ARTIST CALL- Against U.S. Intervention

September 25, 2007

If, as artists, we can silently witness the destruction of other cultures, we forfeit the right to make art of our own. ARTISTS CALL general statement, January 1984 On January 28, almost a thousand people wearing black walked single file from the aircraft carrier Intrepid on the Hudson River (our museum of war) to the Judson Memorial Church on New York's Washington Square (our mu- seum of peace, housing three exhibi- tions of art for, from and about Central America). Each marcher wore the name of a person missing or murdered in Central America. At the end of this mourning procession, each name was read out loud and then tied to a balloon and released in a colorful celebration of hope. The "Procession for Peace" was one of hundreds of events taking place across the continent in January as part of ARTISTS CALL Against U.S. In- tervention in Central America. In New York alone there were 31 exhibitions and some 50 events. ARTISTS CALL is the largest cultural campaign of its kind ever organized in the United States. It began in-the New York visual arts community last May, at the initiative of the young Institute for the Arts and Letters of El Salvador in Exile (INAL- SE). By winter the idea had spread to 27 other cities in the United States and Canada, and it now incorporates poets, writers, performers, video and filmmakers, musicians and theater people. ARTISTS CALL's stated goals are to raise consciousness, to affect public- opinion and to express the cultural sec- tor's outrage at the Reagan Administra- tion's disastrous policies in Central America. Funds raised from the events and sale of art will support cultural work in Nicaragua and education and unions in El Salvador and, in some cities, Medical Aid to El Salvador or Guatemalan refugees. Why artists? Why Central America? Images of the caricatured Banana Re- publics, of ancient ruins and colorful Indian cultures which once seemed so distant have given way to a new and grimmer reality in the past two years. Central America is closer to us now, not just because it's in the news, not just because we clearly share its future, but also because the flow of political and economic refugees into North America includes exiled professors, students and artists. One of the most important aspects of ARTISTS CALL has been the way in which it has strengthened the national and international solidarity among artists, and personalized our common grounds. It has come as a shock to many North American cultural workers to realize that our colleagues in El Salvador and Guatemala are targeted for repression, torture and death precisely because of their talents as communicators. The exiled artists often show little inclina- tion to plunge into our esthetic melting pot. Though torn from their roots and their audiences, they maintain proud connections with their heritages. Into the Front Yard At the same time, more and more North Americans are visiting Nicara- gua, where they witness firsthand the burst of creative energies that followed the revolution. In the double process, Latin culture has become more familiar and more accessible to many North Americans. Film, video and news pho- tography have been particularly effec- tive in bringing Central American life out of the back yard and into the front yard. Although the progressive art com- munity formed its backbone, the im- pressive array of commercial galleries, small museums and extremely well- known artists participating enhanced ARTIST CALL's public stature. The project's success has surprised even its most dedicated organizers. It has not only been covered nationally by news media (excluding The New York Times, which has totally ignored this unpre- cedented phenomenon), but more im- portant, thousands of cultural people as yet unaligned have mobilized around Central American issues. At one point we worried that New York's eight- night performance festival, for instance, would be too much of a good thing on top of all the other events. Instead, it seemed that each night generated more energy. All the presentations sold out. The growing awareness and creative intensity in the air was often almost tangible. There is no better way to set artists thinking about issues than to ask them to put their art on the line. ARTISTS CALL differs from precedents set dur- ing the Vietnam War, not only in its vaster scale but in the level of con- sciousness that had grown up from the grassroots during the supposedly silent 1970s. As more artists begin to take responsibility for the dissemination of images and ideas, the connections be- tween culture and social action become clearer and the arts become more ef- fective. The substantial international networks being formed by ARTISTS CALL will permit artists to continue to think, to grow and to organize around political concerns-to create and to expand communications with other artists as well as with the new audiences. These networks are cross-cultural, and cross- disciplinary (as well as "cross-political" in the sense that liberal and Left do not find themselves at cross-purposes). In many cities, a new kind of arts community is possible, combining ele- ments from the conventional art and intellectual worlds and the various His- panic groups. Working so closely with Latin Americans has expanded the North American vision of creative power. As writer Charles Frederick put it on his return from Nicaragua, "Cul- ture is human beings creating their own reality in a specific location. Self-ex- pression is a prerequisite for self-em- powerment. There is no greater collec- tive effort, no greater participatory performance, no more significant art work, than the project of freedom." Real Avenue of the Americas ARTISTS CALL has varied in each city, depending on the character of the cultural, Hispanic and political com- munities. The Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia calendars were multi- paged and multi-faceted. In Burling- ton, Vermont, a storefront was rented for a paint-in and performances were held at the local shopping mall. In Philadelphia a portable photography show was mounted in the streets; a "Rice, Beans and Well Wishes" sculp- tural installation gathered sustenance for refugees. In Chicago, "Big Pine Two" was an evening vigil at Federal Plaza, complete with pine trees. In San Francisco, events ranged from Angela Davis speaking on Grenada to "famous artists" shows, to breakdancers work- ing the streets. There was a peace vigil in Raleigh, North Carolina, major shows in Seattle, Houston and Detroit. In New York on January 21, West Broadway, in the heart of the SoHo art scene, was transformed into La Ver- dadera Avenida de las Americas with guerrilla theater and rows of banner portraits of Latin cultural heroes. A huge rusty chain was cut with an acetylene torch by Peruvian artist Car- men Sanchez, in a symbolic gesture for freedom. ARTISTS CALL was formed as an organizing committee rather than an ongoing organization. Because it rep- resents a broad spectrum of ages, poli- tics, esthetics and nationalities, its "line" has been simple: No U.S. in- tervention; cultural autonomy for Cen- tral American peoples. Although events wound down in March (and in New York, wind back up again with a music festival in May), ARTISTS CALL is finding it hard to dissolve. So many people still want to participate, or or- ganize new cities, that we seem to have a responsibility to continue, at least through the elections. Right now it looks as though the best artists or any- one else can do to improve the situation in Central America is defeat Ronald Reagan in November. Whatever its life span, ARTISTS CALL will remain a cultural campaign, encouraging Central American artists to create the sketches, the scores, the new monuments and images with which to frame the issues and color public opinion.


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