Monday, December 9, 2013

Update Regarding Affiliation with Peaceful Streets

Due to the volume of press releases written by the Peaceful Streets Project, the Austin City Police Department, along with articles, and other online references to my arrest with the Peaceful Streets Project, I want to clarify that I have not been a part of the organization since November 2012. I believe in the general mission of police accountability activism, but since my departure from the organization I have not and do not endorse the methodology or tactics of the Peaceful Streets Project.  All press releases regarding my experiences and my arrest with the organization were written without my consent or consultation. Additionally, I have not and do not authorize anyone from the organization to speak on my behalf.
Thank you.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lalla Essaydi: Reclaiming Identity

Lalla Essaydi was born in 1956 in Marrakesh, Morocco, where she spent her childhood.  She grew up in a harem, and her father had 11 wives, of which her mother was the youngest. For high school, she traveled to France, where she received some basic fine arts education. She married and moved to Saudi Arabia, where she focused on her family for the next twenty years.  Essaydi divorced her husband, but continued to live in Saudi Arabia until she moved to Paris after her children were grown to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  Shen then relocated to Boston, MA, where she received a BFA from Tufts University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston in 2003.   For the vast majority of her life, Essaydi lived in Arab countries, yet her perspective is strongly influenced by her experiences living and studying in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States.

While at art school in France and in the United States, Essaydi was exposed to the Orientalist paintings of 19th-century French artists such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Eugène Delacroix.  She recalls laughing at the scenes she saw depicted of women in harems, but was then shocked when she realized her Western colleagues had internalized these images as actual depictions of Arab women.  Although she focused on painting in art school, Essaydi was inspired to reclaim the identity of Arab women through photography.  To expose what she emphasizes as the Western male fantasy of Arab women, she focuses on and defines three main themes in her photographic work: the odalisque, the harem, and the veil.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814
In her 2003-2004 series, “Converging Territories,” Essaydi directly confronts what she views as the degradation of Arab women in Orientalist painting.  Here we see a transformation of the Odalisque, a word derived from the Turkish term odalik, which means to belong to a place.

Lalla Essaydi, Grande Odalisque, 2008, from “Femmes du Maroc”
Calligraphy in Morocco is strictly reserved for males, and the use of Henna, a popular plant-based dye, is traditionally applied on a woman during the various celebrations in her life–For example, coming of age rituals, marriage, and birth.  By fusing these two polarized and gender specific techniques, she challenges the boundaries between traditional Arab male and female identity.

Another theme Essaydi examines is that of the harem and how the term harem itself can refer either the group of women, or the architectural space of a house reserved for women.  Visually, she manipulates this dual definition by blending these women into the architecture around them. For her “Harem” series, she specially designed the fabric of her model’s garments to blend into the architectural patterning around them, playing with the question of where precisely women belong.  The answer to this implicit question is typically that women belong in domestic spaces. The harem itself addresses issues of public versus private space in traditional Islamic culture. Women are traditionally associated with and confined to domestic spaces, and men are associated with public spaces.  Essaydi and Moroccan sociologist, Fatema Mernissi, argue that even interior Islamic ornament and architecture speak to the confinement of women (1).

Lalla Essaydi, Harem #2, 2009
Lalla Essaydi, Harem #14C, 2009

Essaydi emphasizes this psychological confinement of women in her compositions. Essaydi argues that the veil is yet another representation of private space for women. (2)

Lalla Essaydi, Converging Territories #26, 2003
Lalla Essaydi
Les Femmes du Maroc: Moorish Woman, 2008

Although Essaydi criticizes the Western male fantasy of Orient, she also mentions her appreciation for at least some level of beauty captured in their paintings, and it is precisely that beauty of her culture that she says she wants to capture and promote. Essaydi emphasizes that she speaks for herself and thinks it would be naïve to say she could speak for all Arab women but that she hopes the work still speaks to all Arab women in some capacity.

1. Mernissi, Fatema., and Lalla Essaydi. Les Femmes du Maroc. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse Books, 2009.

Mernissi writes a text specifically for Essaydi’s exhibition “Les Femmes du Maroc,” in which she places Essaydi’s work in the historical context of female communication in Morocco.  She compares Essaydi’s subversive use of writing to the cleverness of Scheherazade’s storytelling in an era that sought to silence women.  She also addresses contemporary issues of consumerism and Essaydi’s work in resisting globalization and her ability to reclaim female agency and confidence.

Essaydi writes an Artist Statement similar to that in Converging Territories, but she elaborates more on spatial relationships and questions Western influence on the repression of Arab women.  She expands more on her own geographic position in the world, and how her fluidity between different West and Arab countries influences her art.

2.Mernissi, Fatema. Beyond the Veil : Male-female Dynamics in a Muslim Society. London: Saqi Books, 2011. (accessed November 25, 2012)

In her New Introduction, Mernissi discusses contemporary discourse in France surrounding Muslim women who wear the veil and argues against this Western conception of women in veils as “victims.”  This is relevant to what Essaydi is also trying to address in the problematic use of the veil in Islamic culture and how she depicts the veil in her work.  “The Meaning of Spatial Boundaries” is incredibly important in discussing the psycho-sexual boundaries of Arab men and women, particularly how those boundaries are constructed in Islamic architecture.  This historical and contemporary analyses of the division between private and public spaces in Arab countries helps explain Essaydi’s depicted space in her photography.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Defying the Gender Binary: A Comparative Feminist Analysis of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and Rrose Sélavy PART I


The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même) is perhaps Marcel Duchamp’s most complex conceptual oeuvre. Because of its ambiguity and radical deconstruction of sexual relations, of desire, of gender identity, and of identity in general, it is challenging to formulate a coherent feminist analysis. Paradoxically, Duchamp created this work based on a definite binary of sexual desire, yet he compromises this binary by adopting a female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy. What does gender identity mean to an artist who devoted years to constructing a work of binary sexual desire yet who fused genders through his own performance of a feminine identity?  I argue that Duchamp held a radical stance on the deconstruction of gender long before many postmodern feminist scholars, and his ability to not only adopt a female alter ego, but to have it accepted and lauded by his otherwise sexist colleagues is a testament to his clever genius and stature as an artist.

