Edwidge Danticat on Art and Injustice

Haitian repression inspires Danticat

by Reilly Kiernan, The Daily Princetonian

An immigrant author must be brave enough to “create dangerously,” said Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, who delivered the second annual Toni Morrison Lecture last night in Richardson Auditorium and received a standing ovation from the audience.

Danticat discussed how dealing with injustice in her native Haiti inspired her writing and cultivated her belief in the importance of art in coping with oppression and conflict.

Continue reading Edwidge Danticat on Art and Injustice

Public Effects of Fiction

P. D. Smith:

…Ken Kolsbun’s new book, Peace: The Biography of a Symbol. There’s also a fascinating article about it on the BBC.

They interview peace historian Lawrence S. Wittner who says that “it is still the dominant peace sign,” a fact partly due to its beautiful simplicity. It’s perfect for spraying on walls and is a universally recognised symbol of peace and resistance to repression.

Continue reading Public Effects of Fiction

Iraq War Novels and Iraq Conquest Novels – Where They Are and Are Not

“Where’s the first wave of Iraq War fiction?” – asked at Paper Cuts: A Blog About Books, at the New York Times

There are number of good comments there on a variety of matters, though some that are wanting. In answer to that central question, the first waves of Iraq War fiction are in the movies, on TV, in plays and novels and short stories… While there is not nearly as much as one might hope to see, it hasn’t been too difficult to compile a list of dozens of such works, plus works on closely connected US militancy in the “Middle East,” Afghanistan in particular: https://apragmaticpolicy.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/iraq-war-fiction-3/

Continue reading Iraq War Novels and Iraq Conquest Novels – Where They Are and Are Not

Sociology, Art, Health – Susan Bell

 “Talking Bodies“:

“Works of art can anchor social movements,” says Bell, Bowdoin’s A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences. “Think of the AIDS quilt, or the Clothesline Project that is used to bring attention to issues of sexual assault and domestic violence against women. Images can be a powerful way to signal, engage, shock. People respond viscerally. It opens up a conversation.”

In a surprising twist on her discipline, Bell has turned to analyses of works of art to guide her in her research. In recent publications in journals including Health, Sociology of Health and Illness, and Qualitative Research in Psychology, Bell has made a case for incorporating the analysis of visual narratives into sociological work as documents and barometers of human experience.

The First Great Work of American Culture Inspired by the Iraq War?

Title, above, of a long skimming post at Daily Kos.

Video of Steve Earle’s referenced City of Immigrants.

Some corrective remarks, in my view, regarding the assessment of Three Kings: John Pilger’s view in Hollywood Hurrah.

Lists of Iraq and Afghanistan war fiction – novels, graphic novels, plays, film and video – also, nonfiction.

The Powerful Art of Polemics and Other Political Films

Caryn James

Not so long ago, the documentary feature category was among the snooziest at the Oscars, the target of jokes that said you couldn’t lose by making a film about the Holocaust. That backward-looking pattern began to morph when Michael Moore won the 2002 award with “Bowling for Columbine,” and exploded with last year’s win for Al Gore’s one-man show, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Odd though it sounds, Michael Moore and Al Gore have made the image of documentaries – O.K., maybe not sexy, but hot.

This year all five nominees are politically charged, four are about war, and amazingly, only one feels like homework. Spurred by global conflict and by technology that allows filmmakers to turn out movies in months rather than years, these works carry urgent messages. With their pointed arguments, though, this year’s nominees also raise an inescapable question: Can they have any real political impact?

They try in extremely varied ways. Mr. Moore’s “Sicko” is wildly comic while tearing apart the country’s health care system. Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American abuses of prisoners in the war on terror, is eloquent.

And even the less artistic films vividly present the faces and voices of people who have witnessed some of today’s most anguishing conflicts. Continue reading The Powerful Art of Polemics and Other Political Films

Just Art

 Emma Powers:

The connections between artistic expression and activism may not be self-evident but are worth examining. This relationship between art and social change will be discussed by Art Historian and Professor of Visual Arts and Environmental Studies at Harvard University Carrie Lambert-Beatty on Wednesday, February 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Beam Classroom in the Visual Arts Center.

