“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
I began this particular blog, just after the earthquake in Mexico, and am only just now finishing it, almost three months down the line. I have been in England, taking care of my elderly parents while my Mum was hospitalized with yet another life changing challenge. She is finally home, and I am happy to say, making progress, and so I am now able to finish this chapter.
So please forgive the tardy feel as news and natural disasters befall faster than I can possibly keep up….…
These roads will take you into your own country.
Seasons and maps coming where this road comes
into a landscape mirrored in these men.
Past all your influences, your home river,
constellations of cities, mottoes of childhood,
parents and easy cures, war, all evasion’s wishes.
Half-memories absorb us, and our ritual world
carries its history in familiar eyes,
planted in flesh it signifies its music
in minds which turn to sleep and memory,
in music knowing all the shimmering names,
the spear, the castle, and the rose.
But planted in our flesh these valleys stand,
everywhere we begin to know the illness,
are forced up, and our times confirm us all.
You standing over gorges, surveyors and planners,
you workers and hope of countries, first among powers;
you who give peace and bodily repose,
opening landscapes by grace, giving the marvel lowlands
physical peace, flooding old battlefields
with general brilliance, who best love your lives;
and you young, you who finishing the poem
wish new perfection and begin to make;
you men of fact, measure our times again.
These are our strength, who strike against history.
These whose corrupt cells owe their new styles of weakness
to our diseases;
these carrying light for safety on their foreheads
descended deeper for richer faults of ore,
drilling their death.
Carry abroad the urgent need, the scene,
to photograph and to extend the voice,
to speak this meaning.
Voices to speak to us directly. As we move.
As we enrich, growing in larger motion,
this word, this power.
Excerpts from The Book of the Dead: The Book of the Dead
BY MURIEL RUKEYSER
I have been behind in my creative thinking in the last couple of months, muted by the never ending violence, catastrophes and in embarrassment for the juvenile and impulsive example set by the so-called “"Leader of the free world “. Even top government officials and members of the United Nations are cringing at Trump’s lack of self control and apparent inability to demonstrate presidential demeanor.
As we move into survival mode after Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the citizens of Mayanmar are struggling against ethnic cleansing, the last thing the world needs is the threat of nuclear war, precipitated by two world leaders, neither of whom has the global safety of the world’s people at heart, and neither of whom has the self control to restrain their dangerously shortsighted impulses.
I was in Mexico when the 7.1 earthquake hit. We were about to climb the Temple of the Moon at Teotihuacan when we heard the news. My friend Cynthia felt the earth move slightly, and I tripped, thinking that it was my shoe. It was not until they closed the pyramids to climbers that we realized it had been severe, and then later in the day, when we were within wifi range did we discover the damage in Mexico City and surrounding areas.
Ironically, earlier that morning we had been instructed that there would be an earthquake drill at the hotel, and this was a city wide exercise. It was the anniversary of the Great earthquake 32 years ago, when thousands of people died. Since then, regular drills have been diligently held, and this day, September 19th , was the exact same day as the previous earthquake!
In a world where “God” is represented in so many ways, and cultures are steeped in a mixture of conditioning and rigid indigenous beliefs that cause so much strife, it is truly remarkable how we can pull together in such solidarity when faced with natural disasters. We have seen it recently in Houston, after Harvey, in Florida and the Caribbean, how those whom we have stereotyped have risen to forget their differences, and fight for the common good of humanity.
Now would be a good time for Trump to at least partially redeem himself, and use the money for his “Wall” on more humanitarian measures. America could become “Great again” if her immense wealth was sent to help those countries in desperate need instead of proliferating war by supplying arms, and her president tweeting inflammatory insults about other countries and world leaders, and insulting the families of fallen serviceman.
Within hours, stations were set up all over Mexico City for disaster relief. Teams were stationed at check points ready to receive and package with military precision. Cleaners were out in the streets sweeping up debris, and damaged buildings were cordoned off with a police officer posted to warn. Indeed, I had already been heartened and impressed upon arrival, when we saw vast stores of Harvey and Irma relief packages under the eves of the Zocalo Grand government building. Neatly packaged and stacked compilations of toiletries, diapers, blankets and clothing, were all ready for dispatch. Now they were already organized for the Mexico earthquake disaster relief.