To grasp the feminist paradoxes in The Bride Stripped Bare, I will begin by analyzing Duchamp’s use of a masculine and feminine binary.  The first indication that the Bride retains a stereotypically passive ‘feminine’ position is in the title of the work itself. She is the Bride Stripped. Despite Duchamp’s laborious notes, the French title and English translation indicate that she is the recipient of a gesture, not the actor.  In the French title, “La mariée” is definitely feminine, as it is worth noting that the French language employs masculine and feminine nouns and pronouns. We know from the rest of the title that the Bride is “stripped bare by her bachelors.”  These bachelors represent the actors in this scenario, a stereotypically ‘masculine’ role, as it is by them that the Bride is stripped.

The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)
Marcel Duchamp
created from Duchamp's notes by Jean Suquet (includes parts never completed). (Courtesy of Jean Suquet.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried


In her body of work, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried,” Carrie Mae Weems exposes the subjective nature of historical photography as it serves to stereotype Black subjects.  Weems shows through this collection of 33 chromogenic prints of appropriated photographs how the narrative of African American history is skewed in favor of a white hegemonic perspective.  Through her repatriation of early photographs, we see how attempts at portraying African people served to prove their inferiority and to justify white dominance.  By fusing photographs with more contemporary words, music, and popular culture references, Weems picks apart African American history, or lack thereof, to create a new, more empowering narrative.

Carrie Mae Weems grew up in Portland, Oregon and left at the age of seventeen to become a Marxist activist and later a dancer in Anna Halprin’s progressive San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop.  For her twenty-first birthday she received a camera and began studying documentary photography while experimenting with her own work. She received a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography from the California Institute of the Arts in 1981 and then a master of arts degree in 1984 from the University of California, San Diego. She also pursued graduate studies in African folkore. This fusion of folklore and photography is evident in “From Here I Saw What Happened”  through Weems’s use of appropriated photographs and through her narrative etchings on the glass in front of each image.

In 1995, The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles invited Carrie Mae Weems to create “From Here I Saw what Happened and I Cried” as a response to a previous exhibition in 1992 on African Americans in photography. This exhibition, entitled “Hidden Witness,” sprang from a study of the Getty Museum’s holding of mid-nineteenth-century photography.  One of the original curators, Weston Naff, recalls, “Considering the potential interest and importance of the subject of African Americans around the time of the abolition of slavery, we wondered why there had never been an exhibition or book devoted to portraits of black people...” "Hidden Witness" was inspired by one of the photographs A Family Seated in its Garden, a charming scene of a white family until one notices a forlorn African man alone in the back, left-hand corner, resting on his shovel. The photographs in “Hidden Witness” were displayed in individual, velvet-lined cases in a dark gallery, evoking the exhibition title and the feeling of something hidden.
Daguerrotype of white family with African American man in background.
The Hidden Witness
c.1848Image Credit: Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
 "From Here I Saw What Happened" starts and ends with two royal Mangbetu women who act as bookends to the exhibition and who bear witness to the story.  The first four striking images commence Weems’s larger narrative. The first image of a profile of a bare-breasted, Black, woman reads “YOU BECAME A SCIENTIFIC PROFILE”. The second image, of an older Black man staring straight at the viewer, reads “A NEGROID TYPE”. The third photograph, of a younger Black man, has “AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL DEBATE” etched across his chest, and the fourth photograph , of a nude woman with the end of her long breasts cupped by the encircling frame has “& A PHOTOGRAPHIC SUBJECT” scratched across her shoulders. They are all recently rediscovered and now well-known appropriated daguerreotypes from a nineteenth-century study conducted by Harvard University scientist, Louis Agassiz, who commissioned daguerreotypist Joseph T. Zealy to compose these photographs.

From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried
Louis Agassiz, a celebrated biologist, emigrated from Switzerland in 1846 to work at Harvard University.  It is not clear what peaked his interest in analyzing African American slaves, but in 1850 he commissioned fifteen daguerreotypes to be created of slaves from various African tribes. Alfred came from the Foulah tribe, Jem from the Gullah, Fassena from the Mandingo, two sets of fathers and daughters: Jack and Drana from Guinea, and Renty and Delia from Congo. Agassiz’s objectives in taking these daguerreotypes were to analyze and differentiate physical characteristics of European White and African Black people to prove the superiority of the white race.  The photographs were intended for scientific purposes, and through the evolutionary theory of polygenesis, Agassiz sought to prove that Africans were in fact, a separate species altogether. Agassiz claimed that his attempt to analyze Black bodies had no political motivation, but his claims on polygenesis were popular among southern scientists trying to prove the inferiority of the African American slave. In a letter to his mother, Agassiz wrote about his first interaction with a Black man, “...they are not of the same blood as us.  In seeing their black faces with their thick lips and grimacing teeth, the wool on their head, their bent knees, their elongated hands, their large curved nails, and especially the livid color of their palms, I could not take my eyes off their face in order to tell them to stay far away.”

Perhaps the most striking aspect of these first four photographs of “From Here I Saw What Happened,” is the silence of the subjects.  As slaves, they had no choice but to sit for the photograph anywhere from five to sixty minutes for the exposure, and it is unknown whether they recognized the implications of their participation.  Weems’s etched words onto the glass are almost soothing, as if she recognizes the roles these subjects were forced to play.  In doing so, we as the viewer consuming these images, cannot just sit and wallow in our voyeuristic discomfort, but can join in on recognizing the injustice of being subjected to a pseudoscientific experiment designed to rob someone of their very humanity.

Neither photograph, nor archival system remains completely objective.  Although Agassiz and others insisted that their work was apolitical, it is clear that it was just as political then as it is now.  Harvard University threatened to sue Weems for the appropriation of Zealy’s daguerreotypes in their collection. During an interview for Art21, Weems recalled thinking, “So I thought Harvard’s going to sue me for using these images of Black people in their collection–The richest university in the world. I think that maybe I don’t have a legal case, but I have a moral case that could be made that could be really useful to carry out in public.”  She told Harvard, “I think you suing me is a really good thing, and we should have this conversation in court.”  Weems states that she wanted to be able to set a precedent for other artists who worked with appropriation in the belief that there is more of the story to tell. Paradoxically, Harvard ended up not suing her and actually purchased her photographs for their own collection. 

