Gaza in Art, Anguish and Anger

There are no words evocative enough to describe the horror of what is taking place in Gaza. The constant bombardment, the forced displacement of millions from their homes, the intentional destruction of hospitals and schools; the ethnic cleansing of a population, the mass murder and the defiant rejection of calls for a ceasefire by the United States. These verified war crimes together with reports of babies left to die in maternity wards by Israeli troops, the burying alive of wounded Palestinians and the use of banned white phosphorus renders any language incapable of expressing the horror. In instances like this, the truth of the saying that a picture tells a thousand words becomes obvious.

This essential truth is what led Bread and Puppet Theatre founder Peter Schumann to paint a series of images and words on bedsheets hung at Bread and Puppet’s property in Glover, Vermont. Like Bread and Puppet’s work since the 1960s has always done, these images are designed to provoke a response—and action. For those unfamiliar with the Bread & Puppet’s history and mission, let me provide a short version of a rich and varied cultural phenomenon. Making its home and workspace in Glover, Vt. since 1970, the group began its work in New York in the mid-1960s, putting on antiwar and anti-racist dramas written by the performers and featuring giant puppets also made members of the collective. These puppets were a feature of many protests and other actions against the war in Vietnam for years. After the war in Vietnam ended, the group continued its activist theatre, participating in the protests against nuclear power, the US wars on Central America, the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rising economic inequality in capitalist USA. It puts on these shows at its home in Vermont and it takes them on the road. Most recently, Bread and Puppet finished up a residency at the Theater for the New City in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, just blocks from Tompkins Square Park.. It has toured much of the United States in the past couple years. Always clear in its antiwar and anti-capitalist message, Bread and Puppet remains a clarion voice for justice in a world where many of the most powerful inhabitants have little to no desire for such a thing.

Because there are no words capable of expressing the crimes in Gaza, the images/bedsheets that are the contents of Schumann’s book, titled Gaza Genocide Bedsheets, become immediate expressions of anger and despair. They pull no punches in pointing out the vacuity of the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of the Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity that media essentially cheers. Likewise, the role of the White House, Congress, the Pentagon and the US media is exposed in imagery considerably bolder than the majority of the elected officials politicking in Washington. As one pages through the book, one senses the rage at what the artist clearly considers genocide screaming through the stormy splashes of color—red backgrounds more vivid than the blood they most surely represent, yellows like the sun blotted out by the plumes of smoke rising from craters left by one ton bombs made in the USA.. .Likewise, the despair is obvious in the grays that are the canvas upon which horrified faces and primitive outlines of death planes reproduce and represent the criminal slaughter taking place. As the book nears its end, Schumann turns the focus to our complicity–in the way we choose who runs this nation and in our failure to stop what we cannot help but know is occurring. The images demand a response. They cry for one. They require one. One hopes it is a response that results in action.

Fomite Press in Burlington, Vermont was established in 2011. Both of its founders, Marc Estrin and Donna Bister, are co-conspirators with the Bread and Puppet collective. Estrin has worked with them since the late-1960s protests against the US war on the Vietnamese. Fomite has published several collections of Peter Schumann’s work. Estrin is also the co-author of a 2004 retrospective of Bread and Puppet composed together with photographer Ron Simon titled Rehearsing With Gods. This book is the latest piece of their ongoing project involving the publishing of Schumann’s work.

Gaza Genocide Bedsheets is immediate in its topicality, righteously angry in its intent, and demanding of a larger audience.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com