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Archive for the ‘art’ Category



In Memory of Ruby Dee

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

I say and say again: actors give breath and life to the words of poets, playwrights, and screen writers. Ruby Dee, a great American actor, has died. We will miss her because the breath she breathed into words contained our own hopes, dreams, fears, anger, and love. Ruby Dee was great because her art was not for its own sake; it was for the sake of humanity becoming both more human and more divine.

Her long career started in the 1940s when opportunities for African-American women to play more than a servant were few and far between. In the 1960s she played Cordelia in King Lear and Kate in Taming of the Shrew. She became the first African-American woman to play major roles in the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.

One of her most memorable roles was as Ruth in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Ruby Dee played the role in 1959 on stage and again in 1961 in the film version. She continued her long career on stage, screen, and television well into her elder years. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as the mother of a drug smuggler in the 2007 film American Gangster

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A Review of Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine

Jun11

by: Howard Cort on June 11th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

Ali Abunimah, an internationally known, Chicago-based political analyst, has completed a new book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, published by Haymarket Books. His earlier book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, published in 2007, has been widely discussed, as has his website, The Electronic Intifada, co-founded in 2001 and known for its no-holds-barred advocacy for Palestinian rights.

With his second book, Abunimah has brought forth a comprehensive, multi-faceted analysis of the varied ″battles″ within the Israel-Palestine conflict. His new book also contains a careful explanation of what is lacking in the proposed two-state solution, and what is abundantly present in his proposed solution: self-determination for the Palestinian people.

A significant part of Abunimah’s new book focuses on major developments in both America and Israel, such as: minority-group incarcerations; brutal mass policing; the escalating success of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement; and Netanyahu’s insistence on Israel being recognized as a Jewish State (whereas Abunimah asserts that Israel – Jewish or not – has no more right to exist than the US or any other country).

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Yuri Kochiyama and Amiri Baraka play 2-on-2 in Heaven

Jun3

by: on June 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Yuri and Baraka

I had this crazy dream last night.

Yuri Kochiyama and Amiri Baraka were up in heaven…playing Ronald Reagan and Strom Thurmond in a game of 2-on-2 basketball.

The stakes? Dismantling the segregated institutions of heaven. Why all the clouds gotta be white? Baraka asks. Why all the white angels get the nice harps, and we get these hand-me-down purgatory ukeleles?

The score is tied. 14-14. Next basket wins.

Yuri looks at Baraka like, Don’t worry, my dude. I got this.

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An Open Letter from ‘The Shondes’

May29

by: Elijah Oberman and Louisa Rachel Solomon on May 29th, 2014 | 52 Comments »

On March 28 Brooklyn rock band The Shondes (Yiddish for “The Disgraces”) were disinvited from the Washington Jewish Music Festival, at which they were scheduled to perform on June 2, due to band members’ views on Israel and Palestine. Founding members, singer Louisa Rachel Solomon and violinist Elijah Oberman, have written this open letter in response.

Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr/Meaghan O'Malley

The idea of “The Jewish Community” gets thrown around a lot, even though we have never been a singular or remotely unified group. Jews have wildly different traditions, experiences, and opinions about what Jewish-ness even is. Are The Shondes part of this often-invoked, elusive community? In many ways the answer is clearly yes. But when its institutional guardians draw borders around it to keep out people and ideas they deem unsavory, out-of-line, or “off-brand,” it is an incredibly fraught belonging, to say the least. That kind of policing is the antithesis of the Judaism we love.


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Skin in The Game

May28

by: on May 28th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

I am slow to anger, but it really pisses me off when people prescribe for others some purportedly virtuous (or at least dutiful) behavior they’d never embrace in their own lives.In the financial sector, they call it “skin in the game.” Have you risked some of your own money on the advice you are doling out to others? If not, you have no skin in the game. This sound principle applies to many types of activity: the healthcare or housing programs that politicians approve for low-income families would not be substandard if their own ethics obliged them to accept the same provision for their own families. They would have skin in the game.

The current case in point:when Miya Tokumitsu published “In The Name of Love” in Jacobin early this year, she set off an avalanche of links, reprints, and citations. I was busy, so I ignored all the messages telling me to read and respond. But now, on vacation with time to think, someone sent me Gordon Marino’s exegesis of the same idea, “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love,’” recently published in The New York Times. My internal barometer hit the roof.

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Creating Meaning Out of Trauma: Iraq War Veteran Aaron Hughes Turns to Art

May23

by: Annie Pentilla on May 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Aaron Hughes. "21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago: Day 21-Chicago Skyline" from Mileh Tharthar, Iraq, graphite on vellum, 2009.

Aaron Hughes didn’t know he wanted to be an artist. He was just twenty years old in 2003, a student studying industrial design at University of Illinois, when he was suddenly summoned to fight in the United States’ second war with Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I was a truck driver,” Hughes says, recalling his early experiences in the war. “I would do these missions over and over again, hauling supplies to different bases in Iraq and back out.”

When Hughes arrived the first thing that made an impression were the Iraqi children. “As soon as you cross the border there’s kids – they’re not even as tall as my desk,” he says. “They were willing to jump on a semi truck to get food and water. I was really excited at the time because I thought these are the kids we are going to help. These are the kids we are going to provide humanitarian relief to. We’re going to pass out food and water. We’ll help fix some roads and go home.

