The artist’s chief role is to shift people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their place in this world. And, if needed, work to change their perceptions of it if those perceptions become abusive to the greater good. In other words, the artist’s main role is political, not decorative.
I defend this role with the ferocity of a mother wolf protecting her cubs.
Nearly half a century ago, as a young man recently graduated from Harvard, I worked for two years in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. The wrinkled, nearly toothless grandmother of the house where I lived questioned me once about a photo she saw in a magazine that depicted the many people attending Woodstock.
“Why are they barefoot?” she questioned. “Are they poor?”.
Thus started my life long quest to look at the individual and societal “unexamined assumptions” about place, culture, religion and — in the mix of all this — language.
For the grandmother back then, just recently coming out of peasant poverty, anyone without shoes was certainly poor.
For me today, seeing a woman wearing a burka or other total facial covering connotes “oppression of the female in a patriarchal world”.
Who’s right? Whose wrong? What’s in a word? What’s in an image?
We should all be ardent believers in understanding our evolution. Not only in the physical evolution of this world and how/why our “humanness” evolved from the first cellular constructs of the ocean over 1,000,000,000 years ago, but, as importantly, we should seek to understand the evolution of our cultural norms, religions and the etymology of language.
Why? Because it is important to consider the deep origins of why we say what we say, do what we do, and, believe in what we believe.
It is not good enough to say: “I believe this because it says so in the Bible” (Koran or any other religious texts). Why? Because all present religious texts evolved out of earlier religious texts and it behoves everyone to go back to the earliest sources to glean why things might be as they are today. Are they better or worse and for whom?
Who is in control. Follow the power.
To get to the point of this blog, does Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘Origin of the World’ — with it’s in-your-face depiction of the vulva — seem shocking, confrontational, vulgar? Or, perhaps, a brilliant representation of the reality of exactly where all humans come from?
On FaceBook this past week, I shared a quote on the origin of the word “cunt”.
It stated: ‘Cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess’. She was the Great Yoni (vagina) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.
From this same name are derived the words “country”, “kin” and “kind”. So why, in the English language today is the word “Cunt” seen as a vile, obscene and vulgar swear word?
After posting the above quote on FaceBook, the public comments were positive. I did, though, receive a private email reply from overseas that read in part:
You know I’ll query why you persist in posting on Facebook a word that is now impolite. Hundreds of words have changed their meaning in English. It’s no revelation. Awful used to mean in awe now is negative. Hundreds of words have evolved and altered.
I know you may be intentionally provocative and it’s all part of your philosophy but it saddens me as I think it could be why some of your older friends turn away.
My intention — always — is not to be provocative just for the sake of shocking someone; rather, I want to open up doors of understanding into rooms of evolutionary usage.
My preference is for people to not just stand at the door and say: “This is the way it is today, so accept it as given.” Or, “I vote this way because I’ve always voted Labor/Liberal/Republican/Green/Tory.”
These sort of responses are, to me, a tad lazy and lack intellectual rigour; a too easy acceptance of the status quo.
I want people — especially those of us brought up in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamist view of the world — who do view a woman’s cunt as vulgar to ask: Why?
In India the yoni is seen as sacred. In Chinese, the vernacular term is translated as “jade gate”.
However, in our western medical schools, the vagina is listed as pudendum: latin for “place of shame”.
Why the difference?
I try to create art that is both beautiful and pregnant with questions.
I’m an optimist. I believe in a future that is socially just, spiritually fulfilling and environmentally thriving. I equally believe, though, that to get to the future we have to go way back into our past to understand our present circumstances in order to change what needs to be changed.
I stand barefoot
not poor but rich
planting trees of hope
proud and knowing
fully the deep
origins of my birth.