The Hidden Curriculum Part 4: The Sandwich

The Hidden Curriculum understands translation and language in the broadest, most creative and expansive way. This is the fourth translation made by The Hidden Curriculum, a project currently in its pilot form. This project assembles translations from a diverse set of texts that are deemed central to artistic production by individuals from different cultures, ethnicities, languages, gender identities, historical times, and geographies.


Continuing with our responses to the keynote by Antonio Negri, this approach to Negri came out of the observation that there is no single way to interpret or translate a prompt. People make interpretations according to their tastes and abilities. For this adaptation, organized by Katy McCarthy, Adam Golfer, Clara Chapin Hess – we gave participants 60 seconds to make a sandwich from provided supplies. While the supplies and prompt were the same for each person, the technique and order in which they compiled their sandwiches was entirely their own. Relatedly, Jorgen Leth’s iconic video of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger shows us an individual doing something totally mundane in his own way. In the end, everyone had created a sandwich, but no two were completely alike. The everyday task of making a sandwich yields an infinite number of interpretations.


About the Contributor: The Hidden Curriculum project is being developed by a working group of CUNY (City University of New York) graduate students and faculty: Clara Chapin Hess, Adam Golfer, Miatta Kawinzi, Gabriela Vainsencher, Daniel Alexander Matthews, Ishai  Shapira Kalter, Paola Di Tolla, Arkadiy Ryabin, Alix Camacho, Estefania Velez, Eric Magnus, Katy McCarthy, Rebekah Smith, and Paul Ramirez Jonas.


The Hidden Curriculum: Part 3: Body Language Workshop organized by Gabriela Vainsencher

The Hidden Curriculum understands translation and language in the broadest, most creative and expansive way. This is the third translation made by The Hidden Curriculum, a project currently in its pilot form. This project assembles translations from a diverse set of texts that are deemed central to artistic production by individuals from different cultures, ethnicities, languages, gender identities, historical times, and geographies.


Gabriela Vainsencher created The Hidden Curriculum Body Language Workshop in response to Antonio Negri’s keynote address on the final day of the Creative Time Summit 2015 in Venice. This was our first blog entry and translation as The Hidden Curriculum.

Watching the Italian thinker talk, Gabriela Vainsencher felt like she could understand much of what he was saying, even though her grasp of Italian is minimal. Vainsencher attributed this understanding to Negri’s body language, which managed to communicate so much. Vainsencher decided to lead a body language learning workshop, in which participants teach each other non-verbal ‘phrases’ or ‘words’ that mean very particular things in the cultures they come from. This project was created in collaboration with Miatta Kawinzi and Estefania Velez.


About the Contributor: The Hidden Curriculum project is being developed by a working group of CUNY (City University of New York) graduate students and faculty: Clara Chapin Hess, Adam Golfer, Miatta Kawinzi, Gabriela Vainsencher, Daniel Alexander Matthews, Ishai  Shapira Kalter, Paola Di Tolla, Arkadiy Ryabin, Alix Camacho, Estefania Velez, Eric Magnus, Katy McCarthy, Rebekah Smith, and Paul Ramirez Jonas.

 


The Hidden Curriculum: Part 2 : Hunger

The Hidden Curriculum understands translation and language in the broadest, most creative and expansive way. This is the second translation made by The Hidden Curriculum, a project currently in its pilot form. This project will assemble translations from a diverse set of texts that are deemed central to artistic production by individuals from different cultures, ethnicities, languages, gender identities, historical times, and geographies.


Our first translation and previous blog entry was made in response Antonio Negri’s keynote address on the final day of the Creative Time Summit 2015 in Venice.

Our group was attracted to this speech because it was translated simultaneously and because of the content of the text. In the 30 minutes of the keynote one can observe what Borges might have meant when he said “The original is unfaithful to the translation.” At times it seems that the meaning is being completely lost, or perhaps simply transformed. The translator and the speaker speak for different lengths of time, the body languages seem complimentary rather than translated, and the intonation and pauses are unfaithful. The words, one suspects, are adaptations.

We divided into groups, and each group attempted a translation of this speech. Each of these responses seeks to map out how close or how far we want to be to the original. Out of these explorations we will create editorial guidelines for future submissions.

