Month: November 2008

Yes.

Politics. Economy. Art.

One of my favourite pastimes is pouring over the weekend papers amidst steaming cups of tea, with Go or Michael Enright on in the background, nibbling away on bits of toast, egg, bacon or waffles. It was with great interest and more than a little sadness that I read the story of Zakariya Zubeidi in Saturday’s edition of The Globe and Mail:

It was the hardest decision of Zakariya Zubeidi’s life. Slightly more than a year ago, the powerful commander of Jenin’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, one of Israel’s most-wanted for plotting shooting attacks and suicide bombings, walked into a Palestinian security office and handed in his gun.

At 32, he had concluded bitterly that his fight had failed. And he had another ambition: to deter this poverty-stricken camp’s children away from the path of violence by rebuilding a children’s theatre destroyed in the last intifada.

Offered, along with other gunmen, a rare amnesty from Israel, he spent time in a Palestinian jail and swore to remain unarmed. On his release, he pledged to dedicate his time to the Freedom Theatre’s workshops and performances, trying to recreate his own boyhood experiences in drama thanks to the work of a Jewish-Israeli peace activist.

But today his past has caught up with him, illustrating the difficulty of starting a new life after one of violence. The theatre, now thriving under the direction of the original founder’s son, does not want him there for fear that he will scare off much-needed foreign donors in the theatre’s quest to expand.

I wonder if anyone in the Canadian theatre world could imagine this happening. We all understand the importance of keeping benefactors happy, and resorting to sometimes-questionable measures to keep its members happy. Juliano Mer Khamis’ has a point about fearing Zubeidi’s association with the theatre; it may truly harm their reputation, their chances of fundraising, and indeed, their physical safety. Still, to isolate someone whose whole being seems so entirely bound up with theatre feels… horribly sad. Isn’t part of art’s purpose to enlighten? Even re-reading it now, the story puts the role and significance of theatre –and its relationship to politics -in a whole new light.

At a time when artists need to stick together, cultivate community and spread awareness, it’s heartbreaking to see possibilities being ripped asunder by politics and nationalism. I don’t know what kind of a suggestion to offer here, but I’m so grateful to the Globe for publishing this story. Yet another example of how art impacts life, and life impacts art.

In that vein, it was with great interest that I read Mark Vallen’s blog this morning about the impact the global recession could have on the livelihoods and outputs of visual artists. While it’s tempting to tut-tut at art’s role in harsh economic times, it’s equally apt to suppose that (to twist a phrase) “art is the mother of necessity.” History would seem to bear out the fact that harsh economic reality tends to yield some wonderful stuff –and that stuff, whether it takes the form of painting, sculpture, performance, writing or otherwise, is a reflection, examination, and exploration of the economic reality we all face.

Hardship knows no bounds; conversely, its unbound nature allows its expression in many creative outlets. And there’s something reassuring about that.

Beauty & Possibility


beauty, originally uploaded by catekustanczi.

Taking a break from preparing for a busy Monday, I reviewed photos taken recently. Thanks to a friend, and much practise, I’ve learned to master my digital SLR (I was an old-school manual film SLR devotee for decades, you see), but I must admit, despite the technical know-how and configuring, sometimes the best things happen accidentally. Whether it’s in photos, art -or even in new connections and fresh opportunities – happy accidents have a lasting impact.

More than ever, I’m becoming convinced accidents are some kind of cosmic grace. Hmm.

Oh, by the way… I’ve since brought the cyclamen (pictured) inside, and though it took a while to adjust, it’s doing rather nicely in its new home.

Isn’t It Ironic… No Really, It Is.


I think even Russell Smith would agree that there was a more than a fair share of irony at work this week in Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his new cabinet posed before a huge work of art, done by one of Canada’s best and most recognized artists, Norval Morrisseau. I don’t doubt the appreciation some Conservatives (or politicians of other parties) might have for the work, but to have Harper sitting in the front row, grinning beside Governor-General Michaelle Jean, was quite funny.

You might recall Harper’s mid-election statement referring to artists and their “galas”, saying it “doesn’t resonate with ordinary Canadians” and equating culture with elitism. Hmm. Adding to the irony (or just plain absurdity) is 1/ the fact that Morrisseau was a native artist (and, uh, you may recall the Conservatives’ stance on the Kelowna Accord); 2/ the title of said painting is called Androgyny (and most people are aware of the Conservatives’ stand on gay marriage, right?). I don’t mean to draw lines where there may indeed be none -but all this gives one (or at least me) food for thought.

I’m happy to see this painting being so prominently displayed for all Canadians to enjoy, and frankly, I’m glad Mme. Jean brought it to Rideau Hall. I’m even more proud to see the most recently voted-in government standing before it. I hope they turned around afterwards and had a good look. Art isn’t merely decorative. In Norval Morrisseau’s case, it was his life.

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