Art at War
Bara Sapir

This September 11 I found catharsis, sitting in a plane on the day the planes stopped flying and our lives started changing. I was returning from Chicago, where I was a featured artist in a gallery exhibit about artistic responses to war, and there, through a window thousands of feet in the air, I could see the two towers of light, beams that traveled through space, beckoning our despair. They were an ephemeral yet powerful monument to our collective lost innocence. But I felt empowered, present.

Each 9/11 we revisit scars and confront the emotions wrought by the attack, which confronts us with the tragedy of human aggression played out continuously against other humans and against our environment. This tragedy provides a context within which artists today approach war. Like chroniclers, critics, and philosophers, artists tend to participate within society as observers and recorders, inviting others to experience the world anew by reframing our reality. Ideally, and especially today, their artistic insights can encourage members of society to observe and learn about themselves, to improve current conditions and to exist as more creatively engaged individuals.

The exhibit in Chicago is called "Art at War - The Artist's Voice," at the Aldo Castillo Gallery, and my work was one among many. It is an important opportunity to witness artists tied explicitly to current events. Each of the 89 participating artists, from over 20 countries, address the war in Iraq as well as the history of war as it relates to the human condition.

Aldo Castillo, the gallery owner and curator, was born in Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war. Since his arrival in the United States in 1985, Castillo has witnessed the U.S.-led insurgency against Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra affair, the invasion of Panama and the current Iraqi War. He organized this exhibit to further his gallery's mission: to foster an understanding and appreciation for all cultures and their history through lectures, presentations, live cultural performances, classes and other events, both inside and beyond the gallery walls. It is an established, bona fide gallery with social vision in the windy, Second City.

At the opening on September 10, over 500 people streamed through the swank downtown gallery space. My friend Jodi was sprinkling glitter-fairy dust on all who requested it, fabulous hors d'oeuvres were served, and there was a feeling of excitement in the air: while the images were startling, we had created our works, compelled by the horrors we experienced, and now, in relief, we enjoyed the aesthetic protests at a safe distance. In a chorus, each work shouted "NO!" to war and aggression.

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Top Image: David Teplica, Untitled 6/12
Lower Image: Miguel Cortez, Three Bushes
Images (C) courtesy of Aldo Castillo gallery

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From previous issues:

Manufacturing Dissent
Chad Beck

The Failure of Anti-Despotism
Justin Weitz

Elephant Memory
Jay Michaelson