The first translation yielded an “exquisite corpse” like translation of the poem “Fifth Elegy” by Rainer Maria Rilke.


Here is our second translation:

Translation has traditionally been understood to take place from one verbal language to another, but it can also take place from verbal language to the nonverbal language of bodily gesture.

On 3/4/16, the Hidden Curriculum working group engaged in a performative workshop adapted from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, namely those of Image Theatre. The idea was to create images of oppression/resistance with the body as a way of thinking about how power is expressed and contested through the body. We began by quickly responding to a succession of prompts such as gentrification, mansplaining, labor, history, and English by individually creating images with the body. We then moved into creating collective images with our bodies, with participants electing to enter an image and tweak it or somehow arrange themselves or their movements to adjust the relations of power expressed.

This is a selection of images of some of the moments from the workshop and the collective response to the prompt: hunger.

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About the contributor: The Hidden Curriculum project being developed by a working group of CUNY (City University of New York) graduate students and faculty: Clara Chapin Hess, Adam Golfer, Miatta Kawinzi, Gabriela Vainsencher, Daniel Alexander Matthews, Ishai  Shapira Kalter, Paola Di Tolla, Arkadiy Ryabin, Alix Camacho, Estefania Velez, Eric Magnus, Katy McCarthy, Rebekah Smith, and Paul Ramirez Jonas.


Michel Tuffrey – The Transformative ‘Power’ of Art

“I’m not a social worker, I’m an artist who’s trying to create a conversation”, Michel Tuffery (2012).

It’s an important distinction for the artist, whose holistic practice has seen him work in an increasingly social realm, collaborating with a wide range of communities to produce art together. Based on a deeply held belief in the possibility of art to create connections, Tuffery’s collaborative projects have included working with communities across Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, Asia (Taiwan, India) and the wider Pacific including Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Hawaii and Tokelau.

Like many artists that incorporate relational practices, Tuffery, without straying into social work, endeavors to engage with and nurture societal bonds. Frequently his artwork seeks to bring together disparate or disenfranchised groups with their own histories, tracing social and cultural lineages through the most unlikely and highly playful means.

 (Emma Bugden, 2013).

Open Engagement had the pleasure of speaking with Michel Tuffery to contribute to A Reader on Power and offer a perspective on a socially engaged practice unique to the South Pacific region. Michel discusses his approach to working with community, informed directly by his background and traditions specific to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Our conversation highlighted Michel’s emphasis on engagement with the community over time, his process, art as a vehicle for change, and the importance of legacy with community based art projects. This was discussed in the following video interview, specifically in relation to his 2014 project Transforma. This project was a seven week residency located in Airds in South Western Sydney, Australia that comprised of four main components.

  1. The retrieval of cars dumped in the Woolwash area of the Upper Georges River.
Dumped Cars in Woolwash. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dumped Cars in Woolwash. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.An outdoor sculpture studio located in the car park of Airds Bradbury Central.

 

2. An outdoor sculpture studio located in the car park of Airds Bradbury Central.

Cutting up the cars. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Cutting up the cars. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Shaping up Buru Transforma Kangaroo. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Shaping up Buru Transforma Kangaroo. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Ongoing workshops with young people.

6. Young Spirit Mentoring_Boxing Training at Woolswash

Boxing Training at Woolwash. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 

Woodcut Printmaking Workshops. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Woodcut Printmaking Workshops. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. A series of public programs culminating in a major public event – The Transforma Party which celebrated the launch of Buru Transforma Kangaroo – a massive bust of a kangaroo made from the bodies of cars abandoned then salvaged from the Upper Georges River.

4. Uncle ivan_Smoking Ceremony

Uncle Ivan Smoking Ceremony. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 

9. Buru Transforma Kangaroo_2014

Buru Transforma Kangaroo. Image courtesy of the artist, Michel Tuffery, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.

