Who Shall Inherit The Earth? – Lew Rosenbaum

Who Shall Inherit the Earth?  

by Lew Rosenbaum

[First of all: apologies for the reproductions here, which come from my “phone” at the exhibit and consequently have all the defects associated with that.  Second, this exhibit has now left Chicago and will be opening at MoMA in New York in October, 2018; then at LACMA in Los Angeles in February, 2019. Do not miss this exhibit.  Last, with gratitude for having had the opportunity to meet Frances Barrett White, and her two children Jessica and Ian, and be welcomed into her home in the mid 1980s. — LR]

“Think! Think about what you’re tryin’ to do to me.” These lyrics from the song written by Aretha Franklin’s (1968, Aretha Now) are chasing through my head as I mull over my response to seeing the Charles White Retrospective exhibit in the Art Institute of Chicago. For the second time.  And I don’t go to exhibits more than once.  But I did make time for this exhibit, and these Aretha-lyrics come to me because of something Danny Alexander wrote.  It’s about the artist and the thought processes that galvanize the artist’s work, whether music to the ear or the visual music on paper and other media. It’s what the artist is telling the listener or viewer.  I am not skilled in the language of visual art, so I will leave it to others to comment on the techniques, of which Charles White was a master.  The force of the paintings, etchings, linocuts, drawings — everything — moved me to tears throughout the galleries.  Often tears of joy at experiencing something that struck so close to home that it felt like a personal communication, an embrace by what art should be conveying.

Thinking.  How do you capture brain waves on paper? The text accompanying “Awaken from the Unknown recalls White’s transformation after reading Alain Locke’s 1925 The New Negro anthology, and finding there “a new world of facts and ideas in diametric opposition to what was being taught in the classrooms and text-books as unquestionable truth.”  Maybe you start there, recalling what it was like, when your mother dropped you

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Awaken from the Unknowing – Charles White (1961)

off at the public library (it was at the Chicago Cultural Center then) at 7 or 8 years old, and you reconstructed the real world from what you read there, and then walked the few blocks to the Art Institute, wandering the halls, where you said your found the work of Winslow Homer particularly influential. At least that’s what Charles White did and said, and in this piece I see myself and imagine the subject of this piece on a road to discovery, perhaps after work, exhausted, and falling asleep over the piles of newspapers, just like I have done many times.  Falling asleep in the process of awakening, kind of a visual pun, I suppose.  She’s been asleep and here is the key to awakening. Discovering the new ideas that transform. Here’s a new idea that transforms: “Think! And let yourself be free!”

Much earlier in his life, Charles White contemplated what brought him to his own understanding.  He painted these two pieces in 1942, “Hear This” and “This, My Brother.”

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This My Brother – Charles White (1942)

Both these pieces speak to a kind of awakening, or different stages of awakening.  Referring to the title of the novel by John Rood, call “This My Brother”  social consciousness, the discovery not only that classes exist, but that the workers as a class, in this case the miners, have a class enemy. This form of learning comes directly from the struggle, the battles for a better life.  It evolves out of what is often called the “spontaneous movement,” though it should be clear that there is very little spontaneity even in this process.  But then you have “Hear This,” in which the two figures are engaged in, even fighting over, the written word.  One figure, grasping a book, tries to convince the other about its point of view;  the other, seems unconvinced

Hear This Charles White 1942

Hear This – Charles White (1942)

(the text next to the paintings implies that it referred to White’s own experience learning about the social struggle from communists).  They (the man with the book, the communists) introduced something new, something that came from outside the struggle itself, something that reflected that particular role that workers play in transforming society. Changing the social order is fundamentally different from the practical role workers have in fighting for better wages and working conditions. Looking at these two pieces gives a kind of visual representation  of the difference between the school of the strike struggle and the school of revolutionary propaganda. And, of course, the relation between the two: without the learning that comes from the practical struggle, the propaganda remains so much sectarian jargon.  But in these two paintings, along with that dramatic “Awaken” piece, comes a visual lightning bolt that 100 pages of explanation can never transmit so dramatically (or, dare I say, graphically).

