I’ve been considering the relationship between politics and art quite a bit lately, as seems inevitable in such tumultuous times. I’ll have more to say about it once I’ve better organized my thoughts, but one of my key concerns is how to make art that is responsive without necessarily being reactionary. That is to say, how do I make work that addresses and engages with global political turmoil, yet stays authentic to my practice and comes from a sincere place?
My heart aches watching the ongoing suffering in the Syrian refugee crisis and imagining how dehumanizing it must be to be torn from one’s homeland and treated with such brutal conditions in camps or hostility in unwelcoming foreign countries. I thought about how deeply rooted I am to the area in New Jersey where I grew up, looking across the bay at New York City where I’ve lived almost my entire adult life. I am haunted by imagining that all of this place that I know as my home could just be gone. Every building and landmark in Manhattan reduced to rubble, once familiar neighborhoods now occupied by warring factions bent on destruction, fearing my own government may gas my family for being ethnic or religious minorities. It is an absolute nightmare, with no end in sight for the millions of displaced Syrians except to start over somewhere new and try to make the best life possible in the worst situation.
I envisioned Syrian refugees building new communities, finding friends in foreign lands who empathized with what they’d been through and did everything they could to make life a little easier. I wondered what might happen if people started treating each other as fellow humans instead of isolating each other with mistrust, and the image of a tree rising from the tumult of history started to coalesce in my mind.
Sanctity, 2017, 11″x14″, permanent marker on paper
An olive tree of peace growing out of the historical colors of Syria’s flags, this image adapts the tree of life motif in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. I thought about how plants and trees are a form of healing for the planet, cycling soil, air, and water and transforming patches of uncertain and even hostile land into lush forests of stability and growth. I was filled with hope at the thought of eventual peace and restoration of humanity that will allow displaced Syrians to heal, grow, turn their history into new roots, and thrive with time and better conditions.
Nurturing Hope, 2017, 11″x14″, permanent marker on paper
The second vision I had was full of hope and optimism, that if we welcome others with community-mindedness and nurture compassion, we can all grow together like a blooming garden. Instead of being disturbed or afraid of the chaos and violence in every culture’s past, we could use history as a wellspring of wisdom to guide us toward a kinder, more peaceful and harmonious future. I thought about the beautiful tapestry of backgrounds and traditions woven together in sanctuaries like New York or Los Angeles, and I pictured each person’s roots twining together to form the alchemical magic of a city that celebrates diversity and learns from each other. I know it is an idealistic vision of egalitarianism and compassion, but if we don’t have the audacity to imagine it, how can we ever make it real?
Inspired by the #WomenForSyria day of action, I’ve added prints of both of these drawings to my Charitable Giving initiative, where 50% of their sales price will be donated to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and/or the International Rescue Committee to support humanitarian aid and refugee resettlement.
Individual prints are $40 each, or they can be purchased as a pair for $60. I hope with all my heart that these images can provide support to the people whose indomitable strength and courage in the face of such inhumanity teaches us all how to turn to our better natures, persevere, and resist.