 

 

 


About the contributor: Michel Tuffery is part of a generation of trail-blazers in Aotearoa (New Zealand), artists now in their 40s who were among the first wave of artists with Pacific ancestry to work within the contemporary art world. Coming to prominence in the early 1990s, these artists were notable for a refusal to choose between traditional forms of customary art and the western art canon, instead finding a third way, a space in which to connect both strands. They paved the way not only for new generations of Pacific artists but from the 2000s onward for a growing group of Asian New Zealand artists, whose work can also be seen to engage in plurality across cultural and art historical divides. More recently he partnered with the Museum of Contemoray Art (MCA) and Campbelltown Arts Centre (CAC) to deliver his Transforma project within the C3West Program (Emma Bugden, 2013).


Sue Bell Yank: Just Keep Talking about Beyoncé

 

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Image credit: Beyoncé/Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is just after the 2016 Super Bowl, and I keep stumbling across Beyoncé. This may not seem surprising, but I’m not a pop culture maven in the least. I didn’t watch the Super Bowl; I don’t even have cable. I don’t have much opinion on Beyoncé’s music. I am aware of the critiques – especially of her feminist posturing, and her unabashed capitalism. But very few people have the platform that Beyoncé does, and how she uses that platform matters to culture.

She dropped a new single, Formation, a day before her controversial Super Bowl performance, in which her back-up dancers were clad in costumes reminiscent of Black Panther Party uniforms, complete with giant afros and military style black berets, to commemorate the Party’s 50th anniversary (an anniversary that, officially, has largely been ignored). On its face, this was a bold, provocative and typically savvy marketing move, standard operating procedure for Queen Bey. But the rhetoric in the clickable headlines popping up in my Facebook feed captivated me, because they seemed to so perfectly encompass the discussion around race, class, and power in the US right now.

I first clicked on “Breaking: Old white people find Beyoncé’s black activism distasteful” on Gawker.

This clip from the Fox News show Fox & Friends featured Rudy Giuliani how “outrageous” her Super Bowl performance was, after being told it was in honor of the Black Panther Party. His commentary ranged from the paternalistic “I didn’t know what the heck it was, a bunch of people bouncing around” to the truly incensed. What really bothered him was her shout-out to the Black Lives Matter movement, and that she should use her platform not to “attack police officers,” but that what she should be doing is to “work within African-American communities to build up a respect for the police.” He painted her, and others of her race, as ungrateful to “the people who protect her…and keep us alive.” He criticizes the NFL for letting her on the stage at all, reminding them that “you’re talking to Middle America out there, let’s have some decent, wholesome entertainment.”

It’s easy for liberals like myself to take pot shots at Fox News, but the fact remains that a swath of America would agree with Giuliani (case in point is the “All Lives Matter” pushback to the Black Lives Matter movement). A lot of Americans do not know, and do not wish to know about the radical black activism that Beyonce celebrates. In fact, they wish desperately to refute it. Black radical activism has called for the reform (and in many cases, the complete abolition) of the prison-industrial complex because of the devastating institutional racism embedded in every step of the justice system, economic systems, and social systems that send millions of young black men through the correctional system every year. This activism does not wish to assimilate into a broken and undemocratic system—undemocratic because it (still) does not work for millions of its citizens. This is activism that imagines entirely new societal structures. And that is profoundly terrifying to someone like Giuliani. Of course he would rather ignore it. Of course he would rather believe that America is great, and that these “problems” are foundationless rabble-rousing.

But Bey’s ploy, saavy marketing or not, was hard to ignore. Black radical activism, throughout much of its history, has been about making things hard to ignore.

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Image credit: Angela Y. Davis speaking on February 20, 2016, at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy the author.

 

The great Angela Y. Davis spoke this past weekend in Los Angeles, at a panel entitled “Abolition and the Radical Imagination.” She spoke about the abolition of the prison-industrial complex as the last step in the abolition of slavery itself. But, she contended, the conception of a future with no more jails requires a radical imagination, and art becomes a necessary piece of that puzzle. Poet Fred Moten, who sat with Davis on a panel after her address, saw radical imagination as encompassing two key activities – both imagining the things that do not yet exist, but also eliciting the empathy to imagine and understand things as they are. These two sides of the coin summon the black radical experience for Moten – to both understand the real horror of things, as well as hope for what they can be. What is it to live with loss and tragedy, Moten asks, only to turn around and celebrate?