* * * * *

Let’s take a step backward, talk about Charles White and this “communism” thing.  The text accompanying the exhibit alludes to it in a number of places aside from what is noted above.  For example, at the entrance to the exhibit, the text calls him a “political leftist who championed the rights of the working class.”  The text accompanying his mural work reads: “White aligned himself with a group of leftist artists [in Chicago] who drew attention to inequities in American society in order to effect social change.” It was much more than that.  Frances Barrett White wrote a memoir of her life with Charles White (Reaches of the Heart, Barricade Books, 1994, o.p.).  “Charlie’s art teachers,” she writes, “encouraged his talent and twice entered his work in statewide competitions. Both times he won, and both times when he appeared to receive the awards, they were denied to him.”  It was a mistake, he was told.  Someone else had actually won.  “By the time he was fifteen, Charlie had read . . . The New Negro many times.  The knowledge of his culture he found there was overwhelming. . .”  He began to dislike school intensely, stopped attending, and found as an alternative the “Arts Crafts Guild, a group of black artists who met every Sunday. It changed the direction of his art.” In his early meanderings in the Art Institute, he had been influenced by Winslow Homer and the Hudson River School, and this translated into paying attention to landscapes.  Now, with the Arts Crafts Guild, he took his easel “into the neighborhoods and painted people. Black people. . . on the streets, on the stoops of broken-down buildings, and hanging up their laundry.”  Winning another statewide competition this time brought him a one-year scholarship to the Art Institute.

He completed his course work in 1938, a time when the depression still ravaged the streets of the U.S. The government found work for artists through the Works Progress Administration; numerous arts organizations brought writers and people in the theater and visual artists together to talk about their individual crafts and also how to address the issues raised by the depression.  Along with the fight to survive came the attempt to grapple with the issues intellectually.  Within this ferment communists brought their understanding of the drive toward World War that was seizing Europe.  In the John  Reed Clubs and later the American Writers Congress, authors debated how to stop the threatening war. Artists joined the Lincoln Brigade of the International Brigades to stop the fascist offensive in Spain. Artists looked to Mexico and the mural movement there and the involvement of artists in workers’ struggles.  The current exhibit mentions only four murals he worked on;  but Fran White relates that he “joined the WPA where he painted murals in post offices, libraries, and public buildings throughout the country, never staying in one place any longer than the work required.” In 1941 he married Elizabeth Catlett, a prominent Black sculptor, and in 1942 won a $2,000 fellowship to study the role of the Negro in the development of America.  The two of them spent the next two years in the American South studying and sketching subjects from Black life.

Drafted into the army in 1944, he suggested to his Sergeant that he could use his skills as a combat artist. He was therefore assigned to the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, where “he painted the mess hall, the tables, the benches, and the chairs again and again, always using the same color of green paint.” During a flood he and his fellow soldiers in the segregated battalion  filled and moved sandbags, as if in a prison gang.  And shortly thereafter he came down with tuberculosis, which affected him for the rest of his life.

These are some of the events that formed the context of his early life for the intellectual development that brought him, for example, to be an art director at Wo-Chi-Ca, or Workers’ Children’s Camp in upstate New York (where he first met Frances Barrett).  Led him to form binding friendships with some of the most prominent artists of the time — Margaret Burroughs,  Gordon Parks, and Rockwell Kent — and, when he settled in New York, to form an organization, the Committee for the Negro in the Arts, in the early 1950s, including Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Langston Hughes, and Oscar Hammerstein.  He appealed to friends in the Thomas Jefferson School of Marxist Studies (the Communist Party workers’ school) for help finding a place for an interracial couple to rent an apartment in New York.  These cohorts, his colleagues, his confreres stoked that intellectual fire and helped him conclude, as the text to the exhibit proclaims, “Art is not for artists and connoisseurs alone. It should be for the people.”

