Musings on art and life.
I don’t usually write about politics and violence. Mostly because this is a blog about art, but also because I’m so deeply affected that I can’t always get my thoughts straight, so this is outside of my comfort zone. I recently deactivated most of my social media accounts for several weeks, because I couldn’t handle how full my emotion tank was getting after the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and other similarly depressing worldwide realities. Even as I wrote the first draft of this, I was seeing devastating reports of senseless massacres in Nigeria that weren’t (and still aren’t) getting the same kind of media attention as Charlie Hebdo. That’s for a future post. Thinking about all the terrible things that happen all over the world has a falling domino effect in my brain, and I can never stop myself from attempting to see things from all sides and imagine all implications. Juxtapose this with the seeming popularity contest that is selfies, banal social media posts about breakfast, the vacuousness of daily activities or trivial problems, and you have a severe but temporary case of apathy on your hands. It would be easier to just watch cute kitten videos, and bury my head in light-hearted frivolity—or western notions of what’s worth sharing publicly for the fleeting ego boosts of feeling liked—but avoiding real issues doesn’t serve anyone. Turns out my anger is stronger than my dispassion. I still don’t “like” bullshit life commentary and the senseless need to share everything online. I’m not exempt from it either. I post pictures to Instagram and share humorous things on twitter on occasion, so this isn’t about inciting guilt but critical reflection. It all comes down to what you really get out of all forms of media, social or otherwise. I’m finding that unless it makes me laugh or balances the sadness of real life struggles of others in some way, I can ignore it.
When it comes to cold-blooded killing and the effects of violence on innocent people, my brain short-circuits to my emotions. I don’t understand it and it certainly can’t be ignored. Inflicting suffering on others, in any capacity, is an unreconcilable notion to me. I was brought up in South Africa, and can remember the feeling of liberation and hope that arose following the dissolution of apartheid after too many bloody years of struggle. I was too young to truly understand that I had been living within a system of repression and had even unknowingly witnessed some of it’s effects, but over time I learned that my privilege was due to nothing but the colour of my skin—a vexing realization to someone who doesn’t feel any superiority over others. Reading the news often highlights this position as a privileged individual in an acute way. As a person who cannot claim patriotism to any one country or culture, the discomfort I feel usually stems from the representation of heinous acts in western media and the hypocrisy of positioning enemies to the freedom we enjoy as citizens of the global north. The outrage presented to us via the media often lacks any form of objectivity and promotes the binary of right and wrong, as Rabbi Michael Lerner stated in this article: “The representation of evil dominates the media, and becomes the justification for our own evil acts.” The article calls into question our positions as human beings within supposed “enlightened democracies”, rather than a call to retaliate with more violence. These sentiments of societal imbalance within western culture and the rethinking of privilege are equally eloquently expressed in a similar article by Chloé Benoist: “Many of us are desensitized to recurring acts of violence, to violence we see as far removed from us geographically; violence we detach ourselves from even when perpetrated in our own names; then we find ourselves floored when faced with the magnitude of similar violence when it happens on our doorstep.“
I do believe in the freedom of speech, but like Rabbi Lerner and Ms. Benoist, would ask for a more varied and nuanced media approach in the struggle against all human injustices, including those that we, as western citizens, are implicit in. Terrorism is never justified, no matter what framing it is given. The responses to the recent killings in the offices of Charlie Hebdo have been taken up in multiple forms, most notably by artist and illustrators by way of impactful visual essays and cartoons. This form of peaceful protests is something I can stand by, but not necessarily their content.
With this in mind, I am taking steps to begin a new blog in collaboration with others. I have been thinking on this idea for a long time, and hope to form an online community of people who have varying approaches to culture, politics and the environment. Today’s post is a small but definite move in this direction, with a response by Dushan Milic. I have known Dushan for some time now and have featured his illustration work before, here. I have also had the good fortune to edit some of his writing during our time as colleagues in OCAD U’s MFA programs. His is a strong voice, and his thoughts on this topic are definitely worth sharing here. He was asked by the Walrus magazine to illustrate a response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo and has decided to formulate a written piece as well, which I have included below with his permission. You can read the original Walrus article here, it provides a nuanced expression on the issue of visual representation. This is a serious problem that is being addressed by a good friend of both mine and Dushan’s within his graduate research. With these discussions of positionality taking place around me, I can only hope that one day we can see a shift in the way we relate to the world and to others—as individuals who are all struggling with our own place within the human race. And that involves a sometimes risky move outside of our comfort zones, but I trust, as with most chances we take in life, that it will be worth it.
Vicki is an independent curator and craftsperson with a focus on socially engaged and participatory art and events. In January 2016 she helped launch Reconstructing Resilience, a research and curatorial project that explored various forms of sustainable practice. As a freelance curator she has worked with the Riverdale Hub, Myseum of Totonto/Art Spin and was the Curatorial Director of Figment Toronto from 2014 to 2017. She has also co-curated exhibitions including JAYU's iAM photography project (2016 & 2017), Move to Stillness, for the Harbourfront Centre's Kick Up Your Heels Festival (2015), The Duel, AGO First Thursdays (2014), and What Are You Made Of? OCAD U Graduate Gallery (2013). She initiated the Toronto based workshop model and website Polymers in Action: Socially Engaged Art and the Environment as part of her studies at OCAD University, where she obtained her Master of Fine Arts degree in Criticism and Curatorial Practice. She publishes on anything that interests her deeply and moves her to the point of lengthy verbal expression.
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