We all like the arts.
I like romcoms, Chuck Palahniuk novels, and spoken work; you might like graphic arts, Warhol, and video game design— no matter what or how different the pieces you or I choose to admire are, the fact is that we both are fascinated by art. The two of us, and everyone else really, are appreciating the crafted delicacies of our world. That‘s the best thing about it, to me: art is amazing because it’s a product of our culture.
So Chuck’s black humor and down-with-society memo are remnants of popular opinion in the Post-Modern world. Warhol’s abstraction is a protest to the rigidity of society and materialism. Your t-shirt and jeans combo is a product of the fashion sense of our time.
And, according to Fahs, Walt Whitman’s patriotic subject matter and Emily Dickinson’s increasingly cynical outlook are products of the culture of war.
That’s not so hard to believe, when you take the time to analyze and contextualize their works, as we did in class. Culture is directly affected by war, regardless of how invasive (or not) the battles are to everyday life; art, as a piece of culture, is reflective of these conditions and their outcomes. After all, Dickinson never saw a lick of the front, but she still wrote that victory came too late.
Understanding the inspiration behind a piece, therefore, can help in understanding In his novel Immortality, Milan Kundera wrote:
War and culture, those are the two poles of Europe, her heaven and hell, her glory and shame, and they cannot be separated from one another… The fact that no war has broken out in Europe for fifty years is connected in some mysterious way with the fact that for fifty years no new Picasso has appeared either.
War and art, as Kundera points out here, are tied together. He calls them “the two poles of Europe,” but I would argue against this Eurocentrism because they can really be called “the two poles of” every region’s society. Take a look, for example, at some works created in the aftermath of the Gulf War, the huge Middle Eastern battle of 1991.
These works are by Iraqi artists Hanaa Malallah and Kareem Risan, both of whom fled their countries in light of the war.
The first was created by Malallah. Entitled “Illuminated Ruins,” it depicts her ruins technique. This technique uses found items and waste material, which are burned onto a canvas. Malallah literally developed it after having seen the destruction of her homeland, and describes the inspiration as “ruination is the essence of all being.” She claims that the technique is not a product of war, but it is “contemporaneous comment upon destruction and the inherent violent nature of the human condition worldwide.” Yet this new view on the world, I would argue, is a product of war, and that is reflected in her artwork.
The next three are parts of Risan’s collection called Uranium Civilization. He described the collection as a coping mechanism for the war; he found that painting the “human and social destruction” he saw in Baghdad helped him come to terms with the horrific use of depleted uranium, outlawed, by the United States. Here he displays the tragedies, as depicted by the chaotic, angry brushstrokes. War, he seems to be saying, is destruction.
These artists both are influenced by their experiences, whether they admitted to it or not. Their works are clearly evidence that the Gulf War contributed to their subject matter and technique. Like Dickinson and Whitman, both capture their emotions of war in their artwork. And like Dickinson and Whitman, maybe we can learn something about common humanity in the midst of a war-torn world.