Lambert-Beatty will deliver the lecture, “Just Art,” which examines how activism is expressed through art. She will explore the importance of visual and performance art in sending powerful social messages.

Propagandizing delusional and criminal mentality via Charlie Wilson’s War

Review by Jeremy Kuzmarov:

By sanitizing and distorting history, and presenting Western militarism as a force for good, films like Charlie Wilson’s War ultimately help to perpetuate the ideological mindset shaping continued foreign policy blunders and crimes of historic dimensions, which the U.S. public has yet to fully come to terms with. 

Mark Vallen on Bertolt Brecht and Mahagonny

Excerpt from Art for a Change

Brecht understood theatre not just as a form of entertainment, but as a vehicle that could help workers understand and analyze their political situation, he felt theatrical performances should appeal to reason and not simply give way to sentimentality. In the 1957 book, Brecht on Theater, the playwright described his theory of “alienation effect” theatre as being that “which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor – and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer.” The original Brecht production of Mahagonny, as with his other plays, utilized various contrivances to prevent viewers from being lulled into a theatrical fantasy. Stage settings were deliberately sparse and flooded with harsh lights, with no attempt to hide stage lighting equipment. Slogans and explanatory text were projected upon stage walls, and actors carried placards onstage bearing political messages. With outbursts of songs whose lyrics drove home his political points, Brecht would use music itself to interrupt stage action.

Continue reading Mark Vallen on Bertolt Brecht and Mahagonny

Activist Novels Staged in Iran

 Gharibpur to stage “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at Fajr festival

“The dramatization of world-renowned novels increases the number of theatergoers and attracts people from a variety of social classes to come and enjoy the performances. Some academics maintain the idea that the theater is only for the elite, however I personally believe this to be a destructive notion,” Gharibpur told the Persian service of Mehr News Agency, MNA reported Saturday.

Continue reading Activist Novels Staged in Iran

Activist Art – Hustlenomics


“Hustlenomics Collective provides annual events for artists in the areas of photography, visual art, design, and print media . The collective represents talented up and coming Artists from the Bay Area, California to all boroughs of New York City. Each year the collective organizes an exhibtion for the artists to showcase their Art works in an environment that honors honestly, culture, and struggle. The Hustlenomics event annually pulls between 500-600 people of all ages and has been successful in providing Artists who normally don’t have that outlet, a space to shine and feel empowered.”

Acting Up for Peace

by Gina Shaffer

“When… at what point will you say no to this war?  We have chosen to say with the gift of our liberty, if necessary our lives: the violence stops here, the death stops here, the suppression of the truth stops here, this war stops here.”

Faced with the prospect of a prison sentence for burning draft records in protest against the Vietnam War, Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic priest and pioneering figure in the peace movement, uttered the words above in a Maryland courtroom in 1968.

On Saturday night, nearly 40 years later, the same words spewed passionately from the lips of actor Martin Sheen, who portrayed Berrigan in a benefit performance of “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California.  Proceeds from the event will go to the Actors’ Gang, a Culver City-based theater company, and Office of the Americas, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization focused on promoting social justice and peace internationally.

Other prominent actors, including Tim Robbins, Beau Bridges, Keith Carradine, Mike Farrell, Camryn Manheim, and Sandra Oh joined Sheen in a staged reading of the play, which Berrigan wrote based on transcripts from the trial that followed the nationally renowned demonstration.   Berrigan, his brother, Philip, also a priest at the time, and seven other Catholics participated in the May 17, 1968 protest at a Selective Service office in Catonsville , Maryland.

With their plea to just “let people live,” as defendant John Hogan stated during the trial, the Catonsville activists questioned the morality of the Vietnam War.  They burned 378 draft cards with napalm to call attention to the deaths of American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians.