Weems is not only repatriating these images, she is recuperating these images. Instead of the fetishization of a small, private daguerreotype, Weems enlarges and hangs the photographs.  The images are no longer contained in personal, covered daguerreotypes, they are featured in an exhibition setting.  In “From Here I Saw What Happened,” Weems exposes the exaggerated depictions of Black bodies and communicates the irony of Black subservient roles and stereotypes. As Brian Wallis wrote at the conclusion of his article Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz’s Slave Daguerreotypes,  “Weems viewed their lives empathetically from a black point of view. She saw these men and women not as representatives of some typology but as living, breathing ancestors. She made them portraits.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Teresa Margolles: Death in Mexico and the War on Drugs

“According to the Mexican press,” writes Mexican curator and art critic Cuauhtémoc Medina, “More bullets were fired in 2008 than any other year of the country’s recent history.”  According to statistics, more than 5,000 people died in connection to drug trafficking, almost twice as many victims as the year previous.  The United States Department of Defense published a report promoting the idea that Mexico’s sudden upsurge of violence was due to its gang population.  This report was refuted by Mexican diplomats, and the United States developed a more placatory statement, acknowledging greater North America’s role in the violence.  Even after Mexican troops were sent to the border to quell the violence, over 1,900 died in executions, decapitations, and shoot-outs at the beginning of 2009. Writes Medina, "…What Richard Nixon called the 'drug war' has proved to be the most ineffectual campaign in history. Its sole achievement has been the encouragement of an ever larger market for ever cheaper 'illegal substances' – and, of course, a towering mountain of corpses… As Luis Astorga has pointed out…'the real goal of this alleged war seems to be its own perpetuation.'” 

In 2009, Medina collaborated with artist Teresa Margolles to work on an installation for the Venice Biennale. For decades, Mexico did not have an official pavilion and artists did not consistently exhibit at this international art fair.  It was revolutionary that Medina and Margolles represented Mexico in this year and executed such a politically charged installation entitled, ¿De qué otra cosa podríamos hablar? (What Else Could We Talk About?) In What Else Could We Talk About Margolles forces the international audience to face the reality of violence in Mexico.  Using the interior of the Rota Ivancich Palace, Margolles installed a group of cleaners to once a day mop the floors of the building with a mixture of water and blood of murdered people from Mexico. When the viewer enters these rooms, the reason why the area is being cleaned is ambiguous and mysterious, but the act of cleaning itself shows that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  The repetitive, domestic chore of mopping is to clean up routine and accumulated filth as well as the innocuous accidents of spills.  Margolles’s use of repetitive mopping prompts the viewer to ask, what’s wrong?  What happened?  What is it that is being corrected?  The silence itself is overwhelming. When the viewer realizes that the mopping is a futile attempt at cleaning and that over time these layers of blood are actually accumulating, it is clear that something is not only wrong, it is getting worse. 

Margolles uses fabric impregnated with the blood from victims of Mexico’s violence.  Once the body is removed, and the crime scene investigation is complete, Margolles cleans the blood-stained area with damp rags, absorbing the blood into the cloth.  In Venice, she took this fabric and turned it into flags that she hung outside and inside of the pavilion.  Flags are nationalistic in nature, so hanging this blood-soaked flag outside of the Mexican pavilion is a way of exposing the country’s political violence, and emphasizing the guilt of her country in these ongoing murders. Furthering her act of cleaning, Margolles took these flags and submerged them in the waters of Lido Beach, Venice.  Mexico is saturated with the blood of its dead, but it is at the same time trying to rid itself of the violence, to hide it. 
Teresa Margolles, United States Pavilion, Venice, 2009
Bruce Nauman, Venice, 2009
In direct dialogue with the United States, Margolles took these blood-soaked fabrics, and installed them over the windows of the United States pavilion, at the heart of the Venice Biennale.  With this act, she acknowledges and confronts the United States’ role and guilt in border violence.  Like Macbeth as he vainly tries to wash his hands clean of the blood of his victim, Margolles tells the United States that the country cannot wash its hands clean of this blood.  Inside might be the comparatively whimsical work of Bruce Nauman, who would win the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for his country, but Margolles’s action is a sobering reminder of the nation’s political dominance and corruption.  As Medina said, "…Presenting her work in Venice also seeks to confront the global system's demagoguery, which continues to operate based on stylistic, linguistic, thematic and material exclusions, where the reference point of the center is never absent. In spite of numerous difficulties, and of every kind, that were involved in doing this pavilion, I always had a precise idea in mind: if an artist like Teresa Margolles can't realize her work at the Venice Biennial, then perhaps the Biennial ought not to exist."

Medina, Cuahtémoc. Teresa Margolles: What Else Could We Talk About? RM. 2010.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Surveillance, Sousveillance, and Filming the Police

On November 5, 2012, The Humanities Institute and the Hoffman Lectureship presented “Surveillance, Space, and the Public” as part of their Difficult Dialogues series.  The panelists included Dr. Simone Browne of the University of Texas Department of Sociology, Micha Cárdenas, an artist and PhD student in Media Arts and Practice at the University of Southern California, and Ernesto Yerena, a prominent artist and activist.  The panelists presented issues of racial, sexual, gender, and cultural identities in their academic and artistic work and the relevance of these identities to state control and surveillance.

Dr. Browne spoke first on the concept of “sousveillance,” and the connection of historical surveillance to racial prejudice and profiling.  She noted how certain populations, such as African Americans, are tracked, policed, and discriminated against both in public and private spaces, and how their personal data, privacy, and security are compromised.  This is true both with the New York Police Department’s Stop-and-Frisk policies, and in the history of Lantern Laws. To resist this surveillance and control, Browne discussed “sousveillance,” and how victims endure by adopting, subverting, resisting, and complying with existing institutions.

“How can the past allow us to ask questions about our present?” Asked Browne.  Our social locations and our categories of identities help frame how we think about surveillance.  She quoted John Fiske discussing the technology “of whiteness that draws lines that blacks cannot cross and whites cannot see.”  To understand our present surveillance system and issues surrounding racial profiling and oppression, Browne suggested we look at slavery and laws that framed Black life, such as the Lantern Laws that appeared after a slave revolt: "No Negro, Malatto [sic] or Indian slave shall be found in any of the Streets of this City… without a lantern and lighted candle in it so as the light thereof may be plainly seen… in such case it shall be lawful for any of his Majesty's Subjects within the said city to apprehend such slave or slaves not having such lantern and candle."  Those that were discovered were punished with public whippings if they failed to light themselves at night.

