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Composed to Decompose

Wishin' & Hopin': A Living Quilt by Maria Lupo

 

 

Loss doesn't matter unless you care.

 

Andy Goldsworthy talking about his "Walking Wall"  at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO in an interview with Jeffrey Brown on the NEWSHOUR 8/30/2019

 

 

Our ideas about climate change are evolving rapidly; we are more knowledgeable. Or perhaps we've hit the tipping point and cascaded like a waterfall. In larger numbers, we've moved from acceptance to panic to action in just a few short months. Maybe it was the photos of Katrina, or Puerto Rico, or Haiti, or the Bahamas, that finally pierced the scrim of  complacency. Or the deepening sensation of constant threat, a clock ticking, or a loved one, or acquaintance, or a friend of a friend flooded and homeless. We join a rescue team, fill sandbags, cook soup, donate money, take in a family member, canvass for politicians who care about the future.

 

Because all writers  live in heightened awareness—whether  there is a crisis or not—we need only review the oeuvre of our favorite authors to find a roadmap from past to present, even to the future. Jonathan Franzen is a novelist but he is also a birder. Read his nonfiction pieces from three, four, five years ago, and weep. Read Dickens' descriptions of London blighted by coal, a fossil fuel. His stories were more than entertainments; they were warnings about industrialization and callous government.

 

All art is protest, all of it. We create because we care, we feel the losses, celebrate the accomplishments and joys. We may have agendas of one sort or another, or unconsciously tap into the political discourse, but our stories are documents, collectibles of a certain time and place. We know that polemical screeds are less affective and effective than stories even if they are angry or demanding, so we write in the active voice and always remember that we are telling fiction—or nonfiction—stories.

 

Art and writing about climate change and environmental conservation and degradation are all around us now,  everywhere and ever present. We need only step into it to remain in balance with ourselves and with nature as we decide what one small action we can do to help. At the "Composed to Decompose" site-specific installations at the Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, NY, I felt both elated and repulsed by the artists' visions, as I am sure they intended. I went late in the summer when the weather had cooled and was taken round by Helene and Stuart Bigley, co-founders of the center. Much had already shifted in the landscape, the leaves beginning to turn, the water drying in the stream. The sculptures were also transforming in their embedded locations, ruffled by wind, pelted by rain.

 

My favorite was a "living quilt" by Maria Lupo. Created from discarded tea bags and seeds, and being a tea drinker myself, I was drawn to this piece. It was just there, hanging from the branches of a tree, in the same way as we were just there standing on the wood chip path. I could walk up to the quilt and touch it, or turn to Helene and Stuart and ask a question or  two, or not. There was no barrier or guard rail, no instruction, just a contemplative space to think about our connection to the natural world and one another.

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Exiled From Gaza; An Artist Under Siege

My Grandparents © copyright by Malak Mattar 2019. Doves of peace are ever-present in Malak's paintings.

 

 

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be in exile in your homeland, in your own house, in your room.

 

        Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, (1941-2008)

 

 

Malak Mattar, now just nineteen years old, is still what many would call a "naive artist," mostly untrained desipite the mentorship of her uncle, Mohammed Musallum, who teaches art in the only art school in Gaza. So I will begin there, in Gaza, during a 51-day Israeli bombing siege, in a household where a girl of 14 who has never drawn or painted before, is trying to stay sane during the Second Intifada against the brutal Israeli occupation. Watercolor and paper on the kitchen table, Malak starts to paint, mostly portraits of the women in her family and her community. She is gifted.

 

I had the good fortune to hear about Malak through a Palestinian friend who went to see her recent art exhibition in New York. Sponsored by the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, Ct., Malak was granted a two-week visa to show her work in three locations— Connecticut, DC, and New York, before her return to Istanbul to continue her studies on a full scholarship in political science and international relations at the Istanbul Aydin University. She misses her family in Gaza but cannot return during holidays as there is no guarantee she can get out in time to travel back to Turkey before classes begin. Though Gaza has been administered by Hamas since 2007, it is still under "indirect" Israeli occupation; Israel controls its electricity, telecommunications and borders.

 

I try to imagine this pressure, not as an ordinary American student worried about grades and financing, but as a student in exile from her beleaguered homeland, worried about her family and friends. How brave she has been, truly exemplary. She has had to learn both Turkish and English as her classes are in English, and struggles to maintain her bank account and grade point average. She travels wherever she is invited to show her work. "I will never stop painting," she told me with confidence. "Life is not easy in Gaza. This is what I portray in my work. I want the world to understand."

 

 

 

For more of Malak's story:

 

https://wearenotnumbers.org/home/Contributor/Malak_Mattar

 

Malak on Facebook:

 

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004339966663

 

For more about Palestine and Israel:

 

Human Rights Watch Report

 

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/israel/palestine

 

Yousef Bashir, "Words of My Father" 

 

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062917324/the-words-of-my-father/

 

Mahmoud Darwish Poems

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=darwish+poems+on+amazon&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKlffslorkAhUqwlkKHax7CuUQsxgIMA&biw=1024&bih=710#spd=13109659742047301644

 

Palestine Museum, Woodbridge, Ct.

 

https://www.palestinemuseum.us/

 

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