Formation is a lush video, unsubtle and full of imagery of both tragedy and celebration. Images of a drowning New Orleans are juxtaposed with Mardi Gras Indian dancers and Social Aid and Pleasure Club parades, tightly knit and powerfully resilient Black community traditions. Most of all, as Dr. Zandia Robinson of the site New South Negress explains, Formation highlights the “margins of Blackness” as a resistance practice. We see the imagery of queer blackness, feminist blackness, and those both in the center and the margins of Black society as organizing forces. Robinson argues:

Formation is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins–woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disabled, undocumented, immigrant–before an overt action…to be successful, there must be coordination, the kind that choreographers and movement leaders do, the kind that black women organizers do in neighborhoods and organizations. To slay the violence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy, we must start, Beyoncé argues, with the proper formation.

In this sense, Formation is about organizing. It’s about community, the rise of critical consciousness, but also just being with the people who have your back. Organizing creates collective power.

“Yes,” cry the organizers and the activists, who have been working for change in their communities for decades. “But what about your unabashed capitalism, Beyoncé?” As Robinson acknowledges, and Black activism has recognized for centuries, racism, class, and economic power are inextricably interconnected.

Dianca London of Death and Taxes calls Beyoncé’s activism into question in an article entitled “Beyoncé’s capitalism, masquerading as radical change.” She rolls her eyes at the laudatory response to Formation: “Yet another single by Beyoncé has been canonized as a call to arms. She has been lauded as a pop icon turned activist. An anthem that will make her millions has been dubbed a revolution.” London goes on to acknowledge the power of Beyonce’s storytelling and representations of Blackness, but deeply questions her brand of activism. She strongly suggests that Beyonce’s participation in this platform (Super Bowl 50 and all it represents as part of global capitalism) is playing into the very system that has always profited from black culture. This is co-option, she argues, not a call to arms. It is a very slick branding play. In London’s view, Beyoncé makes this clear when she says “the best revenge is my paper” and “always stay gracious.” As London suggests, the route towards liberation for Beyonce “is contingent on two things: respectability and the mobility that comes with affluence.” In fact, this reliance on “paper” betrays the very Party that Bey seeks to celebrate—the Black Panther Party has always argued that nothing less than the overthrow of the capitalist system would lead to Black liberation.

And when Red Lobster starts calling their spike in sales the “Beyoncé Bounce,” it makes you wonder if London doesn’t have a point.

I feel this critique, but I also don’t blame Beyoncé one bit for using her platform with every iota of craft and thought and storytelling that she is capable of. We all swim in capitalism, and Beyoncé can’t remove herself from it, no matter how hard she might want to. None of us can. Times have changed since the BPP, and methods of resistance must evolve as well. Because although I agree that in order to end racism, we must end incarceration, and provide affordable housing, and create better social services, and invest in communities, and have excellent free healthcare and education, and fundamentally rethink the way we organize ourselves and our societies as humans—I also believe that systems undergo drastic alterations only after many, many microscopic shifts have occurred. I am fundamentally a pragmatist in that way. I would never advocate revolution nor violent overthrow, but rather the small movements of hearts and minds. When people work hard in communities on a grassroots level, convincing people one by one and empowering them to change their conditions, things start happening. When this work is bolstered by national media conversations and bold statements by pop stars that drive more and more people towards organizing…even more starts happening. Beyoncé does not work in isolation. She is just very hard to ignore.

Angela Davis said, “Capitalism has affected the way we think about ourselves.” We are taught to always think of ourselves as individual actors, not as a community that “extends backwards and forwards in time.” Part of the role of art is to re-orient that conception of self in relation to others.

Which is why another thread of internet chatter disturbed me more than anything else—one calling for white people to “shut up and listen” to Beyoncé. These were the articles that gave me the most pause. Blogger Melissa Hillman on the site Bitter Gertrude came out with a post titled “White people: Shut up about Beyoncé.” As a self-described white woman, she lauded Beyoncé for “brilliantly telling Black stories for Black people, brilliantly seizing the narrative,” and urged white people not to voice their outrage or opinion, but to shut up and listen. Another white woman writer and fat activist Kath tweeted “It’s not that white women can’t write about Beyonce and Formation, but maybe they shouldn’t,” and this sentiment has cropped up a lot in commentary and other articles (ironically). NB: I am not black, but I am not white either. I get asked “What are you?” A lot. So what should I do?