At a time when New York City was second to Charleston, South Carolina for it’s urban slave population, newspapers ran Runaway Ads to describe runaway slaves.  Browne used these advertisements to examine how slaves were described and how the public was taught to track them down. Browne also identified the success of Ellen Craft, a runaway slave who dressed in drag to pass as a man, and used her light skin and additional make-up to pass for white.  She told people that her husband, who had much darker skin, was her slave, and thus they were both able to subvert these systems of surveillance and hide in plain sight. 

Today, activists subvert police surveillance, such as the NYPD’s discriminatory Stop-and-Frisk, by filming the police and noting instances of police abuse and misconduct.  Over four million stops have been made by the NYPD to randomly search civilians, and 90 percent of the people stopped were Black and Latino, when Black and Latino New Yorkers are the minority in many of these communitiesBrowne introduced the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Stop-and-Frisk Watch App, which New Yorkers can download on a smartphone to record and immediately report stops.  This technology empowers civilians to perform “sousveillance” of police in their communities.

Micha Cárdenas, a media artist and activist, introduced Michel de Certeau’s theory of “la perruque” to analyze theories of subversion, “We’re given something, but we don’t have to do what we’re supposed to do with it.”  To understand surveillance, she argued, we need to think about who is watching whom and how surveillance is continually used to watch and control indigenous populations.  She argued that not only are racial categories necessary in understanding surveillance, but gender is also integral in understanding race.

One of her collaborative projects, the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab, released Poetry, Immigration and the FBI: The Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT). This five year project distributed recycled cell phones to people trying to cross the border, who needed to find water sources.  Recipients had the option of listening to poetry related to surviving in the dessert while they were guided to appropriate water supplies.  The project ended up being investigated by the government, and Cárdenas quipped that the government wasted far more money trying to see if they broke the law, than the $8,000 grant they completed TBT with.

As a transgendered woman, Cárdenas spoke of her desire to start working within her own community, revealing that she “didn’t feel safe walking home most nights.”  Her latest collaborative project is called Local Autonomy Networks (Autonets), and is developing networks of communication to link women, LGBTQI people, people of color, and other vulnerable groups. Using hoodies, people can transmit signals to others wearing these hoodies whenever they are being harassed.  Cárdenas listed prison abolition and avoiding the police and further surveillance as vital to protecting and empowering these communities.  Currently she is experimenting with these garments in performance art pieces.
Ernesto Yerena, another artist in this panel, discussed his work in terms of humanizing immigrant populations, and resisting police authority. His posters depict politically charge portraits juxtaposed against images of war and accompanied by illustrative captions.  One of his posters was designed in response to Occupy Wall Street, and depicts a Native man with the caption “Decolonize Wall Street,” in response to the oppressive, colonizing concept of an occupation. Another image boldly declares, “No Somos Immigrantes En Nuestra Tierra!!!!” 

Yerena discussed his negative perception of the police, recounting how in his community, they would never stop and aid during something even as serious as a drive-by shooting.  Another one of his works Alto Arizona, is a response to the Arizona law SB 1070, which would allow police to have access Federal databases of people, which would lead to racial profiling and more surveillance issues.  For this image, he used the image of a thumbprint to illustrate the shape of Arizona State.

There were major underlying themes in this panel, such as concern with the prison industrial complex and its link to slavery, racial, and sexual oppression.  Each speaker presented how issues of racial, sexual, cultural, and gender identities were integral in their academic and art work. The way in which our contemporary culture considers state repression must take into account how the history of the politics of identity frame surveillance issues.  Who is being controlled, and why? The links between surveillance studies, sousveillance activism, and art as intervention are inextricable and all equally vital in catalyzing radical social change.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Strength to Love: The Legacy of MLK, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., PhD, an unbeatable leader in social activism, embraced contradictions.  He was frequently put in positions of power and influence, but he sought to be humble and to use his words to heal and empower.  He was revered, and his word taken at face value, but he never stopped pushing his intellect and educating himself to draw conclusions. He had every opportunity to become a self-obsessed, egomaniac, or to consider himself a martyr, but he spent his time in self-reflective thought and repentant prayer.  I cannot envision a more ideal leader in the activist community, than someone committed to nonviolent direct action out of love.  To be nonviolent in the face of opposition takes so much courage and takes a greater understanding of the merits of love.  I use this entry to re-publish  MLK, Jr.'s words as compiled in his book, Strength to Love.

My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.

To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Response to My Arrest on September 21st, 2012

I was arrested early morning on Friday, September 21, 2012 and charged with "Interference with Public Duties" for filming the arrest of a comrade attempting to film an Austin Police Department investigation and arrest.  Although my primary focus in activism is on the Occupy Wall Street movement, I've been increasingly involved in the Peaceful Streets Project, an organization dedicated to holding police accountable for their often violent and unlawful actions. 

After witnessing first-hand instances of police brutality against activists and the lies police departments spread to the mainstream media and in the court system to justify their unlawful and unethical behavior, I became involved in citizen journalism.  My job?  To film, photograph, and disseminate on social media the actions of my fellow activists and their arrests, in case they need this documentation.

Filming the police is integral in protecting the legal rights of activists, and it levels the playing field.  In an arrest, the police hold all power, and we must submit to the arrest, to the police brutality, to the devastating effects of the prison system on our humanity, and then we pray that we have enough money and a decent enough lawyer to get us through the legal system.  The right to film the police is the least of what we could and should be asking for. There will never be justice on scene or in the media again if we are not free to document and film those in power and to hold them accountable. What we are doing in the Peaceful Streets Project has intersectional implications, all of which rely on our First Amendment rights to free speech and to freedom of the press.  How our court cases play out will affect free speech and free press rights for all.

My favorite chant in the Occupy Movement is, "We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!" We need to continue investigating the history of municipal police forces and to not be afraid to examine weaknesses in our current judicial systems and prison industrial complexes.  We need to ask ourselves if there is a better way to form our communities, to love our neighbors, and to care for the most vulnerable and suffering among us. When we are positive that those in power are accountable to The People, only then can we call them public servants.

