The Distance Between the Haters and the Hated: Breaching the Gap with Art
It is easy to denounce sexism, racism, terrorism, and other harmful attitudes directed towards certain groups and individuals as products of blind hatred. It is easy to dismiss sexists, racists, and terrorists for their hate, to write them off as “evil” and inherently bad; it is certainly easy to develop one’s own hatred for such people.
Easy, yes, but productive? Not in the least. Countering hatred with a dismissive, contemptuous disposition or one’s own hatred will only add fuel to an already voracious fire. To vanquish hatred–both in oneself and in society–one must understand that hatred is not the product of inherent evil; rather, it is the product of fear and ignorance. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his speech at Cornell College in 1962,
“…Men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other” (Cornell).
That which separates the haters from the hated–the vast chasm of ignorance that is the ultimate source of hatred–must be breached if any progress is to be made in the fight against hate. The only suitable bridge for this gap is communication; the most effective method of communication is art.
Through their work, artists present their own life experiences and viewpoints–their identities, in a sense–to society in the hope that their perspectives might be better understood on a grand scale. They call attention to the hatred they have been subjected to or witnessed; they bring crucial issues to the forefront of society’s collective consciousness by providing context to dilemmas such as racism, sexism, and terrorism through the vessel of self-expression.
Sarika Goulatia, an artist born in India who currently lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, often utilizes physical objects relevant to her heritage and “bright colors and smells reminiscent of [her] childhood”, such as red chili pepper–a spice commonly used in Indian cuisine–in her piece Contrasting Metaphors and the color vermillion–a “red color symbolic of a married woman in Indian culture”–in her piecethe wars go on with brainwashed pride; till bloody hands time can’t deny; these cultural elements connect viewers with Goulatia’s experiences as an Indian-American woman (Goulatia). Goulatia called attention to the catastrophe of terrorism in her wall installation, Mappings, in which she “used different kinds and lengths of nails to create an abstract visual to the number of people who died as a result of the terrorist attack in Mumbai on 11/26.” The “hammering of the nails is a profound, almost devilish, repetitive, vicious action in conjunction with the ceaseless, unthinkable bombings and killings wrought by terrorists on 11/26/2009 in Mumbai, India” (Goulatia). Sarika Goulatia uses art as a platform to voice her experiences and views on culture and terrorism, and affords viewers the opportunity to better understand these concepts through the lens of her work.
Emma Sulcowicz, former student of Columbia University, drew international attention to the critical issue of rape and the unjust nature of legal proceedings concerning rape in her senior arts thesis, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), in which she resolved to carry a mattress to campus every day until her assailant, Paul Nungesser, was expelled (which, for the record, he was not) (Grigoriadis). Instead of choosing to remain silent and anonymous, Sulcowicz actively protested the injustice of her rape and Columbia’s failure to convict her rapist. This action opened up an international conversation on the subject of rape and the legal system’s tendency to repudiate rape victims. In Mattress, Sulkowicz literally and metaphorically carried the weight of her rape, and the world took notice.
The Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania challenged socially constructed stereotypes associated with Black males in its 2015 exhibit,Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity. Featuring the photographic work of several artists, the gallery “highlights young men in city-landscapes who defy stereotypical and monolithic understandings of Black masculinity by remixing Victorian-era fashion with traditional African sartorial sensibilities … [the exhibit] confronts the myth of the young Black man as “thug” via the juxtaposition of an alternative style of dress” (Silver Eye). Dandy Lion presents viewers with the perspectives of individuals who have experienced the sting of racism and negative racial stereotypes. The artists involved in Dandy Lion depict the concept of the Black male in a light untainted by the stain of stereotypes, in an attempt “to articulate a self-actualized identity” (Silver Eye). The works featured in Dandy Lion combat the hatred of racism by proudly depicting an identity that rejects the constricting definitions of racial platitudes.
If the distance between those who hate and those who are hated is comprised of ignorance, the only link that might span such a gap is the understanding accorded by communication and connection. Haters choose to hate due to ignorance and they will remain ignorant unless they are provided with opportunities to see and comprehend the perspectives and identities of the individuals and groups toward which their hatred is directed. Opportunities as such are best purveyed by individuals who express themselves and their particular viewpoints through art. The connective force of art, the bridge that spans the gap between the haters and the hated, challenges ignorance–the ultimate source of fear and hatred–by providing a platform for viewers to better understand and relate to concepts and ideas with which they are unfamiliar.
“Dr. Martin Luther King’s Visit to Cornell College.” news.cornellcollege.edu. Cornell College, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015. <http://news.cornellcollege.edu/dr-martin-luther-kings-visit-to-cornell-college/>.
Goulatia, Sarika. “Artist Statement/Info.” sarikagoulatia.com. Sarika Goulatia, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015. <http://www.sarikagoulatia.com/info.php>.
“Mappings.” sarikagoulatia.com. Sarika Goulatia, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015. <http://www.sarika-goulatia.com/mappings/>.
Grigoriadis, Vanessa. “Meet the College Women Who Are Starting a Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault.” nymag.com. New York Media, 19 May 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2015. <http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/09/emma-sulkowicz-campus-sexual-assault-activism.html#>.
“Silver Eye Exhibition Explores the Cultural Impact of Black Dandyism.” silvereye.org. Silver Eye Center for Photography, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2015. <http://silvereye.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Dandy-Lion-Silver-Eye.pdf>.