I completely agree with Melissa Hillman that people should listen. True collective listening is the foundation for meaningful critical discourse, which we sorely need more of. But she and Kath are utterly, tragically wrong that white people should shut up. This reminds me of the Paulo Freire quote, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral.”

Nobody should ignore this struggle, and everyone should rumble with it. We should understand what the Black Panther Party was fighting for and why. We should know what “Bama” means and why Beyoncé talks about albino alligators. This is about organizing, and fighting for the imagination of a different future for all of us. And empathy is the key to that future. So yes, listen, listen, listen, and know when to give up power. Know when to give up control. That is an incredibly radical act as an artist. But also, understand when you do have power, and when you do have a platform. And use it to amplify silenced voices and unpack the insidious nature of oppression.


About the contributor: Sue Bell Yank organizes, educates, enacts, reads and writes about social practice in contemporary art. She worked on the Watts House Project and at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, among various other independent endeavors. She also produces online educational programs at the Oprah Winfrey Network. suebellyank.com

 

 


The Hidden Curriculum: Fifth Elegy by Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first translation made by The Hidden Curriculum, currently in its pilot form. This project will be an online audiobook library for artists, and will include essential texts translated into contemporary English. The translations will assemble a diverse set of texts that are deemed central to artistic production by individuals from different cultures, ethnicities, languages, gender identities, historical times, and geographies. 

The translations will be two fold: first by turning written texts into spoken and performed words; and second, by translating the original texts into colloquial English. This library will be a free resource for other artists, who will be able to download and listen to the texts as they work; as well as submit their own translations.

The Hidden Curriculum understands translation and language in the broadest, most creative and expansive way. Someone may translate a 19th century text into contemporary slang-–a translation across time. Someone else may argue that hacking is essential to our culture and that a formative text from that sub-culture needs to be part of the curriculum -and sing it. Or someone may translate a Korean, Spanish, or Portuguese text into colloquial English. Likewise, other contributions may translate English texts into other languages.

The Hidden Curriculum project is being developed by a working group of CUNY (City University of New York) graduate students and faculty: Clara Chapin Hess, Adam Golfer, Miatta Kawinzi, Gabriela Vainsencher, Daniel Alexander Matthews, Ishai  Shapira Kalter, Paola Di Tolla, Arkadiy Ryabin, Alix Camacho, Estefania Velez, Eric Magnus, Katy McCarthy, Rebekah Smith, and Paul Ramirez Jonas.

For today’s blog we offer our very first translation. It was made by the entire group:

The poem Fifth Elegy by Rainer Maria Rilke.

The original is unfaithful to the translation.  ―Jorge Luis Borges


About the Contributors: The Hidden Curriculum is Clara Chapin Hess, Adam Golfer, Miatta Kawinzi, Gabriela Vainsencher, Daniel Alexander Matthews, Ishai  Shapira Kalter, Paola Di Tolla, Arkadiy Ryabin, Alix Camacho, Estefania Velez, Eric Magnus, Katy McCarthy, Rebekah Smith, and Paul Ramirez Jonas.

 


Brett Cook: Choosing Power through June Jordan

“Is it possible to imagine that power might be defined by presence of mind; that the more one is no longer controlled by compulsions, addictions, patterns, habits, the more power one has to act in service of wisdom and compassion? What if we said that power is internal freedom, that power is the capacity for choice?”

–  Just Power, Helen Tworkov

Poet, activist, teacher and essayist June Jordan passed away on June 14, 2002.  As selections of her writing appeared in emails from friends, I began to recognize her legacy and inspiration. The might of June Jordan’s poetry moved me to find other prose, interviews, and speeches that I had overlooked.  Discovering the life of June Jordan left me staggered by both the eloquence of her articulations and the embarrassment of my own ignorance to this example of humanity.