In jail, I wrote invisible prayers with my finger on my cell wall, asking for my freedom because writing is at the heart of how I understand life and our human pursuit of truth.  In the same way, I feel compelled to document situations of oppression and abuse of power in order to restore the feelings of love and community in our world.  I write to communicate the necessity of anti-oppression work and of the need for the activists in the Peaceful Streets Project and in activist movements worldwide, dedicated to the empowerment of all human beings and to the restoration of our humanity. Please bear witness.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Being an Ally (under construction)

Let me preface this by saying I don't feel 100% qualified to teach anybody on how to be an ally.  I still make mistakes and piss off the people I love.  If you're coming to a place where you realize things are messed up and are starting to see for yourself that "privilege" isn't just an insult people are hurling at you, but a real, personal obstacle you're facing in fighting for a more just society, it's a great time to start reading the basics of being an ally.

"How to Be an Ally if You Are a Person with Privilege"

"How to Be an Ally"

Or a quick check-list from

How to Be a Strong Ally to People with Marginalized Identities

  • Assume that oppression in some form is everywhere, everyday.
  • Notice how oppressions are denied, minimized, and justified.
  • Read books and articles to increase your understanding of, and sensitivity to, the needs, aspirations, and concerns of others.
  • Understand and learn from the history of racism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, etc.
  • Understand the connections between oppressions, economic issues, and other forms of injustice.
  • Take a stand against injustice.
  • Be strategic. Decide what is important to challenge and what is not.
  • Intervene when someone disrespects or demeans another because of their race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, economic status, etc.
  • Support the leadership of people who have historically been oppressed.
  • Don’t do it alone. Build coalitions and networks, work with already established groups.
  • Talk with your children and other young people about oppression.
  • Work to bridge differences rather than insist on similarity of views.
  • Learn as much as you can about the shifting tactics of hate groups.
  • Don’t assume you know what’s best for an individual or group.
  • Listen to the stories, experiences, and voices of others.
  • Reflect on the impact of your own background and challenge your own cultural assumptions.
  • Notice who is the center of attention and who is the center of power.
  • Eliminate outdated and unhelpful terms such as “minority, oriental, handicapped, homo, etc.”
  • Write letters to the editors and management of newspapers, television and radio stations expressing support for efforts to reduce prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.
  • Notice and name dynamics of privilege and oppression that occur in coalitions.
  • Form partnerships with communities and congregations of color.
  • Work with advocacy groups for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people’s rights.
  • Connect service efforts with advocacy for economic justice.
  • Create accessible spaces and communities.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another World Is Possible: An appeal to the American people

At a recent panel in Cambridge following a screening of “Addiction Inc.,” a documentary on tobacco corporations’ scandals, I asked if anyone felt there were parallels between how the tobacco giants and more recently, corrupt financial institutions, fended for themselves in Congress.  A representative from Corporate Accountability International on the panel acknowledged some parallels but then added that “that’s what the Occupy movement is addressing.” I was flattered a major nonprofit thought we were doing just fine, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit uneasy. I’m sure folks at Occupy Wall Street are happy to address these issues of economic disparity and corporate greed through mass incarcerations, and Occupy Oakland is happy to take one for the team by repeatedly being doused with teargas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades, but I can’t help but think that from Boston to the Bay, we could use some help.

Six months ago, Occupy Boston held its first General Assembly (GA) in Dewey Square, attended by a conservative estimate of 1,000 people, and immediately pitched tents that night. The encampment was both beautiful and riddled with problems, but I couldn’t stay away.  There is something shockingly isolating about American culture and society, particularly in New England, but through the encampment and through nightly General Assemblies, Occupy Boston was building a community where people who shunned by society were lifted up, and spoon-fed populations were forced to confront their privilege.  We yelled at each other, we fed each other, we marched through the streets together, and around 2,000 people danced with us in the streets the night we faced eviction.  At 5:00 AM on December 10, 2011, our Dewey Square “Tent City” was evicted, and 46 protestors were arrested.
A group of Occupy Boston protestors who weren’t arrested stood outside of jails with a banner that read “We’re not going anywhere,” waiting for the release of their comrades.  Did we follow through with that statement?  Yes and no. We hosted GAs four times a week since then and held regular Working Group meetings.  The media largely lost interest, and now Occupy Boston is being discussed at academic conferences like an extinct species or sociology case study. Over the past few months of hibernation, we faced weak moments of activist cannibalism, in-fighting, unidentifiable frustration, and exhaustion.  We lost some major activists who were burnt-out, and the few of us who stuck it out are continually questioning our participation in the movement, which leads me to wonder:
Where are you?
“You are part of a global uprising,” read the first slide in a series of images the Occupy Boston Women’s Caucus projected on the side of a building in Copley Square on First Night, “A cry from the heart of the world.”  Currently this world is facing impending war on Iran, daily massacres in Syria, protesters being shot in Egypt’s uprisings, and our own President, who I voted for, signing into law inarguably unconstitutional legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act. Additionally, how did it slip under the American radar that the G-8 was moved from Chicago to the private, secret location of Camp David?   Before Occupy Boston, I thought the word “fascism” was needlessly thrown around by “anarchists,” but my six months of protesting have forced me to confront the reality that fascism in this country is no joke, and I’m sure the power-hungry, merciless sociopaths of the 1% are only relieved to watch Occupy let its guard down.
Occupy Boston is tired, and we are doing our best, and like any other activist throwing their heart into this movement while simultaneously working three jobs, I too am exhausted.  We are not some abstract group that claims to represent you, Boston, you are part of us.  You are the 99%.  Part of me wants so badly to crawl back into my college-educated, white girl privilege and ignore the injustices plaguing my neighbors, but what happens when those injustices come to my door with FBI badges and handcuffs?  Knowing that I’ll only have myself to blame keeps me fighting for this movement, but I and my dear Occupy Boston friends cannot do it alone.  Unless you and the 99% around the world take responsibility for this movement, I question Occupy’s ability to sustain itself. Protesting is the only act of resistance and power we as citizens of the United States of America still have, and it’s time for an American Spring.  Are you ready to join us?
**Originally published in the Weekly Dig, Boston and on March 21, 2012**

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wishlist for the Occupy Movement

Context: I originally wrote this in response to an Occupy Boston Women's Caucus email request to clarify what members wanted from the Women's Caucus. I realized that this is what I want from the entire Occupy Movement:

" Zero tolerance policy within the Women's Caucus and an official WC stance in Occupy Boston against:
1) Transphobia
2) Homophobia (this includes internalized sexism and making fun of "angry lesbians")
3) Sexual assault and harassment and victim-blaming
4) Racism
5) Ageism
6) Discrimination based on disability
7) Classism & hierarchy (It doesn't matter if you're director of la-di-da, or a writer for bla-di-bla, you have no say above your most disadvantaged peer)

And when these things are violated, the Women's Caucus takes a stance:
1) People are called out on their actions, not for who they are or, more appropriately, who we think they are.
2) We implement methods of restorative justice. We assume goodwill as much as possible, but do not ignore destructive behaviors or let them go.

