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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