We had been uncertain whether we would be able to get back to our hotel safely, but were reassured by our guide and the driver that they had already been in touch with our hotels, and informed us that we would be OK . ….
As we approached the Zocalo where we were staying, there were clouds of smoke rising in the air, and rubble cordoned off by barriers. Streets were closed, and traffic diverted. We were dropped off down the street from our hotel because our road was impassable. My heart leapt as we passed the unusually unlit doors of the Grand Hotel de Ciudad de Mexico, with its fine glittering crystal chandeliers and gold canary cages, hoping that the exquisite, enormous, receded art nouveau ceiling would be still intact. Balconies were askew and there were new, precarious cracks in masonry. The fabulous Spanish colonial buildings, and predominantly sixteenth century churches surrounding us must have weathered many earthquakes; but for some, this one was the last straw.
We did not learn until later that a school building close to us had collapsed, burying classrooms of children, and how many people Death had already claimed in the city. All museums and public buildings were closed, and three days of mourning were immediately declared, and efforts to dig out survivors were already in progress. Armies of civilians with buckets had emerged from their homes and were organized in human chains to gently and religiously hand pick through the rubble with the intention of avoiding further injury to those buried. Police and Rescuers were there in seconds. Silence was declared in the streets as commuters and tourists passed by collapsed buildings, not just out of respect, but to listen for cries of help.
I wanted to cry, but that was not helpful. Instead I loved the ones I was with even more, and felt so lucky to have escaped unscathed. And I loved the staff at the hotel, who stoically smiled and reassured guests, internally aching to go home to find out the damage at their own homes. Some of them came to work the next day with tales of no electricity, no water, and had had to travel on foot or bicycle because the roads were not negotiable.
“"We love this city” they said, “ We love Mexico. This is Nature. We cannot control Nature; we must live along side her. “
Artwork dedicated to El Dia de los Muertos is everywhere in the city of Mexico, and in the villages and towns. Skeleton figurines dressed in traditional colorful costumes pose in vignettes representing everything from marriage, to the last supper. Often, there is a playful approach to the figurines who might be portrayed sitting on the toilet, or in amusingly compromising positions.
Highly colorful and stylized, and perhaps a little foreign to other cultures , skulls adorn garage doors and stare down from restaurant walls, or skeletons greet visitors in shop doorways. Death is part of life, and beloved souls are conjured up to share in the revelry of life.
- Stella Adler
Along with the folk art of El Dia de los Muertos, there is infinite art in Mexico City. From the fabulous 15th and 16th century Spanish colonial buildings, to art nouveau shops and hotels. Statues adorn the parks, and fountains spout from deities such as Zeus and Neptune. Many precolonial figures are represented, and many pre and post revolutionary heroes populate monuments and botanical gardens.
“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
― Pablo Picasso
Each era of human history leaves footprints behind in the form of art; be it sculpture, paintings or murals, architecture or monuments, music, poetry, or manuscripts. Not all are politically or culturally favorable to all observers, because there are always at least two sides to every status quo. For example, in Mexico, the conquistadors, who invaded in the early sixteenth century were ruthless and cruel to the indigenous Mexican Indians. They flogged them and hung them if they did not denounce their pagan beliefs and convert to Catholicism. They were persecuted and tortured, given no mercy. Yet, there are hundreds of Spanish colonial churches and chapels still standing in Mexico, brimming with ornate rood screen carvings, gold laden statues and fabulous paintings, their great domes rising above the horizons, and their bells peeling the praises of the still predominant faith.
No one would suggest that we knock down or remove these symbols of a once cruel and barbarously hypocritical and oppressive occupant.
”Evil exists to glorify the good. Evil is negative good. It is a relative term. Evil can be transmuted into good. What is evil to one at one time, becomes good at another time to somebody else. “
Mencius - From the Goodness category:
372 BC -289 BC...
Equally, in Europe, People have been persecuted for their faith over the millennia. Catholics against protestants, and vice verse, Muslims against Christians and Hindus, and now Buddhists against Muslims. The symbols of faith in the form of tangible art remain and survive, others are destroyed in war, or sadly defaced , such as during the dissolution of the monasteries in England under Henry Xlll
During the civil wars of both England and America, man was pitched against man, families against families, the most bitter fights were fought over principles that each side believed were right, and commemorative statues were erected, portraits painted, poetry written.