Support of Women's Caucus members
1) We assume good faith
2) If we question an action, we make the best possible effort of contacting the person(s) involved to clarify.
3) If someone made a mistake or unknowingly did something wrong, we forgive
4) If someone intentionally did something wrong, see above.
5) If someone is being hurt by non-WC members of Occupy Boston, we listen and nurture and refrain from judgement.  We also note if this is a problem many women are experiencing and needs to be addressed. Then, see above.

Ideas: Progressive endorsement of feminism
1) Acknowledgement that Second Wave feminism is not the pinaccle of feminism.
2) Acknowledgement that the concept of "feminism" varies by culture and race etc.
3) Acknowledgement that men are also negatively impacted by sexism and misogyny and that the world would fundamentally be better off with the empowerment of women.
4) Occupy Boston is not just about banks for women, there are many other issues unique to women in this world.

Male allies
1) We allow male allies to be a part of Women's Caucus in some capacity
2) Heck, we start a Feminist Caucus.

Direct Action
1) We are not a Caucus that exists solely for emotional support, networking, socializing, and discussion. We:
2) Plan feminist and women-centric direct action.

-Sarah "

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Regarding Last Week's General Assembly (Occupy Boston)

The reaction I had to the safety proposal not passing last week was
not just about the events of last week.  Since the encampment at Dewey
began, I and countless other women and men have been made to feel
unsafe at the heart of a space we were using to effect positive social
changes.  I experienced small instances of sexual harassment but
acknowledge that I am generally a more assertive and insistent female
when it comes to fending off predators. At one point at the media
tent, a man I engaged in friendly conversation tried to shift the
conversation to what I was wearing, commenting on the neckline of my
shirt, and reaching out as if to grab me, at which point I backed
away, extended my hand to shake goodbye, and left the area.  At
another point, I was headed towards a Women's Caucus meeting at Dewey,
and as I was watching some pretty talented rappers on the front stage,
I started listening to their lyrics about "fucking bitches," and I
yelled thank you to them for all of their empowerment. I too had a
bizarre encounter with Raquelle, the level 3 sex offender in question,
in which she came up to me at a GA, ignored the friends I was talking
to and greeted me.  She asked for my name without introducing herself,
which I found odd, "Do I know you?"  I don't recall her fielding that
question, but I think I was standoffish enough for her to leave me be.
 It was the next week when a member of our community told me who she
was.  I got it. She was ID-ing me and possibly grooming me. The male
allies I had around me at the time agreed.

I may have been the only Women's Caucus member present for every
single General Assembly at which Sarah Barney's safety proposal was
read.  I sat through hours of intense discussion that triggered my
sisters into leaving the room crying more than once.  I spoke to so
many women who were dumbfounded at the height of ignorance in our
community regarding rape culture and feminism and the lack of tact
members of the community displayed when discussing sexual assault and
abuse.  I understood both sides of the argument, although I found the
reformation of sex offender laws side to be more petty than the real
fears and vulnerability of my fellow Occupy Boston women, men, and
children.  What affected me the most throughout this painful process
was not even the proposal itself, but the things that members of our
community were saying in opposition to the proposal.  I wanted a massive
megaphone for women and men who were getting up and talking about
PERSONAL EXPERIENCES of assault, which takes so much courage, rather
than intangible theories of blah blah blah.  I was wondering over the
past few months when we failed to hold destructive members of our
community accountable, if Occupy Boston and my priorities in activism
aligned.  By the time the safety proposal failed to pass, I started to
think not.

I was one of the people who walked out of the room when around 20% of
our community joined Paul Shannon's, a member of the Reform Sex Offender Laws, block.  

I wish I could say that I walked out of that room because I felt ideologically compelled to, but
I can't.  I left that room because I was on the brink of a panic
attack by that point. I left that room because my hands and face were
white, because I was starting to hyperventilate, and because no matter
how strong my will was to try and fight at Occupy Boston, my body was
telling me it was at its limit.  The atmosphere itself of our GAs made
me physically ill.  Leaving that GA was based on principal but also
self-preservation.  I wanted to lie to myself and tell myself that I
felt safe, supported, and cultivated at Occupy Boston, but it's
dangerously clear to me at this point that I don't.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts

Museums and fine arts institutions are pressured to conform to the ideologies of their financial supporters, and the more people art museums answer to, the more freedom they lose in the type of art they exhibit. The United States has increasingly privatized financial support for nonprofits, and corporations have rapidly caught on to the propagandist benefits of supporting prominent cultural institutions.  Corporate investment in arts in particular originated after the Great Depression, when the United States Government offered tax exemptions for donations to nonprofit institutions.  Private corporate funding for the arts increased dramatically towards the end of the 1960s and the recession of the 1970s and 1980s, when the government withdrew financial support. 

Corporations quickly recognized the social implications of having their company’s name associated with an art institution.  Mobil Gas referred to their contributions as a “good will umbrella,” and Exxon as a “social lubricant.” Especially for corporations involved in scandal, executives found opportunity in the prestige of art to lobby their interest in congress, which would serve as a shield against corporate misconduct. As one prominent artist, Hans Haacke explains in his essay Museums, Managers of Consciousness, “They recognized that a company’s association with art could yield benefits far out of proportion to a specific financial investment. Not only could such a policy attract sophisticated personnel, but it also projected an image of the company as a good corporate citizen and advertised its products—all things which impress investors.”

Museums in turn were eager to involve corporations. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art distributed pamphlets entitled The Business Behind Art Knows the Art of Good Business, to present to businesses interested in funding the Museum. Haacke offers another poignant explanation, “What the emergence of arts administration departments in business school demonstrates… is the fact that in spite of the mystique surrounding the production and distribution of art, we are now—and indeed have been all along—dealing with social organizations that follow industrial modes of operation”. As museums become more business-oriented and focused on safe bets and money-making exhibitions, exhibiting politically subversive works of art under the name of a corporate sponsor becomes almost impossible.

