War is a four-letter word with only three letters. The inability of the human race to stop waging this obscenity can’t be blamed on artists. If all humans were artists, at worst we’d endure mindless competition, catty egotists, pretentious performance and overpriced chachkies. Yes, Hitler dabbled in watercolors and was twice rejected by the Academy of Arts in Vienna, but he was the exception. Generally speaking, artists create and rarely destroy.
A powerful contemporary group show that exemplifies the art community’s pacifistic impulse is YO! WHAT HAPPENED TO PEACE? Curated by artist John Carr, YO! is the work of over 200 visual artists responding to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and can be viewed in both a catalogue for purchase and a traveling exhibition. Carr began collecting anti-war prints in 2002 while the Bush Administration was lying through its teeth about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Exhibits have been held in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and the show opens at The Foundry in London this Tuesday, November 6th.
Contributors range from longtime American agitpropsters such as Winston Smith, Eric Drooker, Robbie Conal, Seth Tobocman, Mark Vallen, Shepard Fairey, and Emek to brother and sister printmakers from Japan, Canada, France, and Italy. Many use dark humor to make their point. All use color, passion, and deeply felt revulsion at the mindless violence currently called United States foreign policy.
My friend, artist KMAX, turned me onto this collection. She has a sparse but lovely entry that speaks to all war — including the War on Drugs. Under the legend LIBERTY=PEACE is a bare-breasted woman wearing a keffiyeh and surrounded by marijuana plants. At the bottom reads SUPPORT UNDERGROUND ECONOMIES. It’s a controversial poster that conflates several issues and will no doubt endear, as well as offend, those of multifarious points of view. When free speech and art meet, some will dig, some won’t. The beauty of free speech is that it guarantees the expression of unpopular concepts. The beauty of YO! WHAT HAPPENED TO PEACE? is that it makes liberty and peace beautiful indeed.
MICHAEL SIMMONS is an award-winning journalist and currently filming a documentary on the Yippies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.