Roxanne Amico on Art: Whose Story, What Story. . . & Those Significant Minorities

by Roxanne Amico Friday, June 18, 2010 at 8:34am

Exxon - Valdez Oil Painting 4 of 5 This was more painting than scratching.... I mostly got the terror painted in...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of my work as an artist and as an activist. I’ve never been able to do one without also feeling pulled to do the other. And fortunately, I learned in the nick of time that I need not do one without the other, and actually should do both. I say this is fortunate because in general, I think we live in a culture in which we learn that a relationship between art and social justice is not possible, a lie which silences our muse and our community voice, which can kill the creative life force. But the role of an artist and an activist are directly related to being a human being —–>Particularly IN the context of a culture that functions to dehumanize us. One of the ways we get dehumanized is by the fact that the stories we hear are primarily the stories of those who have the biggest megaphone (radio / newspaper / TV), etc., and those who have the strongest financial relationship with those forums, dominating the commons.

In a nutshell, mega-corporate mainstream news *gives* us a voice and story, telling us what to think and say and do, in complete disregard for the needs of people (humans and nonhumans) and communities of life. I believe *this* is THE bottom line on the importance of art and social action of *any* kind. Our work to survive, thrive, and shape a new culture is, in large measure, to wrestle back OUR OWN stories of our lives, of our loved ones, of our histories, of the landbases that sustain us and the living communities on those landbases.

Exxon - Valdez Oil Painting 1 of 5 This was the 1st one I did, which I didn't like, so I started making scratch board....

I think we can see this everywhere, such as the story of the oil hemorrhaging in the sea bed floor being lied about (as those who work to tell about the carnage of the victims are threatened with / arrested), and we can see it with the story of the flotilla murders, and we can see it with Afghanistan’s “newly discovered mineral wealth”, and we can see it in Iraq, and we can see it in every instance in which there are crimes being perpetrated by the state and corporate partnerships, wanting only their version of the story to be told, heard, remembered…. This is pretty basic media analysis 101, but I am often reminded how few people actually understand this dynamic of the importance of story in life… It’s also well expressed here, when Derrick Jensen makes the point that we are all propagandists, but says much more: “…really means reducing us from active participants in our own lives and in the lives of those around us to consumers sucking words and images from some distant sugar tit…”

Exxon - Valdez Oil Painting 2 of 5 This one and the next one are made from scratch board. (crayon or wax on cardboard, painted with black ink, and then the image is scratched away...)

During an interesting exchange with a friend in another thread in another note, about an entirely different topic, I found a section of a book I’m reading that shows the relationship between creative work and social and environmental justice work… Below is that excerpt, which drove home what the role of art and action are in my life, and what I intend to give to the world as a human being.

From Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery :The Aftermath of Violence — from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, from the chapter on Stages of Recovery:

“Most survivors seek the resolution of their traumatic experience within the confines of their personal lives. But a significant minority, as a result of the trauma, feel called upon to engage in a wider world. These survivors recognize a political or religious dimension in their misfortune and discover that they can transform the meaning of their personal tragedy by making it the basis for social action. While there is no way to compensate for an atrocity, there is a way to transcend it, by making it a gift to others. The trauma is redeemed only when it becomes the source of a survivor mission.”

Exxon - Valdez Oil Painting 3 of 5

“Social action offers the survivor a source of power that draws upon her own initiative, energy, and resourcefulness but that magnifies these qualities far beyond her own capacities. It offers her an alliance with others based on cooperation and shared purpose. Participation in organized, demanding social efforts calls upon the survivor’s most mature and adaptive coping strategies of patience, anticipation, altruism, and humor. It brings out the best in her; in return, the survivor gains the sense of connection with the best in other people. In this sense of reciprocal connection, the survivor can transcend the boundaries of her particular time and place. At times the survivor may even attain a feeling of participation in an order of creation that transcends the ordinary reality. Natan Sharansky, a prisoner of conscience, describes the spiritual dimension of his survivor mission:

“Back in Lefortovo (prison), Socrates and Don Quixote, Ulysses and Gargantua, Oedipus and Hamlet, had rushed to my aid. I felt a spiritual bond with these figures, their struggles reverberated with my own, their laughter with mine. They accompanied me through prisons and camps, through cells and transports. At some point I began to feel a curious reverse connection: not only was it important to me how these characters behaved in various circumstances, but it was also important to *them*, who had been created many centuries

Exxon - Valdez Oil Painting 5 of 5 This was the most successful painting of the series of five... More a collage-painting, it's got many layers of paint and transparency and emotion painted and glued in, and this one expresses the grief as well as the fear and rage of imagining being buried in oil and unable to breathe or swim or eat... My painting changed a lot after this experimental period... Oh, and one of the things I was thinking about at the time was how the color red was so narrowly characterized in our culture as a color of violence or anger. I did some research and learned it's not that way in all cultures. In other cultures, red is revered for its associations to sexuality, to women's power, to blood and the life force being given and taken away. I became interested in how, in India, the Hindi culture embraces the Goddess Kali as the feminine force, and so I worked to bear that in mind as I painted the personification of what I was feeling, using my own self-portrait. There's a progression here of five paintings...

ago, to know how I was acting today. And just as they had influenced the conduct of individuals in many lands and over many centuries, so I, too, with my decisions and choices had the power to inspire or disenchant those who had existed in the past as well as those who would come in the future. This mystical feeling of the interconnection of human soul was forged in the gloomy prison-camp world when our zeks’ solidarity was the one weapon we had to oppose the world of evil.”

Herman continues:

“Social action can take many forms, from concrete engagement with particular individuals to abstract intellectual pursuits., Survivors may focus their energies on helping others who have been similarly victimized, on educational, legal, or political efforts to prevent others from being victimized in the future, or on attempts to being offenders to justice. Common to all these efforts is a dedication to raising public awareness. Survivors understand full well that the natural human response to horrible events is to put them out of mind. They may have done this themselves in the past. Survivors also understand that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. It is for this reason that public truth-telling is the common denominator of all social action.”

“Survivors undertake to speak about the unspeakable in public in the belief that this will help others. In so doing, they feel connected to a power larger than themselves….”

You can find Roxanne Amico’s work and passionate writing and you can hear her on the radio through her web site.  About herself she writes: “I’m an artist and an activist: a visual artist, a writer, an independent audio & radio producer, with an online radio podcast… following my heart and using my gifts and resources to save: this planet I love, its people, and this life I love. The reason for life is to share our lives with one another. I want whatever I do to facilitate that for others to do the same. Here is my website, where you can learn more about my art, read my writing, and hear my shows ..: visit

Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman, M.D., quoted above

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