Energized, I sent a mass email inviting folks to send me materials related to June Jordan.  From the many submissions, I compiled a notebook with samples of her writing and materials related to June Jordan’s legacy – from statistics of breast cancer deaths in the US to Ntozake Shange’s poem ego (for June Jordan).  I installed a copy of the notebook as part of a striking devotional monument in Harlem, the place of June Jordan’s birth. The notebook of submissions and documentary photographs from the original installation in Harlem were subsequently exhibited at memorials and exhibitions across the United States.  

My first perception of June Jordan’s power was her outward force, the fierceness of a bisexual of color yelling back at imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.  Like the legions of young spoken word poets who have launched from her legacy, her voice demanded to be heard.  As an agitator making a gesture without permission, funding, or institutional support – my project aimed to follow in her footsteps, a black lives matter protest before #blacklivesmatter

June Jordan Collaborative Community Project  127th Street and St. Nicholas/8th Avenue, Harlem, NYC July 2002

June Jordan Collaborative Community Project
127th Street and St. Nicholas/8th Avenue, Harlem, NYC July 2002

Through the experience of making the work, and since its birthing, my perception of June Jordan’s quote has transformed and broadened.  Power persists through June Jordan’s “simple and daily and nightly self-determination.” This internal action of awareness shrivels discrimination and intolerance with mindful resistance.

“With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families and our society. When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing one thing, we can prevent another thing from happening.” 

– The Five Mindfulness Trainings, Thich Nhat Hanh

By being mindful we can prevent ourselves from losing that one sock in the laundry, or resisting imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, but whatever we are doing it is done with purpose, aware of consequences and that we determine our own present moment. June Jordan reminds me of power in the capacity for choice.


About the contributor: Brett Cook is an artist and educator who uses his creative practice to transform outer and inner worlds of being. For over two decades, Cook has produced installations, exhibitions, curricula, and events widely across the United States, and internationally. His museum work features drawing, painting, photography, and elaborate installations that make intimately personal experiences universally accessible. His public projects typically involve community workshops and collaborative art, along with music, performance, and food to create a more fluid boundary between art making, daily life, and healing. Teaching and public speaking are extensions of his social practice that involve communities in dialogue to generate experiences of reflection and insight.

 

 


Saneta Devuono-Powell: Rendering the Invisible Human

The Bay Area has been the center of many social movements that made the assertion, ‘I exist’.  These movements sought (and seek) to engage and disrupt power dynamics by making themselves visible and demanding recognition from the larger society.  From the Black Panther party, to gay rights, and the disability movements, an identity is forged from the demand to be seen. Visibility becomes an assertion of humanity, which is an exercise of power.

Currently the Bay Area is embroiled in a housing crisis, one that pits the middle class against the working poor and leaves many long-term residents who liked their communities tired and heartbroken.  The debates about housing echo earlier social movements as communities feel silenced or erased and seek new ways to make the statement “I exist.”

Unfortunately, in the midst of this crisis, those without houses do not exist.  There are few people that we are as willing to marginalize and ignore as blatantly as the homeless. Homelessness in the U.S. has surpassed the “epidemic” of the nineties, yet the homeless remain unacknowledged or dehumanized as they are pushed to margins of our cities and out of our imaginations, existing only as faint images in our peripheral vision.

Three years ago, as part of a research project, I began visiting homeless encampments in the area.  The encampments I visited and the residents I met changed how I saw my home and the marginal spaces I had not noticed around me.  I began to appreciate the tents that stood out under the freeway, because they too signaled an assertion of existence.

More recently Kike Arnal, an Oakland resident and photographer has been documenting these camps.  He calls the series “Home without a House” a title that feels very apt. Arnal does not speak for the people he is photographing, he simply shows that they exist, unromanticized and unequivocally human. The people in Arnal’s photos cannot be dismissed with the designation of homeless, a term that has come to mean expendable, preferred invisible and not residents or citizens like the rest of us.  They may not have houses, but they are part of communities, they are part of our community.  They are also struggling to exist and the homes they create are a reflection of that struggle.

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US veteran Ray in front of his tent next to the San Pablo Creek. City of San Pablo, Contra Costa. Image credit Kike Arnal.

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Zena and her cat. San Pablo Creek. City of San Pablo, Contra Costa. Image credit Kike Arnal.