The tobacco giant Philip Morris has been one of the greatest sponsors in the last few decades of arts-related programming. You can read about exhibitions Philip Morris sponsored in a book called Art In Business that was donated to universities around the country by… Philip Morris. In one major study on corporate sponsorship as a tobacco marketing tool, researchers explained that corporate funding is used to associate a business with specific causes important to a target group, usually deemed difficult to reach through more traditional forms of advertising.  According to the study, tobacco companies sponsored sports, events, and cultural activities targeted at the African American community, at the Hispanic community, and at women. Philip Morris highlights in Art In Business: Two Hundred Years of North American Indian Art, Masterworks from the Museum of the American Indian, Remember the Ladies… Women in America, 1750-1815, and Two Centuries of Black American Art. The elephant in the room is, would these exhibitions have existed had Philip Morris not agreed to sponsor them? 

Helmsboro Country Unfolded, 1990, Hans Haacke

One danger of accepting tobacco money is allowing corporations like Philip Morris to associate their company name with positive social causes.  In some instances, corporations spent more money on marketing campaigns for charities than they donated to the charities themselves.  According to one survey on tobacco sponsorship, Philip Morris threatened to relocate its corporate headquarters and tried to get art institutions to lobby city council when New York City threatened to ban smoking in restaurants and public places.  Philip Morris informed the New York City mayor’s office that if the company withdrew support, it would be a “dark day for the arts.”  When a New York Times columnist tried to interview “any official or board member of any cultural organization supported by the tobacco giant” to talk about their lobbying efforts, none would comply.

In an essay entitled, Government Support for Unconventional Works of Art, artist Adrian Piper argues that the responsibility of funding art, especially politically subversive art, lies in the hands of a truly democratic government.  Promoting provocative work is the key to “assault oppressive conventional attitudes that empower institutions at the expense of individuals,” according to Piper.  She promotes the neutrality and informed opinion of a government appointed group of art world professionals who would award funding and combat “passive censorship” by withholding support from artists whose viewers “compete with or criticize the status quo.”

In an article entitled, Philip Morris’s Artworld Fix, Piper destroys the image of Philip Morris as a benevolent supporter of the arts.  “Q: Why would Philip Morris support BOTH avant garde art AND ALSO Jesse Helms, who wants to kill public funding for it? A: Philip Morris and Jesse Helms are engaged in a joint partnership that will make the world safe for selling cigarettes.”  Piper was outraged by the actions of Jesse Helms, a five-term senator from North Carolina fighting hard to get rid of government funding for the arts.  If Helms succeeds in destroying public funding for the arts, Piper argues, then art institutes will have to rely on private funding, namely the money of Philip Morris, who in turn will have the power to dictate all artistic output.  “And Philip Morris will be able to buy the silence of artists who want the opportunities afforded by their funding.”

The name of Philip Morris has slowly slipped away as tobacco becomes more and more taboo in the United States.  If Philip Morris is no longer funding the arts, and if government is increasingly dropping support for artistic production, who IS sponsoring the fine arts nowadays, and why?  Look at the corporate names plastered on the sides of museums, on the wall labels of exhibitions and on billboards and banners which litter the city for clues.

If you would like more information on this topic or any source information, please feel free to contact me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

[A] Statement of Purpose

My first exposure to the art world came at the age of 15, when I studied abroad for a year in Lille, France as a Rotary International Youth Exchange student. Coming from a rural town in Idaho, my experience abroad completely subverted the way I perceived the world, my home country, and my identity. From this eye-opening experience, I resolved that in college I would further examine the history and theories of politics, cross-cultural identity, and diplomacy. Though I initially planned to study political science, when I took my first modern art history class I discovered the subversive nature of Impressionism. This piqued my interest in artists who were socially engaged and who protested the status quo.  I then took a seminar on art in the 1960s and discovered the early work of Yoko Ono.  As I explored Ono’s work in the context of the circles of John Cage and George Maciunas, I realized that often the greatest cultural and political ambassadors have been artists, who shaped the identities of their communities.

While writing a research paper on Ono’s involvement with the Fluxus movement, I formally declared my major to be Art History, and it was her work that profoundly influenced my decision to pursue a career in the arts. After watching Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” (1964) and reading Grapefruit, Ono’s anthology of instruction works, I recognized the power of conceptual art as a medium for challenging personal perceptions and catalyzing social and political change. I admired Ono’s activism as an Asian, female artist fighting for her right to work within an oppressive, male-dominated world of art. Although her art felt warm and accessible, it was still politically charged.

Simultaneously with this course on art in the 1960s, I became involved in a small resurgence of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Brown University.  Through many New England SDS conferences, I participated in discussions on race, class, and economic privileges.  SDS was my first exposure to grassroots mobilization and revolutionary discourse, which transferred to my studies in art history from Edouard Manet protesting the elitism of the Paris Salon, to contemporary activist artists.

As my interest in the political capacity of art deepened, during my senior year of college I completed an independent study on Adrian Piper’s conceptual art.  I focused on Piper’s feelings on artistic integrity, her distaste of corporate sponsorship in the art world, and how decontextualized, postmodernist art is oppressive to minority artists. My paper on Piper greatly influences my decision to focus on the way in which art has been commodified in the 20th- and 21st-centuries. I also want to study how capitalism affects the freedom and neutrality of art production and the necessity of promoting art production which protests the status quo.

Recently, I have been extremely involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, examining the negative impact globalization and capitalism have on the world. I participate daily in the life of the Occupy Boston by vocalizing my opinions and voting in the consensus process of the General Assemblies. I am also extremely active in the Occupy Boston Women’s Caucus, an all-woman, feminist Working Group.  This experience reinforces my interest in economic disparity and issues of oppression, and this has carried over into my activities in the art world. Working with a few Occupy Boston artists, in the spring I will be curating a contemporary art show called “connecting…”, which focuses on the construction and deconstruction of identity in mass media.

