In a conversation with human-rights activist, filmmaker and author Amir Soltani, I was touched by Amir words: “there is no doubt that as a species we have been death-centric and not life-centric”*. Amir talks about the huge investments in the military, the act of hoarding (money, in particular), and the moving from a nomadic life to a settler life, the latter being related to surplus.
Human rights activist, filmmaker, author Amir Soltani in conversation with the Impermanence Platform, July 2020.
Kassra's Tree, probably 2014
This morning, during a guided meditation practice, one of the participants remembered her three year old daughter asking her to draw her thoughts. The little girl would get upset when her parents would draw her vision in a static way. The girl would then improve her parents’ depiction by adding movement to the drawing.
Mount Mishima in the province Kai, Katsushika Hokusai, 1829 - 1833, Rijks Museum, Netherlands
In our researches together we discovered that Katshushika Hokusai was attentive to life: "From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie. ”**
With another language and coming, in appearance, from another universe and another era on Earth, the Syrian poet Adonis seems to ask us to long for the same 'divine understanding': ‘Sufism and Surrealism allow us to see (...) the absence and the presence: the absence of men and the presence of mechanics, the absence of the heart and the presence of reason, the absence of nature and the presence of industry."***
I am convinced that it was because of his fear of death that Iranian polymath Omar Khayyam wrote in his Rubbaiyat "This moment is your life.'"
*Human rights activist, filmmaker and author Amir Soltani in conversation with The Impermanence Platform, July 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8ynaiC-ZPc
***Adonis, 'Sufism and Surrealism", Introduction, page 26.
Exploration of the relationship between art and propaganda, between the artist and the change-maker. Explorations of interviews with artists* and observations of Social Presencing Theater in practice groups.
What is art and how does it distinguish itself from propaganda? What is the
relationship between the artist and the change-maker or activist? How would I notice the difference while practicing Social Presencing Theater?
‘Sanctionwear’, 2019, is an installation of three dresses that I made out of two of Trump’s executive orders: the Re-imposition of Economic Sanctions against Iran and the Muslim Ban. The installation also includes the UN Convention on Essential
Medicine, and three Iranian historical and mythical figures that deeply shaped both Iranian and Western cultures: Mithra, Avicenna, and Omar Khayyam.
Sanctionwear, 2019, by Artemis Akchoti Shahbazi
It is a cry to bring attention to the impact of laws, orders, and politics on the Iranian population, the land, the culture, the common roots.
The work was mostly received negatively by the art community.
A dear friend and composer told me: "I learned through opera that when art says it all, it is not art anymore, it is propaganda.”* The artist needs to leave space for the viewer's imagination.
Agenda-less Artist and Agenda-full Activist
In a conversation with poet and facilitator of contemplative social arts, Manish Srivastava, he talked about how his poems do not have an agenda but his activist part does*. In Social Presencing Theater, the practitioner is asked not to have an
agenda. The artist’s source of creation is beyond the concrete - a place of
not-knowing, a universal world, and she flows, moment by moment, with what is (needed). The activist has an objective to reach. This is where the artist and the activist diverge.
Applications of the Practice of Stuck: Interrupting and intervening
The practice of Stuck is a moment when I have the opportunity to stay in an
in-between state of discomfort, to become intimate with my discomfort.
Structured improvisation artist Steve Clorfeine says that, in his practice, ‘we cannot intervene, but we can interrupt’*. "
A rock that blocks a stream of water is an interruption. The stream of water is able to continue its voyage organically, after this diversion. While with an intervention, the stream of water is channeled from one end to the other through pipes. The water stream is controlled from the beginning to the end.
In the application of Stuck, I may escape the opportunity to become intimate with discomfort and can use the practice as an opportunity to intervene. However, intervening is solution based, I choose a shape that has an agenda. I know what the shape of a respectful Stuck looks like, and I constrain my authentic self in the Stuck, my own Art, in it. This application of Stuck is Propaganda.
On the other hand, interruption is when my shape is genuine, I feel where the body wants to move but, in the process (sometimes before the process), something
happens, maybe I encounter fear and, for now, my shape ends somewhere before its authentic end. Curiosity, and courage, may help bring the Stuck into its authentic end. Noticing space and the connection with the Earth, may be helpful as well.
The Practice of the Seed Dance: ‘Learning Propaganda, Properly'
There is a longing in the artist. There is a longing in the activist. The longing is where Propaganda meets Art and Art meets Propaganda. Artist Raafat Majzoub says that there is no difference between art and propaganda. Raafat is interested in learning propaganda properly, he believes “propaganda shall be taught in school (the same way math is taught) to enable people to distinguish and co-create influential public narratives”*. The heart of his work is to ‘perform reality so that reality complies.’ The Seed Dance is the Place where the Artist and the Activist can become intimate with their longing, the state in-between who they are and who they want to become. The Artist and Activist become one in this space.
Including Space: Between Hope and Fear
Arawana Hayashi*, Acharya in the Shambhala tradition, and co-creator of Social Presencing Theater says that as co-creators of society, we are all change makers, and “appreciating and welcoming things as they are” is (shall be?) our discipline.
Drummer Jerry Granelli* insists that there is no right or wrong. There is no way to know what was right and what was wrong....
May “appreciating and welcoming things as they are” be our discipline. May we transcend solutions**.
*The interviews with artists Manish Srivastava, Steve Clorfeine, Raafat Majzoub, and Jerry Granelli took place from July 2020 to March 2021 and were made for the Impermanence Platform, which intends to offer an opportunity to study, through interviews, exhibitions, and projects innovation, in particular the systems, paradigm shifts, sources, and decision-making behind artists' work. How do artists work with the discomfort of not-knowing, make decisions, and use disruption as a tool for innovation? . Arawana Hayashi talk was at a Dharma Art class organized by Dirk Brauninger on March, 26, 2021. The conversation with my friend was over the summer of 2019.
**Artist Raafat Majzoub says that “we have to go beyond solutions” because there are no solutions for the problems we are facing.
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