I hadn’t planned to write this blog post today but the snow piling up outside has given me hope that some of you who are here in New England might have the time to read this. It is also not the kind of blog that I had planned to write but it is what has been on my mind.
I am always sifting through the same kinds of questions while I am painting, sending Postcards or putting up Street Posters. Am I doing this right? Is it ok that I am doing it? Am I being careful enough about my own privilege? Am I sharing these movements objectively? Am I being sure not to be too heavy handed and preachy? Am I doing enough to help the Women I am portraying and working with? Are all of these questions holding me back? I guess it is good to have questions and perhaps it would be very bad news for all of us if we didn’t.
The campaign I am working on now as many of you know is for Syrian Civil Society and Justice Activist Razan Ghazzawi. I came to know of Razan through a Syrian friend Yasser who had worked here at Umass in the STPEC department and is now a Professor at Emerson out East. I had been following his posts about the Uprising in Syria and became very interested in finding a way to widen the conversation here about deeper truths in this Uprising than I felt we were getting from our media. We spoke about several Women Activists doing amazing work in Syria and I was immediately moved by Razan, at first because she had been detained several times for her Human Rights work, but it was in reading her blog entries that I realized her immense talent for conveying what was real and truthful. She has what many amazing Activists have which is a passion and authenticity that People want to connect to. So I decided to pursue having her on board as one of the amazing Women that I am painting and partnering with in order to tell the stories of the Resistance Movements they are a part of.
I was lucky enough to meet Razan in Boston about a month ago as before that we had been in contact over email and skype. I had learned she was leaving her work briefly to speak and raise funds for projects in Syria so I made arrangements to meet her. It really was an honor, Razan is truly a beautiful person and a fierce and honest Activist with real integrity. I was grateful to get to speak with her and to show her some of the Roots work and the Postcard I had created for general outreach about her and about the Syrian Uprising. I was elated that she was pleased with the Art and it’s message and that she was excited to work together brainstorming creative ways to support her Activism. Its just that I focus so intently on these Women, their stories and the faces I will be painting, so that when I meet them and form a connection it is a very high point for me. I am grateful for that.
I wanted to briefly address an issue that I know is out there in this Community and here in the West, particularly on the Liberal Left. About violence within Resistance Movements. About Guns, Revolutionaries, Pacifism. I have noticed that particularly with this campaign I am portraying in Syria that there are questions about the use of violence within the Uprising versus non violence. “If we support the Uprising are we supporting the use of violence”? some People have asked. I am going to give you my opinion about this so you know where I am coming from. I believe that the question of Pacifism or use of arms to defend oneself or make change is a profoundly personal decision and very hard to assess when one has not been confronted with the extreme conditions that bring about the question. I have deep respect for so many movements: The Civil Rights Movement, The Zapatista Uprising, The Revolution in South Africa and the Uprising in Syria and all have used different paths. It is easy in retrospect to make heroes of all of these movements as can be seen with all of the Che Guevara Tshirts, love of Mandela and Zapatista Art but many of these movements were pushed to use force at some point in their struggles. Razan Ghazzawi is a Peaceful Activist doing amazing work within an Uprising full of many players, some who have chosen to use force as an option and who am I to judge that. I am shining a light on the Peoples Uprising, I am painting the Community Builders, Journalists, Human Rights Activists like Razan. I am sharing their story.
It is an odd thing to be painting a reality which is partially filled with so much pain, hardship and oppression that I am not a part of. That of Chouchou Namegabe and DR Congo, Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma or Razan Ghazzawi and the Uprising in Syria. I am not telling my day to day story, I am trying to share the story, history and emotional essence of someone else. Maybe some would say I shouldn’t and that may be a valid consideration but I have decided to go ahead and try. I used to just paint for myself, maybe to try to heal old things but now I want to try to do something else with my Art, something cliche I suppose like make a difference and so be it, like many others before me I would like to do my best to be part of something greater that is outside of myself and my own needs.I think I have some talent for painting stories and telling the story of how things feel in the Art, so that is what I focus on when the inner questions come, the ones I started this blog with. They are good questions and I am sure mistakes will be made, have been made, but I am committed to this work and will just keep doing my best.