For the Sake of Others
Welcome to The Mantle’s fourth virtual roundtable, and the third in our series on the roles of individuals in times of conflict. In previous iterations we have heard from writers and musicians. Here, four artists and allies answer, "What is the role of the artist in a conflict zone?"
The backgrounds and perspectives of the roundtable participants match the complexity of the question. That is, any answer requires establishing a context, parsing details, and thinking outside the box. Perspective matters. Thus, the writer and performer Kayhan Irani, who has extensive experience in conflict zones like Afghanistan, necessarily approaches the question differently than her fellow artist Emna Zghal, a Tunisian-born visual artist who brings her own interests, experiences, and politics to the table.
As in roundtables past, conflict is in the eyes of the beholder. Revolution, war, environmental destruction, the push and pull of the artistic role in society at large—all of these represent different types of conflict. Lucía Madriz, who uses art installations to address ecological and economic destruction, provides a unique take on her role in the face of a different sort of conflict. To round out the voices, Todd Lester, an advocate for reconciliation and for artists in distress, comes to the discussion with a twist of inside-outside legitimacy: What does an artist’s ally say about the role of the artist in times of conflict?
Further, what role do you, the art lover, assume an artist should take in the face of violence? Perhaps the answers proffered by Kayhan, Emna, Lucía, and Todd will help you see the artist’s position in a different light.
To follow the roundtable that asks, “What is the role of the artist in a conflict zone?” see my introductory remarks below. Then click on each of the participants to read their essays and responses. At the bottom of this page you can view my concluding remarks.
- Shaun Randol, Editor in Chief. October, 18, 2012
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There is a very simple exercise that we do in the Theater of the Oppressed to demonstrate the essence of a conflict: two people stand face to face; one person says, “I want it” and the other person replies “You can’t have it.” They repeat these, and only these, phrases to one another—each person trying to get the other to concede to her will by modulating her voice, moving her body, etc. The battle of wills, one desire against another, is a simple way to define conflict. In the real world conflict is layered with complexity.
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When a doctor attends to the sick, she is dutifully fulfilling a role. After, she would expect for her effort to be acknowledged, assessed, and compensated. This is not the case when a poet pulls out a piece of paper and spends hours on end putting words together and pulling them apart. Seldom is the case that somebody else is waiting to be affected by that specific poem. However, this seemingly detached endeavor—art—has potentially tremendous impact and importance in zones of conflict and elsewhere. Art exists wherever humans existed.
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I´ve been increasingly starting to feel, especially in recent years that the issue of ecological destruction, whether it will be climate chaos, whether it be the disappearance of species, whether it be the water crisis … Every dimension of the ecological crisis is in fact the leftover ruins of a war against the Earth, the biggest war taking place on the Planet which globalization has made truly global. No place is safe, no ecosystem is safe, and no communities are safe.
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I've just come back from a vacation to Mexico where I had the opportunity to visit the home where Trotsky lived (and was assassinated).