In 2010, catastrophe strikes Haiti. The first major biennial art show in Haiti has been held in the capitol only months before. When the 7.0 earthquake hits, everything is destroyed. The earthquake rips through the country, leaving ruin and sadness in its wake. But, the artists do not quit. They create new art. They incorporate ruin and the destroyed infrastructure into their pieces. They use their catastrophe and turn it into something astounding. Their art show is open once again.
“Here is disaster”, says the earth. “Here is beauty”, say the Haitians.
Today, religious authority rules Iran. It is a country in which rhythm ensures a prison sentence, pointing your toes brings blood and bruises, and moving your body to music is a sin. However, a system has formed. A system composed of illegal ballerinas, of recalcitrant performers. A system in which advertising can only be done through word of mouth, and dancers must keep their dancing a secret from even their families. A system impregnated with a love for dance and a yearning for expression. And so, they dance. They find abandoned hospitals, office blocks, and homes to practice in. They make their own dance shoes. Their passions are irrepressible.
“You cannot dance,” says the government. “Just watch us,” say the dancers.
In WWII, Nazi Germany takes the world by storm, systematically taking down an entire ethno-religious group. Up to 715,000 concentration camps have been put in place. There are close to a million children living in these camps. Their lives are bleak, merciless, and yet they manage to find a small salvation. They express what they are seeing on canvas, they take their sadness and turn it into a brushstroke. They create hauntingly beautiful art pieces, and arrange art classes for others crushed by oppression and cruelty.
“There is only war,” say the camps. “We will show you peace,” say the children.
In Mao’s communist China, the restrictive Cultural Revolution bans the majority of writing and publication. Writers can face torture and public humiliation for expressing themselves with words. Though facing intense punishment, a group named the Misty Poets forms. They react against the restrictions of art, using prose to highlight the harsh artistic ideology of the government. The Misty Poets turn their illegal metaphors and imagery into social commentary that challenges that very law.
You can have no words,” says the People’s Army. “We will always speak,” say the poets.
There is one thread that joins these stories together: resilience. There is something profoundly comforting about the knowledge that people held down by rules and disaster will find a way to continue to create. It is this fight for our passions that gives me confidence in humanity. When the world is dark, we will light a match. When we face oppression, we will continue to paint, write, and dance.
“No”, says the world. “Yes,” say the artists.
Caitlin W, Mackenzie ‘16