Poets, Painters and More Look for Ways to Bring Community Together
By Johnny Vizcaino
It’s been said there’s an art to everything, but how do artists navigate life’s ugly parts? Where does art happen within a system of oppression, alongside a tradition of destruction, violence and trauma?
Nancy Zastudil, owner of Central Features Contemporary Art Gallery, invited local artists to a town hall-style meetup on Monday in hopes of finding answers to those questions.
“It probably goes without saying, but after Tuesday’s election results, that is a timely topic,” Zastudil said to an anxious crowd. “I’m definitely feeling some urgency.”
There is power in being able to give tangible substance to our ideas, she said, and this is how art contributes to a discourse of social progress, “by giving people a touchstone, something to directly address, and to talk about and ask questions about, and reflect back on themselves.”
The evening’s agenda included a moderated discussion with questions and comments from the audience, and an opportunity for anyone representing an organization to share information with other interested attendees.
The meeting emphasized the importance of providing the space for conversations to take place, both physically and intellectually.
Ebony Isis Booth is the programs and communications coordinator at the Harwood Art Center, and the co-founder of the highly-lauded, annual Burque Noir event.
As a working-class black woman, Booth said, poetry and art provide a way to demand identity and visibility from a society designed to deny her these things.
“You have to be honest and brave, and say what you mean and say who it’s for, and then find people who support that. They will help you make it happen,” she said. “The exchange of personhood and humanity, and friendship and love, and beautiful art and amazing experience is worth it. We just have to kick the door in, you have to demand it.”
Although the conversation was centered on where art meets activism, Booth said it is important to acknowledge the differences between the two.
“When you go out into the community, you have to tell the truth there, too, because they don’t give a damn about your creative process,” she said. “There’s a difference between art and activism, and you have to really be ready to roll up your sleeves and get in there and do the work.”
Barbara Grothus, a local artist and activist, said in order to make demands of the system one must first make demands of oneself. Effective activism requires sacrifice, she said, and she has sacrificed working on her art to participate in the social struggle for justice.
Activism is exhausting work, and help is badly needed in the fight against oppression and injustice; while solidarity safety pins are a nice gesture, Grothus said there are questions people must ask themselves about what those mean to them,
“What are we going to do to get in front of the train? This is really the bottom line for me. Who is going to get out there?” she asked.
Johnny Vizcaino is an editorial intern at ABQ Free Press Weekly.