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13 Year old Salena lives with her mother at the San Pablo Creek encampment. Image credit Kike Arnal.

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Homeless Rick photographed at his encampment of Richmond, next to I-80. Image credit Kike Arnal.

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Doug shaves in the morning in the encampment of the San Pablo Creek. City of San Pablo, Contra Costa. Image credit: Kike Arnal.

With these photos, those who do not think about the daily lives of our neighbors without houses, are forced to confront familiar aspects of home where we do not want to see them.  To me this is the power art can have. Art often redirects our attention where we did not intend it to go, where we may not want to go.  Artists have the capacity to shift our vision, allowing us to see what was previously hidden, obscured or ignored. I do not know how the housing crisis will play out, but I look at Arnal’s photos and feel that my fate is connected to the subjects in these photographs.


About the Contributor: Saneta Devuono-Powell is a proud mother, writer, and Oakland resident.  Formerly an experimental filmmaker turned lawyer, her current day job involves city planning and public health, and her passion is thinking creatively about how to tackle social injustice.  She now focuses that energy on preserving affordable housing in the Quixotean hope that the Oakland she loves will not disappear.


Omar Mismar: internet artifact #01 (Oum Ahmad)

I had already booked my ticket to Lebanon to see family and friends when I received the invitation to contribute to this year’s Open Engagement’s blog. I set up my mind that I would work on something that involves the Syrian refugee camp in Bekaa, where my parents live and where I grew up, 30 minutes away from the Syrian border. It seemed pertinent to explore what power means in such a desperate and explicitly political context. In the three weeks of familial, gastronomical, libidinal, and professional indulgence, I did not visit the camp.

The anecdotal predisposition of this text, hitherto and hereafter, takes its alibi from the form prescribed on the invited contributions: a blog. Therefore, this is me blogging.

On the last day at my parent’s house, a Monday, before coming back to San Francisco, guilt and anxiety around the unfulfilled project crept in. It was too late to visit the camp, let alone create work for the blog. Mondays are my mother’s militant cleaning days after typical weekends of “throngs and detritus,” as described by her OCD tendencies. Oum Ahmad is the woman my mom recruited to help clean the house.

“Where is she from?” I asked.

“Syria, a refugee” mother replied.

An attempted inquiry into power and its dynamics unfolding elsewhere, in the refugee camp, was already at play here, at my parent’s house. With a couple of hours left before departing, I headed towards the kitchen.

I learned about Oum Ahmad as I was asking her some of the questions posed by this year’s OE’s curator René de Guzman. Yes, I fled from responding to the questions myself and took refuge in a Syrian refugee’s answers, whose conditions brought her to my parent’s kitchen. This is not a devaluation of the profession of house cleaning, or its essentializing as always already powerless, but a questioning of the conditions of power that allow one and deny one to make a choice, and the dynamics that ensue. The uncomfortable unasked for privilege and power position I found myself in was unwavering. No, we do not have the same status. Mine is a refuge in verbose, the most it could do is bring a work, a debate, to life; hers is a refuge in silence, the least it could do is preserve her life.

What form will this interview/Q&A/(failed) guilt catharsis take?

Over and again, the menacing, begging, challenging, and indispensible question of form, particularly vis-à-vis the constellation of practices we dub social practice, public practice, socially engaged projects, participatory art…

I was armed with an iPhone, and I shot Oum Ahmad using my phone’s camera. “Shot on iPhone 6” was Apple’s latest campaign on its state-of-the-art phone camera, that empowers its users to take seducing photographs wherever they are: a mountain top, a beach, by a lake, on a rooftop, in a forest … Syrians are also being shot on iPhone 6, 5, 4, and all the android family. The Syrian war presents a curious precarious visual case where the archive, far from a unidirectional tendency, is growing through the voluntarily contribution of multitudes and proxies, with different affiliations, perspectives, and phones.

I was chatting with my sister and she pointed me to an emerging form in documentary image making: citizen journalism. The term and the field growing under it beg for elaboration that these lines cannot entertain for the time being. But what’s worth highlighting is the kinship between citizen journalism and social practice, particularly in how the former is also coupled with the buzz terms public, participatory, democratic, guerrilla, or street.

