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Friday, March 1, 2024

Column: The artist’s place

The role of the artist in a society has always been one that is hard for me to answer. Could the world survive without artists or musicians? Or how about the poets and actors who are under the soul-binding spell of heated stage lights reciting lines and verses to a nearly empty arena that is halfway to crumbling straight into the ground? Does any of it even matter?

I certainly hope so.

On Aug. 7, the L.A. Times published an article about Libyan artists who, after having their artwork hidden from the public eye for 41 years under the ruling of Moammar Gaddafi, were finally able to exhibit their work without fear of being reprimanded. One of the pieces, entitled “Dustbin of History,” depicted Gaddafi as a 12-foot caricature caged in a 15-foot-high trash bin with surrounding garbage.

Can you imagine what Gaddafi’s authorities or Gaddafi himself would have done if he had discovered the mock up representation of his image? It would have been brutal. But it took major guts for these artists to do what they did. And for that, I am in complete awe and admiration.

“Any Libyan seeing this art is the luckiest person on Earth,” one of the artists said. “We artists have been waiting 41 years to have our art displayed in public instead of hiding it in our homes.”

When I initially read the article, the words “we’ve been waiting 41 years” kept on resonating back at me. Forty-one years. These artists waited 41 years to share their work — a work that was made as a direct commentary to the awful conditions of the system they were living in.

After the heavy events that have transpired in the past week (particularly after watching YouTube videos of the police brutality that took place at UC Berkeley), I couldn’t help but question where I stood. Where do I belong?

In recent years, I have somehow worked myself into a corner where I’ve become indifferent to the system that I live in (you know, the “politics” and all the baggage that comes along with it). Like a lot of people, I was sick and tired of hearing guys in fancy suits making empty promises. So to be quite honest, I stopped caring. Instead, I hid behind my persona as an “art major” who didn’t need to know any of “that” political jargon to get by in life. Rather than say something and be wrong or rejected, I opted to saying nothing at all.

But, of course, with the amount of passion the students at this university have, there’s no way I can get by as an ignorant idiot who thinks she’s above it all. It’s unbelievable to witness how much beautiful raw passion everyone here owns.

While I was watching videos of the protests online, I was reminded of the L.A. Times article that I had read months earlier. I had to read it again. It’s incredible to see the similarities between the Libyan artists and student protesters. Although “The System” shuns both, they are very much needed for the sake of balance — the sake of sanity.

So going back to the beginning of this column, I guess I’ve been asking the wrong question this entire time. It’s not about where the artist (or the profession for the matter) belongs, but ultimately it’s about where do I, as an individual, want to belong.

UYEN CAO would like to know what you think about the entire Occupy movement and how it’s affecting you. Let her know by e-mailing arts@theaggie.org.


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