Aaron Hughes. "Dust Memories: Al Najaf," collage, ink, watercolor, charcoal, citrus transfer, 2006.

But things weren’t going to be that simple.

Hughes admits that he began his military career with a lot of patriotic fervor. Like many U.S. citizens he believed the United States was in Iraq to promote democracy, find weapons of mass destruction, and provide humanitarian aid. But as the war lingered Hughes began to question why he and his fellow soldiers were occupying a country halfway around the world.

“I quickly learned that we weren’t there to provide any humanitarian relief,” he says. “If anything we were there simply to build out the military infrastructure and support the contractors working for the military, not leaving much space for the humanity of the Iraqis or my fellow soldiers.” The war for Hughes had simply become a year and a half of the dehumanization of the Iraqis, “of pointing my weapon at them and telling them to get the fuck away from my truck” – completely counter to the humanitarianism that he imagined had brought him to Iraq in the first place.

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Racism Stunts Your Growth

May23

by: on May 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

A new study correlates racism with reduced creative capacity. Those holding strong prejudices, such as beliefs that inferiority is an essential quality of other races, rely on “rigid, categorical thinking” that “might actually cause people to become unimaginative.”

I could have told them that.

Back in the 80s, I was involved in a consulting project with the South Carolina Arts Commission.The brief was to address “burnout” in small-town arts organizers, who’d tended to lose heart and retreat despite the state agency’s willingness to provide more than a modicum of funding and assistance. But “burnout” turned out to be a euphemism for banging one’s head against entrenched and often unacknowledged racism.

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Climate Change & The Human Quandary

Apr30

by: on April 30th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

I’m on my way home from Philadelphia and the annual meeting of The Shalom Center, where I have the privilege of serving as president. The organization has a long history of peace and justice activism, increasingly arcing toward peace and justice for the Earth, which is to say the healing of global scorching (as our beloved director Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls it), which also entails rebuking the broken spirits who profit from the planet’s suffering.

Last month, when Arthur was given the first Lifetime Achievement Award by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, he pointed beyond human rights to The Shalom Center’s crucial work to heal and protect from the climate crisis: not just human rights, but the rights of the web of life on this planet, encompassing human and other living beings.

One of our chief topics at this year’s meeting was how to awaken Jewish activism on this burning issue. To date, The Shalom Center is the only organization grounded in the Jewish community that has taken this on as a central cause. We spent considerable time devising a new national initiative that you’ll be hearing about soon.


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Jeff Gipe’s “Renegade Art”: Protesting Development Near Rocky Flats Plutonium Plant

Apr21

by: Annie Pentilla on April 21st, 2014 | Comments Off

Jeff Gipe. "Cold War Horse." Steel, epoxy resin, canvas, foam.


When artist Jeff Gipe talks about his sculpture Cold War Horse – a renegade art piece he created to protest the construction of a toll road and housing development near the former plutonium plant and superfund site Rocky Flats – it sounds as though he’s reading from the pages of a John Grisham novel.

Indeed the entire Rocky Flats’ story reads like a made-for-Hollywood movie, replete with leaking drums of nuclear waste, FBI raids, and so-called government cover-ups.

“That’s the thing about Rocky Flats,” says Gipe. “You can’t know one thing. It’s like this ever-widening scope where you have one question, and then you’ve got ten more.”

Located near Arvada, Colorado, Rocky Flats produced plutonium triggers for use in nuclear weapons from 1951 to 1989. Through its operational period the plant was plagued with accidents, including the two fires in 1957 and ’69 that distributed plumes of plutonium-laced smoke across Colorado’s Front Range. After an investigation revealed supervisors had failed to abide by environmental laws, the FBI raided the plant in 1989. The site was subsequently turned into a superfund site and later a wildlife refuge.

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“Realism” and Its Discontents

Mar27

by: on March 27th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

This has been a strange time in my little world: I’ve been traveling for work while my computer stayed home and lost its mind. I’m glad to say that sanity (i.e., memory, software, and general order) has been restored, and while I still have the sort of compulsive desire to tell the tale that afflicts survivors of accidents, I will spare you most of the saga.

What both journeys—mine and the computer’s—have given me is the opportunity to reflect on the workings of human minds, including my own. In particular, I’ve had a close-up look at the desire to believe, especially to believe the reassuring drone of those in authority.

Earlier this month, I gave a talk at Harvard that focused on some of the key ideas in The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future. I focused especially on the way Corporation Nation has consigned artists to a trivial and undernourished social role, instead of understanding artists as an indicator species for social well-being akin to the role oysters play as bio-monitors for marine environments. I pointed out how arts advocacy has steadily failed (e.g., President Obama asked Congress for $146 million for the National Endowment for Arts [NEA] in the next budget, $8 million less than this year, when he should have requested $440 million just to equal the spending power the agency had 35 years ago). Yet advocates keep making the same weak arguments and pretending that losing a little less than anticipated constitutes victory. There’s an Emperor’s New Clothes flavor to the whole enterprise, a tacit agreement to adjust to absurdity and go along with the charade.


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