Art for Politics Sake

A few thoughts on an art exhibit I saw last week:

Through November 9, the Loyola University Museum of Art is hosting the exhibition “The Art of Democracy,” by a New York-based group of printmakers joined by some local artists.

Rotting from the head, indeed

Rotting from the head, indeed

I expected something more directly related to the political process and the election, but instead the exhibit focused on some of the travesties committed in the name of democracy – in your name, fellow Americans – by the Bush administration and corporations. Some prints take a look at domestic political and socioeconomic concerns – the mortgage debacle, gun violence. And there’s one warning about what could happen if we take the apathetic approach to trying to restore some of the values we say we cherish.

Some artists depicted the horrors of war in general and the Iraq War in particular. One poster mentions the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib and their less-than-warm welcome by U.S. soldiers. Another shows a soldier – presumably American – in combat gear and a fur coat. Fashion statement, or political? You decide. One that particularly caught my eye was an updating of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Joining Death are the War-Mongerer, the Two-Faced Politician, and the Uninformed. A succinct statement on many of our current ails. And though I don’t remember the gist of this one, I do know one of the posters was printed on paper made from the cloth of military uniforms worn by U.S. troops in Iraq – recycling with a purpose.

A centerpiece of the show was a poster showing an imposing view of the Statue of Liberty. The words next to Lady Liberty say “Vote Like Your Life Depends on It (Because it Does).” A subtle twisting of the usual implorations to vote comes with the more foreboding words at the bottom: “When they come for you, you’ll wish you had.” Which of course brings to mind the poem by Protestant minister Martin Niemoeller written about Nazi Germany:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I have to admit, my reporting skills were in bad form the night I attended. I forgot to bring a camera and notebook, so I only scribbled a few barely legible notes on the back of a  “Presidential Trivia” quiz. (I got 10 out of 13). And I kinda rudely ignored the dance group performing in the middle of the gallery, a kinetic representation of protest in the streets. Maybe if I knew more about dance I could have appreciated it.

The dance came after I made my way out of the main gallery and went up the stairs. “Is there more?” I asked the bored gallery monitor (is there any other kind)? She nodded yes, so I went up expecting more of the contemporary art. Instead, I was hit with items from the museum’s permanent collection. Since I was in a Catholic institution, there were lots of religious artifacts from the Renaissance and after. At first I thought the juxtaposition was odd, but when I saw a crucifixion

And then I thought of this image,

It seemed like there was a connection after all. And the Niemoller reference just drove the point home.

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~ by mburgan on November 2, 2008.

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