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Re: <eyebeam><blast> fire and more fire

At 08:36 Clifford Duffy wrote:
>                ******************      
>        Jean Genet,the poet, way back in the 1970's was approached by
>the Black Panther party for help. HE did not hesitate, he went to
>America the next day... He added his voice to theirs, became a
>witness of their 'fire.'  ********************* ******

i think clifford's contribution to this thread is one of the most
engaging and lyrical of responses we've had in past weeks. i am not sure
how he concludes, but a whole lot that is agreeable comes through. my
biggest problem with so many self-righteous 'activists' we come across
everyday--especially the arty-farty, intellectual ones--is that they
have no clue what crap they're talking about when it comes to praxis,
and somehow they think they are doing some great, world-saving job doing
what my good friend okwui enwezor would call mere 'toochie',
god-forsaken arty nonesense. given--and this is the beauty of clifford's
post--that everyone has a right to be cowardly, or confused, or even
downright stupid, it nevertheless rankles when someone puts up some
half-witted pile of junk in a gallery, funded with tax-payers' money or
funds that could otherwise save some endangered kid somewhere, and then
think to themselves how hard they're working to save the world, rather
than see their work for what it is: mere art to be enjoyed or spat on by
the few who see it! as history would have, however--and this i take to
be one of the great points in clifford's post--the truly great artists
recognize, as the palestinian poet laureate mahmoud darwish writes in
"painter", that "painter does not a door open". in other words, mere
pixels on the computer screen or a scream on a video monitor in an
installation will not save the next victim of spouse-abuse or
fracticidal genocide. unless something else is done. and those artists,
some of whom the post mentions, go out and get down and do it. several
years the scholar ali mazrui wrote a brilliant novel in which he dealt
with the dilemma of the artist caught between the aesthetic calling and
the demands of commitment. mazrui lamented the premature death of his
friend, the poet christopher okigbo, who at the very verge of his glory
laid down his pen and took the gun alongside the persecuted of biafra,
only to die at the front at the age of 36. should he have? should he
have not? mazrui concluded that okigbo's sacrifice was a waste of
beauty--yet, as the igbo of biafra say, all beauty end in dirt. if
beauty may not rise to the call of the needy, or indeed make way, where
then is its essence? when a voice in the wilderness beckons and asks:
"there is fire in the forests of brazil; what shall we do?" shall we cry
in return: the horror, the horror? or shall we go beyond the silly
rhetoric of bad poetry and do something concrete to help? may we not, on
the other hand, exercise our right to face away and indulge in the silly
rhetoric of bad poetry? are we under any obligations? are we not,
afterall, free?
in 1993 i painted what i consider one of my valedictory pictures, for
the year after i would lay down my brushes never again to paint.
"painter" dealt with my own frustration at the what i considered the
overall impotence of art in the face of the particular challenges i had
hoped to engage. under the circumstances i found it more fruitful to be
at the barricades, to petition, to run the midnight newsletter or
lampoon, to meet with members of the house of lords, to be detained. my
paintings drew consternation on the gallery floors, and my poetry tears
from the eyes of women, but neither dug a hole in the walls of the goals
behind which my friends languished. neither returned to me the freedom
to walk in my own country which had been taken from me. "he was a
painter," the poet of palestinian liberation wrote, "but paintings do
not open doors." 
yet i believe unshakeably in the rights of the artist to do or not to
do, just like any other human. beware of the crusaders for an engaged
art, the prescribers, the preachers who waft eloquent on the
revolutionary duties of art, the inquisitionists who declare: "if the
art is not for the people, then it is no art at all." beware of the
philistines on the right who preach the divinity and purity of art, the
innocence of the picture-plance, masking not only their ignorance but
their evil-mindedness as well. even more so, beware of those who,
lacking the courage to do any more, to go out and do the second mile, to
take up the gun like okigbo or jose marti did, live in their little
boxes and believe that the conceptuality of their art [not the material
proceeds] and their little, pitiable acts of "transgression", will save
the world. 
what shall we do at the cry of "fire!"? do a net-based installation?
write a lyric? apply to the national endowment for the arts for a grant
to enable a multi-media event on the tragedy of conflagration, using
five hundred bags of lint, two million painted matches with the colors
of the amazon, and fifty volunteers from the afflicted community? paint
a mural of fire and redemption? curse the capitalists who are raping the
rain forests? face away? or.....? why not? are we not, afterall, free? 

olu oguibe

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