; if the american public, specifically people in protestant christian churches, expect people to have to work for charity.

My most important question about “Imba Means Sing” is tied to the bigger picture, and the relative ignorance of that picture by the majority of Americans supporting these students. If children in Africa cannot afford an education, is there not a bigger issue? If these kids have to sing and dance like puppets in front of white people to be considered worthy of schooling, isn’t there clearly a systematic problem? While the African Children’s Choir is attempting to solve an issue, it seems as if the solution needs more than 20 kids who have to sing.

The bigger question is, how do we deal with systematic issues that require solutions that may not show progress in the short term? What is the way in which the US, as a nation of privileged people, should get involved in solving these problems? Are programs like the African’s Children Choir distracting people from getting educated about much bigger issues? Or is it better to have something like the ACC to solve problems in the short term? Can long term and short term solutions like these coexist?

A Reaction to Imba

I felt rather intensely disappointed at the end of Imba Means Sing, perhaps unfairly. Is it unfair to critique art on what it could be, rather than what it should be? But if we do not engage art critically by asking questions and challenging its hidden assumptions and biases then there is surely no reason for it to exist.

I didn’t take issue with the storytelling or editing, which was beautifully done. I didn’t struggle to find to message and purpose of Imba-it was quite clearly to draw attention to the poverty in Uganda and the empowerment of the children through the African Children’s Choir. I was also not necessarily disappointed by that message but, rather, by its myopia.

From the stark contrast between the Ugandan homes and the children’s American host families to the rhetoric of the program’s aunties and uncles, the film was entirely uncritical of the message of neo-liberal prosperity through consumption. It didn’t question how colonialism and capitalism had caused Uganda’s crippling poverty in the first place. It didn’t spend much time on the White Savior complex inherent in the sometimes sickeningly patronizing attitudes of the Western megachurches or even the concept of prosperity gospel and the connection Christianity has to neo-liberal economics.

It feels unfair to critique Imba for failing to address issues that were outside of its scope but its uncritical stance allows for the normalization of these socially structured problems and therefore fails to make a meaningful social change. I know that many, many people donated to the African Children’s Choir after watching Imba; I probably will too because, for all of its problematic aspects, it does fund the education of children in need. However, if Imba had been directly critical of capitalism, colonialism, and the dubious logic of prosperity gospel, perhaps some of those many, many people would have become aware of the hidden messages in this otherwise inspirational stories and done more to combat their root causes.

Art and Social Impact

As an artist myself, being a dancer, I find so much value in using art as a way to bring about social change. I believe there is so much power behind art, in any form, and its ability to communicate and convey important messages to a larger audience. It possesses a strong ability to inspire and influence others. However, I will argue that one of biggest problems in the arts today is a lack of funding. Although many organizations exist that link social change to art, artists still struggle to find the necessary funding to get their art out there and make an impact in the world. It’s no question that there isn’t much money in art, and unfortunately not as much importance is always placed on the arts as on other fields. Arts education, for example, takes a back seat when it comes to planning school curriculums and putting money towards what should be taught in schools. But an arts education can play such an important role in the development of any child. Personally, the arts have been an enormously prominent and influential part of my life, and it makes me happy to see organizations such as The Creative Visions Foundation fund artists and important projects. It is organizations like these that help promote the arts and make them known as something beneficial and impactful for our communities and the world in general. I think it is so important, as individuals, to support the arts and advocate its importance. I admire The Creative Visions Foundation for doing so, and I only hope that more organizations continue to rise in the future so that the arts continue to be recognized and fully appreciated.