I plan to research modern and contemporary activist artists in the context of economics, politics, and globalization, investigating how artists transform the political into the aesthetic. My studies will build upon my professional experiences, which include curatorial internships in the Education Department at the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College, in the Création Contemporaine et Prospectif Department at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, France, and in the Contemporary Art Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Wish Tree, Yoko Ono, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Letter to a Young Artist: Adrian Piper

Dear Young Artist,
Thanks for your letter. Yes, it definitely is possible to maintain your integrity and freedom of thought and still participate in the art world. The way to do that is always to choose maintaining your integrity and freedom of thought over the art world whenever the two conflict. They don’t always conflict, so you can have both to some extent. But you won’t be able to participate in the art world as fully as possible, unless you’re willing to sacrifice your integrity and freedom of thought in order to do so. And you won’t be able to maintain your integrity and freedom of thought unless you’re willing to sacrifice whatever degree of art world success is necessary in order to do that.
Each time you choose art-world participation over personal integrity when the two conflict, you break more and more of your own spirit — that part of yourself that justifies hope, faith, and trust in others by demonstrating that you are worthy of them yourself. Kill that, and you kill your own self-esteem — that innocent belief in your own goodness that breeds the belief that you deserve the rewards you strive to obtain. Kill that, and you kill everything that gives value and meaning to art world participation, and to the enormous successes and satisfactions it promises. You create for yourself a personal hell of cynicism, suspicion, dishonesty, and self-dislike in all of your relationships that no amount of money, power, or recognition can eradicate (quite the opposite), as well as the noxious, partly buried awareness that you yourself are no better than those you condemn.
On the other hand, choose personal integrity and freedom of thought instead, and you ensure your personal equanimity and contentment no matter how much art world recognition, success, money, or power you must relinquish in order to protect them. Here’s why:
Integrity means that you are not tempted to lie to yourself about what you’re doing, or why. Your deeply held convictions inform your principles, your principles motivate and guide your actions, and your actions express your convictions. There is an internal coherence — in the best case, harmony — among your beliefs, your emotions, and your actions. This doesn’t mean you never experience internal conflict, for example, between the beliefs and the impulse to self-aggrandizement. It means that when you’re internally conflicted, you know you are, and know what the issues are, and see the trade-offs clearly. Your self-respect does not depend on rationalizing or making excuses for actions you recognize to be inexcusable; so you’re not tempted to debase or misrepresent your core convictions to yourself in the service of getting ahead, and thereby distort your perception of yourself, your options, or their consequences. In order to see clearly when you’re tempted to violate your principles, you need a strong sense of self-respect, and — simultaneously — a strong sense of humility. Self-respect means you can acknowledge mistakes or flaws without plunging into self-hatred or depression; you can maintain your dignity without deluding yourself that you’re perfect. Humility means that you can make amends for those mistakes without feeling ashamed; that you can learn from them without losing value in your own eyes. Integrity, inner clarity, self-respect, and humility mutually reinforce one another through the sheer pleasure of heightened self-knowledge, and strengthen the self to withstand threats to its internal unity.
Freedom of thought means that the principles and convictions I’ve just been talking about spring into your awareness, from a part of yourself that lies beyond the limitations of the individual ego, and that is uncensored by that part of your mind that packages your subjective self-expression for public consumption. It means that your curiosity to know and understand — yourself, your environment, your relationships — is not stifled or constricted by guilt, shame, or fear. Freedom of thought doesn’t have much to do with self-assertion, and, even less to do with personal identity or self-indulgence. On the contrary: It is the ability to rise above the narrow constraints of the subjective self, to see and investigate and understand it from a reflective distance, and to be able to use your own personal pet human (i.e., your body) as an instrument for being or doing whatever your principles and convictions tell you is then required — by the circumstances, by your own imperatives, or by intuition. Freedom of thought is inherently connected to the pleasure of self-transcendence, and so to the pleasure of freely acknowledging your own imperfections — with humor, compassion, severity, and accountability.
So integrity plus freedom of thought is a powerful and heady combination: It means acting in unity and inner transparency from drives and motives that lie above and beyond the blinkered perspective of the ego, according to uncorrupted principles that you deeply believe in and that inspire your action and clarify your perception, and that are unsullied by fear of public disapproval or ridicule or punishment or retaliation or failure. Integrity plus freedom of thought protects you from this kind of fear because whenever it threatens, you see the trade-off clearly: capitulate and you damage (and eventually lose) the only thing worth aspiring to, the only thing worth having, and the only thing worth experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis as you navigate through your life.
Now about maintaining your integrity and freedom of thought. Most of the myriad available spiritual, religious, or psychological disciplines, practiced daily, patiently, stubbornly, over an extended period of time, that put a premium on self-knowledge, self-control, self-discovery, and self-expression as a package can help a lot (if you think I’m talking about navel-gazing, go back and reread the preceding paragraphs). Whatever your discipline is, it has to be a fixed and permanent commitment, a cornerstone of your life that you seek opportunities to practice, without which your day is not complete. Of course this doesn’t mean that you practice every day mechanically; exactly the opposite. It means that if you don’t practice, you viscerally feel the gradual process of shutting down, becoming numb, mechanical, unreflective, insensitive, sad; of atrophying that part of yourself that gives you reason to live. Once you stop feeling that process, you’re lost, and that part of yourself will sink out of reach. So when you fail to practice, thirst for it, grieve its loss, resolve yet again to give it pride of place in your schedule. It doesn’t matter whether you always succeed in this resolve. What’s important is making that resolve, each day, with the same determination. The more often you make it, the easier it will get — eventually — to act on it, and the more opportunities to practice you will find. Eventually you will find that every situation you confront, and particularly those in which you are forced to choose between personal integrity and art world success, there is an opportunity to practice. And eventually you will greet such choices joyfully, as a chance to celebrate and honor the deep convictions and principles that by now structure, govern, and permeate your self, your awareness, and your experience at all levels. This is the point at which the choice between personal integrity and art world success is so easy as to be no real choice at all.
Young artist, it is highly unlikely that you will be rewarded professionally for reaching this point. Nor will it make you popular. On the contrary: You will develop a reputation for being “difficult,” “uncooperative,” “inflexible,” or even “self-destructive”; and treated (or mistreated, ostracized, or blacklisted) accordingly. If these reactions concern you, remember you always have alternatives: to maintain your integrity and accept the rewards, or fall into line and capitulate — and accept the “rewards.”
Good luck!
Best regards,
Adrian Piper
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
PS: As for showing early, I don’t think you can formulate a hard and fast rule about that. There are important lessons to be learned either way. I started showing internationally before I graduated from art school, and learned a lot from that. I think that just as it’s better to live with someone for a while before marrying them, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later what the art world is like, so you can decide whether or not it’s your lifetime cup of tea. <<Thank you!