Over $1 trillion annually, worldwide military spending far exceeds anything else in our austerity era, including that of the UN peacekeeping budget (a fraction of the former at a mere $7.9 million). This depressing statistic can be found almost midway through the press release announcing the 53-piece exhibit, Women Call for Peace: Global Vistas, on view until Dec. 10, 2013, at the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery, John Jay College, CUNY*, 59th St. & 11th Ave., in Manhattan.
What does the U.S. — which monopolizes almost half of the world’s military market — get for that exorbitant price?
For U.S. military women, the rate of rape triples to 70 rapes per day — 3 rapes every hour. (The Pentagon also admits that women’s suicide rate in the U.S. military triples as well.)
As bad as this scenario is, elsewhere in the world for women can be even worse. One of the most striking works of art in the exhibit — “Little Red,” by Marcia Annenberg — highlights this reality, though one would have had to attend the artists’ discussion to obtain the essential backstory inspired by the BBC website, and fully understand and feel the piece. It conveys the horrific story of 13-year-old Somalian Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, who was raped on the way to visit her grandmother, and after it was reported to the police, arrested and stoned to death in a stadium for the crime of having pre-marital sex, because the fundamentalist Islamic group Al-Shabab controlled her town.
One of the two artists with the most political chops here, and not coincidentally the conceiver of this exhibit, is Faith Ringgold, founding member of both Where We At (the female contingent of the Black Arts Movement, which itself was the artistic branch of the Black Power movement), as well as the National Black Feminist Organization. She is a pioneer in the now-familiar art of flag-alteration, here, e.g., with “The Flag Is Bleeding, #2.” Other quilters, including the only East Asian among the 16 artists and a rare late-bloomer who started her career at age 40, Flo Oy Wong, acknowledge Ringgold’s importance (and actual helpfulness) as mother of the painted story quilt.
A counterpoint to Ringgold, who embraced the feminine domain of the quilt, is the coiner of “feminist art” and the conceiver of the first feminist art program in the country — the formidable Judy Chicago, who deliberately trained herself in the more masculine domains of car and boat work, and pyrotechnics. Though none of that is on display here, some wonderfully organic drawings from her Birth Project series are. A more explicitly political work is a composite, juxtaposing the iconic photo of fleeing Vietnamese victims with a drawing of the American pilot attacking them with Napalm, aptly titled, “Grab the Joy Stick/Fire & Forget.”
Another study, “Driving the World to Destruction,” again pictures a male gloating while operating a steering wheel which frames the planet earth consumed in flames. If any art could ever be used in the argument against violent video games, found in over 2/3 of American households, these could. Follow the money trail, starting from pre-school where, “The average 4-8-year-old will see 250 war cartoons and 1000 ads for war toys per year”; nationally broadcast war cartoons increased almost 30-fold while war toy sales increased over 70% (from 1982 to 1985, when five of the top six toys sold in the U.S. were war toys, according to the National Coalition on Television Violence). Or follow the bullet trail in our shooting epidemic (not to mention our mass shootings epidemic, perpetrated by violent video game players) where over one American every hour is killed by a gun.
Aminah Robinson’s “Bedouin Woman” portrait from her People of the Book series, which graces the promotional card for the exhibit, is represented concealed with the usual veil, but with a twist — the veil is made from western male ties. These are the unwanted ties that bind women to a male-dominated, war-mongering world.
Indeed, the U.S. Dept. of Defense is the number-one polluter in the world, due to its “uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release or radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil,” according to Project Censored. The most explicitly ecological artist in this exhibit, Irene Hardwicke Olivieri makes the connection between peace and the environment in her celebratory portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. (“May We Keep Your Garden Alive”) featuring, typical of her whimsical work, overlays of plants, animals, people, and text. Inspired by her exploration of the eco-friendly Parsi sky burials in India, even Bush and Cheney gratifyingly figure in “Nature’s Cleanup Crew” as food for vultures.
Speaking of birds, some chickens are coming home to roost: even conservative NBC News noted that soldier suicides surpassed combat deaths in 2012 — up to the rate of about one per hour, as Stop Soldier Suicide points out.
But to change any of these global, war-related problems we need more women and non-women, artists and non-artists, to call and do more than call — for peace.
*Notes on recent militarism manifest at CUNY itself: Scores of CUNY professors have demanded the resignation of recently hired former CIA chief David Petraeus, as well as the dropping of charges against six students, punched and arrested by police during a peaceful protest against Petraeus in September. The students were charged with obstruction of governmental administration, riot, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. The Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY, objects to Petraeus, “whose documented actions as Iraq/Afghanistan war commander and CIA chief include drone attacks upon civilians, and the creation of torture centers and death squads.”
Also, in October, without any notice, the CUNY Administration raided and closed the Guillermo Morales-Assata Shakur Student & Community Center, which for almost two dozen years had provided social service programs and hosted student activist meetings at City College. Two student protestors who were arrested and suspended have been reinstated, but they continue to face criminal charges of rioting, criminal mischief, and harassment.