In a conversation with human-rights activist, filmmaker and author Amir Soltani, I was touched by Amir affirmation: “There is no doubt that as a species we have been death-centric and not life-centric”*. Amir talks about the investments in the military, the act of hoarding (money, in particular), and the need to moving from a nomadic life to a settler life, the latter being related to surplus.
A woman recently was describing her daughter at three. The daughter would insistently ask her parents to draw what she was describing. The daughter would then get upset. Each time. The three year old would not find movement in her parents depiction. She had to add the movement herself.
I remember my older son at three. He also was fascinated by drawings, in particular by Japanese artist and printmaker Katshushika Hokusai's work. A small image that we have in our living room of one of his waterfalls. He would often observe it attentively... and one day he asked "How can he draw so well?"
In our researches together we discovered that Hokusai was longing for 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 contemporary Syrian poet Adonis seems to ask us to be attentive to these passages between life and death: ‘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 XI century polymath Omar Khayyam wrote in his Rubbaiyat "This moment is your life.'"
Images top to bottom:
Katshushika Hokusai, Mishima Mountain in the Province Kai, 1829-1833, Rijks Museum, The Netherlands;
Kassra, Kassra's Tree, probably 2014
*Human rights activist, filmmaker and author Amir Soltani in conversation with The Impermanence Platform, Impermanence Platform Youtube Channel, July 2020
**Adonis, Sufism and Surrealism, Introduction, page 26.
Exploration of the relationship between art and propaganda, between the artist and the change-maker.
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?
‘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.
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.
Sanctionwear, 2019, by Artemis Akchoti Shahbazi
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 contemplative social arts, 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.
Interrupting and intervening
Being 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.
When stucked, I may escape the opportunity to become intimate with discomfort and can use the experience as an opportunity to intervene. However, intervening is solution based, I choose to pursue an agenda. I know my agenda, and I constrain my authentic self, my own Art, in it. This choice is a choice of Propaganda.
On the other hand, interruption is when I genuinely feel what is needed, but in the process, sometimes before the process, something
happens, maybe I encounter fear and, for now, my art ends somewhere before its authentic end.
‘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. Raafat 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.’
When the Artist and the Activist become intimate with their longing, the state in-between who they are and who they want to become, the Artist and Activist become one.
There is no right or wrong
Drummer Jerry Granelli* insists that there is no right or wrong. There is no way to know what was right and what was wrong....
***All the interviews with the artists where made between summer 2020 to spring 2021 for the Impermanence Platform.