Should We Stay or Should We Go?
The bleak morning after Election Night, I got on the Internet and Googled "Bush is the antichrist." It pulled up 47,800 entries. Then I went to the Canadian government's Web site and clicked on the "Emigrating to Canada" information page. I e-mailed it to friends and spent the rest of the morning trying to organize a northbound convoy. As it turns out, I wasn't alone. According to the Canadian Press, Canada's immigration Web site received 115,016 hits from the United States on Wednesday, November 3, and some helpful Canadians have even set up a "marry an American" Web site (www.marryanamerican.ca) to facilitate northward flight.
What do you do when you're horrified by the policies of the leader of your country? A good portion of the 55,949,407 Americans who voted for Kerry are all trying to answer that question. Two exhibitions at the Station, "Red Fall" and "Truth to Power," offer some insight and hope. "Red Fall" presents the politically charged work of 12 local, national and international artists, while "Truth to Power" presents moving portraits and biographies of political activists from around the world. These are strong and politically invigorating exhibitions for anyone -- no matter if you were depressed or elated by the elections.
S.O.S. -- Urgent Messages to the President from the Streets of the Bronx, a video by Mel Chin, is a part of "Red Fall" and features "84 Bronx residents offering heartfelt thoughts to the President." It sounds pretty straightforward, but it's an incredibly powerful piece. In it, ethnically and politically diverse people offer the president their advice on a range of issues. One by one, each person stares into the camera without speaking as the text of his or her message runs along the bottom of the screen. The video is accompanied by a thumping, rumbling audio -- the sound of the interviewees' heartbeats, taped by Chin. It adds a sense of anxiousness to the piece and purposely highlights this basic and symbolic biological commonality.
A white-haired woman named Maria Fabaricio tells Bush, "I think now you have created grounds for terrorism to breed in the Middle East." A supporter tells him, "I want you to stay in 12 more years -- but I want you to stop the war and get more jobs." Another man advises, "You have to be more compassionate to people's pain," and a young woman with a chin stud informs him that he "can't mix church and state -- it's in the constitution."
But most powerful of all is Daniel Keddis, a skinny young boy with big wide eyes who looks at the camera in a mixture of fright and anger as his words scroll across the screen: " You waste a lot of living life. I think it's a scandal." If only Bush would leave his rallies of prescreened, adoring supporters to meet the powerful and unblinking gaze of people like this small child. S.O.S. cuts through rhetoric and poignantly shows the basic concerns and humanity of the American people.
A series of photographs by Paul Fusco, Fallen Soldiers -- Iraq, presents the flag-draped coffins of the dead. Numbers aren't real to people, but coffins and grieving families are. Dover Air Force Base was closed to the press to prevent images of the hundreds of arriving coffins. Fusco shows us the flag- covered caskets, surrounded by stricken family members, being carried into and out of churches and rolled through a frozen graveyard.
Bringing the War Home (2004), an installation by David Krueger, focuses on other consequences of war. Krueger juxtaposes an Iraqi abode and an American home. It isn't a comparison of standards of living or interior design styles; it shows how easily both can be victims of the same government.
You enter a stucco-walled Iraqi home that has been ransacked. You walk through upturned furniture and turn the corner to see yourself reflected in a mirror on a wall. Suddenly you move from a raid in an Iraqi home to a raid in a Montrose bungalow. Drawers have been pulled open and the computer has been smashed. The floor is covered with papers. "Traitor" is spray-painted on the wall. Civil rights now cling to the slippery slope of the Patriot Act.
Meanwhile, Lowell Darling's solution is that we all run for president. In a video of performance from Berlin, Darling declares that "If the President of the United States can alter and remove existing governments of the world, then every citizen of the world should be allowed to vote and run for President The current President of the United States has proved that American politics are too important to be left in the hands of Americans alone." It's a pointed and effective stunt.
But for those of us who have despaired and thought about fleeing our country for the next four years, the other exhibit at the Station, "Truth to Power," is inspiring -- and it puts things in perspective. Eddie Adams's photographic portraits of activists are paired with biographies written by Kerry Kennedy. They are people such as Kenyan political rights activist Koigi Wa Wamwere, a thoughtful-looking man in a trench coat and hat. Wamwere grew up in poverty in a forest community but excelled in school and was awarded a scholarship to Cornell University. Instead of taking a comfortable job abroad after graduating in 1973, Wamwere returned to Kenya to work for democratic reform. His unrelenting commitment to improving the lives of people in his home country has resulted in his undergoing detention, torture and imprisonment for much of his adult life. Yet he hasn't fled Kenya.
The determination of Wamwere and his fellow activists in the face of tremendous oppression is humbling. I guess I should cancel my whiny, chickenshit carpool to Canada. The Station's message is that we have to stick around and work if we want things to change. This private institution gives exposure to artists doing just that in provocative and creative ways. The show is a breath of fresh air for an American public that is tired of seeing expression watered down and political discourse stage-managed.
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