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Art is politics



As we look at recent events concerning public art, it is difficult to say that ART is NOT political. Of course it is!

The recent visit by the current president of this country to the monument called Rushmore has made that fact abundantly clear. Though it comes as no surprise to most people who can put two sentences together, there has never in our lifetimes been such a crass, cynical , ugly and despicable display of it as we have witnessed this past week.

The first thing to know about all of the sculptures on that sacred mountain, including the ridiculously false image called Crazy Horse is that we are all the victims of this kind of ART. Not everyone gets it!

There are many ironies in these kinds of displays of ART and some know there is nothing new about Europeans coming into the North American continent to create their own art and their own story.

The latest comer is a man called Trump who, like the virus that has us in its grip these days, won’t go away. He courts his “base”, a cadre of flag waving white-man drivers of decorated pick-up trucks up Highway 44W, and he is telling them that liberal “left-wing fascists are trying to overthrow the American Revolution” simply because they disagree.

Fireworks and fly-overs from Ellsworth Military Complex accompany this newcomer’s ignorant words which he uses as his way to “preserve our monuments to history”, not knowing much about that history. Nor does he care about or give a second glance to the Sioux Indian protesters in front of him who, having experienced the indigenous history of America’s decades of war and colonization, are hauled off to jail by the South Dakota National Guard for disturbing him.

The truth is, America is no longer a new country, as it has often said to be. It is an old country inhabited by people who have wanted to create a new history.

America is two hundred and forty four years old.

An adult nation, one that should know better than to believe that breaking treaties and building walls is a decent way to behave among nations, if it intends to become a democratic symbol to others.

America is in danger of becoming a ridiculous and irrelevant country just as D’Toqueville predicted. A sorry joke.

The Rushmore Monument accompanies the art called Crazy Horse, a monstrosity blasted into the Mountain since 1948 by a European sculptor Korzcak Ziolkowski. It is not the first nor is it the last of the desecrations suffered in these lands, but is an insult to every Indian in the country.

Zolkowski’s heirs have become the darlings of the tourist trade of the sacred Black Hills. He and Trump and countless other white-man progenitors of such arrogance show an ignorant tourist public what Indians around here call “the desecration tour”. The tour like much of the art by white men and women of the area represents quite obviously a failure to honor the values of Crazy Horse and his people.

A long time ago, when I was in college and first visited the sculpture.

I wrote this poem:

 

MOUNT RUSHMORE

Owls hang in the night air

between the visages of

of Washington, Lincoln

the Rough Rider and Jefferson.

and coyotes mourn the theft

of sacred ground,

a cenotaph becomes

the tourist temple

of the profane.

 

I was young when I wrote that and didn’t know how serving Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument would become to the debasement of the holiness of these lands. I thought, in my youth, it was just ART. There is no excuse for such thought-less-ness, because in all these art efforts, a case is made for white supremacy and indigenous diminishment.

After the Trump visit of 2020, along with the accompaniment of his “base”, as well as a raft of federal officials and what people are saying is forty percent of the voting public of Republican America , I have a better understanding of the centerpiece that ART plays in politics and hate; how it is used and misused. I have a better view of America!! And it is not a pretty picture! We in the beautiful black hills now see a political stance firmly entrenched in white supremacy and privilege. And many of us are worried.

Perhaps after the debacle of the Trump visit to our part of the world listening to the mean and vicious message he presented beneath the faces, we all may have a better notion of what non-Indian entitlement and power and ART can mean.

Perhaps we know more now than we did before of how ideological ART can become an integral part the moral, cultural, military, political and economic fabric of a nation, when an accommodating media strategy is used. Are we ready for a change? I am not in favor of tearing down statues, not even Columbus as has been done in other parts of the country. Such art objects may belong in museums? They are, after all, evidence of the past which we must somehow force ourselves to acknowledge.

Whether we accept such disastrous leadership that brings about this chaos at the highest levels or whether we decide to act in defense of our own rationality is up to all of us!

As CRST takes to the courts some of those responsible for the vulnerability of the art/political disease that envelopes us (as well as the pandemic), and as the tribal nations tolerate the ART which clearly offends them, we must not let cruelty and hate divide us. To fight back is in our long history. A “takeover” may take place in ART, but it does not happen in the ugly mouthings of a man who knows nothing but how to “twitter”.

The tribe’s response is often the right one. We are told that our rate of infection from Covid is lower than it is elsewhere. And, that’s good news.

It is my hope that such realities as we face now may bring with them a sense of urgency in the people. The threats made by State and Federal governments are real. The abuse of power evident in our present day situation is not new to us. We can weather this storm if our young people who are out in the streets do not lose hope for a better future.

(Contact Elizabeth at ecooklyn@gmail.com)

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