There is much poetry written about Hitler, by followers who believed in his dream; who idolized him in prose.
Two men are joined as one in you:
One seems cold and hard,
One who achieves his goals.
Another is tender and kind,
He forgets not even the poorest.
He feels for the least of us.
Two streams owe their strength to you.
You are the sap rising from each root,
The seed that gives them birth --
A new spirit rose from you,
That forged us together as a nation
And dwells in us forever!
Even music was composed for individual Kings and Queens and dictators that commemorate an era or an event that may now be considered unsavory or a humanitarian crime. During the rise of the third Reich, music was composed for the occasions of Nazi pageantries, rallies, and conventions. Composers dedicated so called 'consecration fanfares,' inaugurations fanfares and flag songs to the Fuhrer.
There are war memorials all over Europe that represent the victors or the victims of war. There are statues erected to the now controversial Boor war , and of course, to Vietnam. The self erected statue of Saddam Hussein was ceremoniously torn down after he was executed in Iraq after Desert storm. In Mexico, there are still statues erected by Cortez, and numerous artifacts produced during his reign.
Most recently, ISIS has destroyed countless precious artifacts in the Middle East, because they disagree fundamentally with the creation of any art form that might be construed as personifying Mohammad, and therefore blasphemous.
We live in a so called age of change and enlightenment where we now question the morality of certain wars or political action in our lifetimes. We frown on and reject slavery as it was for African Americans. Yet we fail to learn from our mistakes and often history repeats itself. Slavery still exists. Prejudice still exists. Child exploitation still exists. Female trafficking still exists. We ignore the evidence and buy blue jeans from companies that run sweat shops and buy diamonds mined by exploitation. We ignore famine in the third world, and are unaffected by ethnic cleansing happening in Syria, Somalia and Myanmar
Does tearing down statues of confederate soldiers really change the way we think?
Does defacing a statue or a lifetime work of art change our behavior?
Does blowing up a Mosque like al-NUri in Mosul change the way a Muslim feels about their chosen faith?
Should we systematically destroy all works of art that now represent something distasteful or unpalatable in retrospect?
That would have to include, perhaps, the carved Tombs of Henry Xlll, or Oliver Cromwell, relics of the Spanish Inquisition, portraits of Conquistadors, Art work from the Russian revolution, the statue of Colonel Custer ….
Do we pull down the old plantations of the South?
Should we tear down Auschwitz, or keep it to ever remind us of the terrifying death camp hell that it represents ?
The list goes on…
”Life is the art of drawing without an eraser “
-John W Gardner
I have never been to Charlestown South Carolina, but from what I understand, the town was founded on, and survived around slavery. The gardens and the galleries are full of artwork that evolved as a result of the slave trade. I do not believe we can escape our ugly truth by tearing down the past.
I do believe that we should show accountability and educate ourselves in retrospect.
Quien su no conoce su historia esta condenado a repetirla
George Santayana. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
This website is about poetry and art for social change. Moving forward we have many new artistic opportunities.
To the Moon
Sail on, as tirelessly as ever,
Above an earth obscured by clouds,
And with your shining glow of silver
Dispel the fog that now abounds.
With languor, bend your lovely neck,
Lean down to earth with tender smile.
Sing lullabies to Mount Kazbek,
Whose glaciers reach for you on high.
But know for certain, he who had
Once been oppressed and cast below,
Can scale the heights of Mount Mtatsminda,
Exalted by undying hope.
Shine on, up in the darkened sky,
Frolic and play with pallid rays,
And, as before, with even light,
Illuminate my fatherland.
I’ll bare my breast to you, extend
My arm in joyous greeting, too.
My spirit trembling, once again
I’ll glimpse before me the bright moon.
Iveria, No. 123 (1895) Joseph Stalin (!)
Oliver Cromwell is buried and dead.
There grew an old apple tree over his head.
The apples were ripe and ready to fall.
There came an old woman and gathered them all
Oliver rose and gave her a clop.
Which made the old woman go hippity-hop.
Saddle and bridle they hang on the shelf,
If you want any more you must make it yourself!