14 July 2008

We Hate Ourselves, Who We Used to Be, This is our Curse

I am sensitive to conflagration. When things lead into each other, join, gain mass, momentum and become something else. I collected my local advertising supplement from the ledge beside the buildings postal boxes. On the cover a photograph of a young man, pressed into a shallow corner, reflected in a trapezoidal mirror, headline,“On the trail of Picasso”, the caption summarises a trip he took to Europe and how Picasso and Dali have inspired him to paint. That seemed strange I thought, opening the paper, that stuff is so old, and for another set of people, who congregated in different ways and frequencies, had different conversations, dreams and gave different answers to each other, but no big deal. paint is great. Those two knew where to put it.

On the second page, a tiny article with the headline Photos replace murals”. Four murals painted in the 1930s have been covered by plaster walls and photos, they were displayed in the provincial legislative assembly. The subject matter of the paintings have offended some people and MLAs voted overwhelmingly of have them covered. It reminded them of slavery, and native people being treated poorly. At first I was only perturbed, but then the final line was combustion, regarding the new historical photographs The participants are all white males”.

I was struck, by how much hate and shame lives in this place and the people who frequent its streets and shops and building’s. I will not argue that the painting were great or grand or wonderful. I must have seen them at some point on a tour, and they left no impression. I will not say that their painter is to be celebrated, maybe he is listened too much to the people around him, maybe he did what it took to get a job doing painting in the 1930’s Victoria, Canada. Maybe his compromises and visual language that worked for the committee or individual that oversaw him are tawdry, but the work was done, accepted and existed as a record in our history.

I am certain we are not responding to complaints of native people, because if we had such a sensitivity to their words and feelings, so much more would have been done and actively changing. No we are ashamed of who we used to be, how we used to think and how we used to congregate. I though quickly to that book forced on us in school, 1984” in which a forceful patriarch rewrites the past. I wondered, what is the difference of the past being rewritten without Big Brother? What do artists hope for when they work? A bit of time, some eyes, brains behind the eyes, some sort of emotion in those brains, a sliver of unlikely sympathy. I hope the guy on the front page gets some of this too. I hear the Picasso at the United Nations building in New York was draped for a while. Maybe we are, once again small fragments in a greater story of hiding from ourselves, but we should not find the obvious shame of that, but comfort in self knowledge and the coexistence of contradiction.

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