Sunday, November 06, 2005

Pictures Speak A Thousand Words

When I write on this blog, I use words. When we speak, we use words. Some words are universally understood, but many others only have context in the language and culture of the speaker. When we think, sometimes we think in words, but more often than not, when we retrieve a memory, that memory first appears as an image. It's been that way for millenium, since we first used pictures on a cave wall to tell our stories.

When you think about the first birthday you can remember or even the last birthday that you celebrated, what comes to your mind first? The words to the song, "Happy Birthday"? People telling you to blow out your candles? Or, was the first thing you thought about an image? Birthday cake with candles? Friends around the table? Presents? A special meal you shared with a loved one?

If I say, "American Revolution", what comes to mind first?

Pictures speak a thousand words. That's why, every broadcast or big story is accompanied by a graphic, photo or video that conveys the point of the story. In many respects, when soldiers complain about the coverage of Iraq or the missing story of Afghanistan, it's not just the words.

I have noted many times, reading a story or watching the news, the story will start out saying, "Today, Iraqis went to the polls to vote on the referendum for a new constitution. In other news, one soldier was killed and three wounded when an IED exploded near a US patrol." (source)

What message did you get?

My friend Diane is an artist. She's from Canada (a French Canadian) and she also supported the Iraq war and supports our efforts in the war on terror. She believes that Chretien and Canada made a grave mistake not supporting the principles of freedom and democracy by supporting its natural ally, the United States. It can be said that she is indeed a "rare bird". She has painted many pictures depicting soldiers and life in Iraq, using photographs and video for inspiration. I met Diane on the comment board at Iraq the Model. She is a strong believer in Natan Sharansky's democracy as a cure for tyranny and fanaticism. We've spent many hours talking about different subjects and we always come back to "Freedom".

She believes in the concept that pictures speak a thousand words and she believes that the images of freedom and democracy are being neglected by the art world. My own opinion is that the cultural revolution of the sixties led the art community to believe that such images are propaganda and jingoism. Even if they are real images, because they may serve to promote the view of the governmentor authority, their existense must be denied or ignored in order to maintain the illusionary principle that art is rebellion and the ultimate rebellion is against the authority of the state whether that state believes in freedom or not.

It's an interesting contradiction since these same artists, if they lived in a real authoritarian state that did not support the principles of freedom, would have to hide their art in their basement or limit that art work to "government approved" images. Imagine being an artist in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia or, more recently, Saddam's Iraq.

One day, Diane was showing me some of her pictures. One of them was a woman in an abaya (large, black shaw like dress that Iraqi women commonly wear, particularly in Shi'ite areas). The woman was holding a bag with remains from a mass grave. Next to that image were some words in French. I can't read French, so I asked her what the words said. They were from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 (now if they would only live by them)

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

All human beings are born free. Diane believes, as I do, that democracy is the last best hope for mankind to realize this dream.Because Diane believed so strongly in this concept and believed that the art of freedom was so under represented, she started an organization called Arts For Democracy. This site, along with several others features some of her original art as well as art from other freedom loving artists around the world and links to other sites, either part of the AFD or with similar interests. Sites that Diane is involved with:

Pro-Freedom Artists which features art and links from artists past and present. I particularly found interesting the images painted by artists in the Warsaw Ghetto, many of whom perished in the concentration camps or ghettos.

Difficult Images which includes images of death, violence and cultism from the Islamic world, because she believes that hiding these images is a form of denial that, if not confronted, allows people to misrepresent the truth and pretend that it does not matter (especially since it is "others" who suffer).

Research from AFD Diane uses images and current affairs to inspire her art. This site is a conglomeration of graphics and stories.

The side bar for Arts For Democracy has many great links including Iraqi photobloggers, some of which have been recently featured on Iraq the Model. These images you will not see on your front page, cable or network news:

This picutre is from Iraqi photo blogger Sooni who had 20 pictures of Iraqi families celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, at a local amusement park. The park is relatively new, as you can see from the photos, which shows that commerce and reconstruction are more than just schools and clinics set up by our men and women. There were many photos to link to at her site, but I found this one the most compelling. Besides the fact that it is children playing and smiling on new equipment, I noted that these little girls were all dressed in their finest new clothes. I also noted that these little girls were blonde, red haired and brunettes. What many people forget is that Iraq has Assyrians, Turks and Kurds, besides ethnic Arabs. Iraq has been alternately invaded throughout history from Greeks (Macedonians), Europeans and Persians (also invaded by the Greeks). These little girls could be any American's child.

Imagine if America not only saw photos of children playing on new equipment, but children that look like their own. Here is a cold truth, people tend to feel more empathy and relate to their "own kind". When people see images of women in abayas, men in dishdashes, dark skin and hair, dirty and poor little boys and girls, they tend to see them as "the others". It's easier not to think about "the others" or care what happens to them. But, these little girls could be anyone's little girls playing at the park on a sunny Saturday.

This one also grabbed my attention because she showed two diverse images of women in Iraq. Two women are wearing hijab in the foreground, but beside them and in the back, you see many women wearing none. As a matter of fact, these folks are dressed in modern western fashion. Probably very surprising to those who see Iraqis as "foreign". Also note, in the background, the sign on one of the stands reads "Pop Corn" and I believe that is cotton candy behind the lady in black with a hijab. How American is that? For the record, on July 4th, we went to our local fair and this could be our fair, including the two ladies with hijab because I saw several ladies with hijab walking with their families right here in Parkville, MO.

Last, I chose this picture for its color and the fact that it showed a rather large crowd of Iraqis who weren't protesting, burning anything or waiving AK-47s. The ferris wheel is bright and multi-colored with a beautiful sky behind it. And, look, mom, no explosions. Michael Moore can go fly a kite.

Go see the rest of the photos here. What will surprise you, more than anything if you didn't read her side bar, these images were taken in Baghdad. I also suggest that you read Sooni's explanation of the "insurgency" which is extremely coherent and lacking of conspiracy theories. She has several other incredible posts, so don't hesitate to read. (PS..if you didn't catch her name, the odds are that Sooni is a Sunni..will the surprises never cease).

There are several other photo bloggers from Iraq featured at Iraq the Model. Go find out what some folks would rather you didn't know.

I want to take this time to point to a site that Diane was linked to Kaziah who does oil paintings of fallen military heroes for free. Her website says:

As a way to say Thank you for those American servicemen and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice, Kaziah will paint, for the immediate family, an original oil on canvas portrait (free of charge*) of your fallen loved one. In this small way she can say thank you for giving your all in the cause of freedom.

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Father Denis O'Brien of the United States Marine Corp

You too can support all those who have served, that gave the chance for those little girls to be happy, who protects the right of artists to paint, photograph and sculpt what they wish, protects the right of poets to rhyme and the right of the media not to show us the images I showed you today in the name of freedom of the press. Support Project Valour IT by going to the top of this page and hitting the donate button. Or, send a donation to:

Soldiers Angels
Valour-IT Fund
1792 East Washington Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91104

All donations are tax deductible.

Cox & Forkum

The project will provide voice activated laptops to our men and women who have temporarily or permanently lost the use of hands or arms.

Give them their voice.

1 comment:

cn said...

Kat. Just read your article on Freedon, the truth of images and the kind words you wrote about the work that DC is doing.

You are clearly a kindred soul.

DC's work is ground breaking and you have captured the reason the LLL and left artists cannot come up with any other position than opposition to authority.

Their mantra has run out of gas.

Let freedom ring as MLK said. May the LLL also read the words of the Marine Chaplin and weep for their errors.

kind regards