Strengths and Limits of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”

Voice of Reason

Andrew S. Hughes

The film “300,” which is set at the battle of Thermopylae, opens today, but it’s not the only artistic work inspired by the Greeks at war that might titillate area audiences.

Goshen’s New World Arts theater also opens its production of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” today.

Written in about 411 B.C. and set during the Peloponnesian War, which pitted Athens against Sparta between 431 and 404 B.C. and was won by Sparta, “Lysistrata” offers a novel if extreme idea of how to end war: Led by the title character, the women of Athens and Sparta pledge to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers until the men agree to peace.

“It’s always produced during times of war, especially wars that seem to drag on for long periods of time,” director Laura Gouin says of the play’s relevance to today and the war in Iraq. “I think the audience will really connect with the monologue Lysistrata has with a magistrate where she talks about how easy it can be to end a war.”

Lysistrata attacks politicians who profit politically and financially from war, points out how the war has squandered Athens’ treasury, argues that the war deprives young women of potential spouses, and questions why war seems like a reflexive action for men.

The play, however, isn’t a simple anti-war treatise.

“Aristophanes, a lot of people think he’s an anti-war writer, but he was against Greeks against Greeks,” Gouin says. In the text, for example, both Sparta and Athens received praise for previously coming to the defense of the other.

Productions of “Lysistrata” flourished during the Vietnam War, and the play has been revived numerous times in various forms since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States. In April, for example, Indiana University South Bend also will produce “Lysistrata.”

The play also presents other problems to theater companies. For one thing, Aristophanes wasn’t the champion of women’s rights that an outline of the play’s plot might suggest.

“The play does read as a feminist play until the end,” Gouin says. “If you stopped two-thirds of the way through, you’d think he was forward-thinking, until you realize it was all meant as satire.”

In particular, the play ends with negotiations between two men about Peace, a female character.

“The reconciliation scene was difficult to do,” Gouin says. “The two ambassadors essentially divvy up parts of a woman’s body as the land they want. We’re doing it in a way that’s more dignified for her.”

Although Aristophanes doesn’t challenge the male dominance of his society, he does make Lysistrata appealing as an orator, but up to only a certain point.

“The character of Lysistrata appears well read and educated, and her character is written very differently from the other characters,” Gouin says. “She’s the voice of reason; they’re the buffoons. She seems the most like what we’d like to be.”

Until, that is, Aristophanes no longer needs her.

“He uses Lysistrata as his tool, but once (the men) agree (to peace), she disappears,” Gouin says.

Even translations of the play sometimes present problems for theater companies. Gouin, who directed Chicago-based playwright Jeremy Menekseoglu’s feminist rewritings of “Ismene” and “Antigone” in recent years at New World, chose Jeffrey Henderson’s translation from 1997 for New World’s production.

“A lot of the translations make the Spartans sound Southern (and unintelligent),” she says. “I didn’t want to do that. We went with one that makes them sound Russian. We wanted to go with something outside the U.S.”

New World’s production, Gouin says, will try to cover some of the original text’s other problems with its staging.

“Part of what we’ve done is taken the play out of ancient Greece,” she says. “Everything is caricatured, both the men and the women. Aristophanes wasn’t kind to either. He was really upset with what was going on.”

The set, Gouin says, plays into that, too, with a look that might remind audience members of Dr. Seuss’ books.

“We’ve set it in a cartoon world,” she says. “The lights are fun and circuslike. The props, we’ll just say, are larger-than-life.”

So is the play’s use of sex for humor. The women’s sex strike, for example, produces painful results for both the men and the women. Aristophanes’ text is explicit in its use of sex for humor, and Gouin doesn’t recommend the play for children, although parents may bring their own if they want.

“The play is not about sex,” she says. “It’s about the lack of sex, and the consequences of the lack of sex are very visible onstage. … I’m used to working on dramatic pieces. I’ve never worked on a play where I had to give directions much like, ‘Touch his phallus on this line.'”


See also:

Cover for 'Fiction Gutted: The Establishment and the Novel'

by  Tony Christini