Shot on iPhone 4, the video below is not citizen journalism because Oum Ahmad is citizenless. A last refuge: in God for her, in the form of an internet artifact for me.


Omar Mismar is a visual artist born in Lebanon. He holds a BFA in Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut. After moving to San Francisco on a Fulbright scholarship, he completed an MFA in Fine Arts-Social Practice and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts. Mismar worked as a graphic designer at Mind the gap, the Beirut-based design studio with a varied portfolio in designing publications, campaigns, cultural projects, and exhibitions. He was a participating artist, designer, and co-editor for the book Queer Geographies: Beirut Tijuana Copenhagen. Mismar taught at the department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut in 2011-2012. Currently, he is a practicing artist teaching at the University of San Francisco and California College of the Arts.


Sarah Farahat: They Need Us More Than We Need Them*

Essentially, most definitions of power include two positions: one’s ability to act or one’s ability to act upon. Our media fills us with stories of the latter; of the impending Snowpocalypse, of suicide bombs and drone strikes, of police violence. We rarely truly feel the power of acting, not upon our bodies but with our bodies. Of course acting upon someone includes the ability to act, but are they necessarily bound together? Can I act without acting upon?

I keep ruminating on the work of a young artist who now goes by “Trav.” We recently showed together in Southern Exposure’s Crank show. I didn’t meet him at the opening, in fact we still have not met, but in a sea of seemingly disparate work, his piece floated to the surface.

 

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The Reality of Brutality from Abuse of Authority, Trav, Acrylic, 31” x 33,” 2015. Photo credit: Leigh Stackpole.

I saw (and continue to see) a disturbing emotive depiction of a young man being brutalized by the police. Just as when I see a rape scene in a movie or some other traumatic display of violence in a fictionalized setting, the painting made me wonder just as much about the author as the image.

Upon getting home that night, I found an emotional email by Trav’s mother thanking me for my work in the show and wishing that we could have met at the opening. She shared with me the story of Trav’s art piece: that her son Trav, a young man of color, was arbitrarily questioned and then assaulted by plainclothes San Francisco police late one night in April, and that after the encounter Trav was understandably affected and maybe most strikingly, felt the need to disassociate from his given name which had been uttered by the police during the attack.

I went back to my original question, who has the power here? Who is acting, and who is being acted upon? Well, of course in the moment, power lay in the hands of some racist cops. However, in painting his experience, getting accepted to the annual juried Southern Exposure show, and speaking to people at the show about his work and his experience, Trav acted. He chose, was compelled or simply did; transmuting his reality one brushstroke at a time. Now, has he shifted the power dynamic between people of color and the police? My answer would be no, not really. But what about recognizing the less visible forms of power that amass bit by bit, like bees building a comb? In meditation we sometimes talk about our thoughts as grooves in a record and that the more you think in one way, the deeper the groove is cut in the LP. I would argue that Trav’s impulse to paint his trauma for the world to see, began by first cutting a powerful new groove.

As an artist with a fondness for objects working in the realm of social engagement, I look at Trav’s piece as a marriage of two worlds that sometimes seem at odds with each other. The power in this situation, or of this painting, was illuminating a path for Trav to reclaim his experience, to share it with others and to slowly piece back together the parts shattered by violence. **

My hope for our time together at Open Engagement is that we continue to question how our creative practices function in relationship to structures of power; how we can challenge those structures of power within the content or materials of the work, or in our dealings with the institutions that validate themselves through us–that we understand the slippery nature of power, that it exists and has qualities that enliven us as well as the ability to take life away–that we become aware of our own power and the power of others in every instant, and use our awareness creatively to adapt and shape our own realities.

Sarah Farahat

January 2016

*Title borrowed from a speech by Arudhati Roy.

**Trav has also filed a lawsuit through the ACLU to shed light on his case and to stand amongst millions of people who, for various reasons, struggle to feel safe, respected and powerful in their own bodies. His piece is priced at $953 to honor the passage of AB953


Sarah Farahat is an artist living and working in Oakland, California. Her practice explores the position of the body within sociopolitical landscapes. Learning about and participating in grass-roots struggles for liberation and self-determination inform her work.