*****

Art isn’t only to illuminate horrors of the past.  It’s to envision, to hope for the future.  So yes there is “Birmingham Totem” printed after the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church.  And there is the series of “Wanted Posters” that summon up all the demons of

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Oh Freedom – Charles White (1956)

past enslavement and degradation post slavery.  About that group of works, done in 1969 to 1971, White said: “Some of my recent work has anger. I feel that at this point  I have to make an emphatic statement about how I view the expression, the condition of this world and of my people . . . I guess it’s sort of finding the way, my own kind of way, of making an indictment.” But there is also the ecstatic “Oh Freedom,” expansive joy in the face of the subject, with the vigorous open-handed casting of seeds (in my mind, the intellectual seeds falling on fertile soil of the oppressed).

Look also at the determination in the eyes of the woman depicted in “Ye Shall Inherit the Earth.”  I dare you to think that this woman will allow her child to inherit an earth like the one into which we have been born.  She has her eyes on the prize and will protect not only him, but all children.  Of course the title is a reference to “Sermon on the Mount,”  but keep in mind that in 1953, when he drew this piece, he could not marry his wife in the state of Michigan; and that he could not easily

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Ye Shall Inherit the Earth – Charles White (1953)

find an apartment to rent in the city of New York.  To live in this land was not his birthright, and to imagine it, well, that almost smacked of treason.

In “Hope for the Future” and in “The Children” White again turns to a rendering of the child as a symbol of what is possible.  Where can we go from here, he seems to be asking, how can we extricate ourselves from this dilemma in which we find ourselves?  It is certainly the same question revolutionaries ask themselves today, knowing that hope for our future lies with those recently born. And, perhaps much like Charles White, here we stand trying to figure out how can we prepare for that future with the best possible art? The way Charles White does it, as revealed in this exhibit and these pieces in particular, is by showing that the best art is also the best propaganda, the best propaganda is the best art. How do you convey, with the necessary ambiguity to express the shifting ground on which you are standing? Look at the massy workers’ hands — I don’t know another way of describing the strength, the weight, the solidity of those hands — gently holding the child in “Hope for the Future.” Is she looking off to the side, and if so what is she seeing?

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Hope For the Future – Charles White (1945)

Is she presenting us with a gift, this child, this future? Are “The Children” looking through the window  with confidence, anticipation, hope . . .or is it with fear? Now that we see it, it is ours to do with what we will.  It is our future now.

*****

I saw the show for the second time on the Thursday five days before the exhibit closed (Thursday nights are free at the AIC).  It was much more crowded than the first time I went, and from the moment I entered I knew I was among a group of people who were there not simply to be seen at the latest big exhibit.  These were folks who really engaged with the art, some who were, like me, old enough to be contemporary with some of his working years; others born long after he had passed on (he died at the young age of 61 in 1979).  It was a conversation starting crowd, because of the excitement with the art and what it represented.  Like when I first

The Children - Charles White (1950)

The Children – Charles White – (1950)

came into the exhibit hall and looked over the shoulders of three older people no longer looking at “The Cardplayers,” but talking about what was life like in the 1940s during the war, and what did it mean to throw all the effort into the war, what did that mean for artists, and the older man, trying to remember, the word was right on the tip of his tongue, he couldn’t quite find it, it had something to do with limited quantities of goods available in stores, and just then a younger man, standing next to me, interrupted to say the word, and they all said Yes! Rationing, that’s it!  And how do you know about rationing? And so the conversation continued with young and old appreciating each other and then talking about what they appreciated in the art work. And then they moved on, new friends made and exchanging views until, much later in the exhibit they shook hands, even embraced and bid each other good bye.

It was a conversation starting crowd.  The secret smiles between two people as they saw the same things in the drawings.  Yes this is my favorite in the whole show.  I really like the “Wanted Posters”!  I don’t know how he created this sense of motion with his pen and ink.  And near the end, I found myself standing next to an older man, perhaps my age, who wondered why it had taken so long for a show like this to be mounted. He told the woman standing next to him, I don’t give the Art Institute credit really.  They should have done it a long time ago.  Of course I’m glad they did it now. You notice one thing about his work, he tells me, and that is the large hands and feet, the parts that engage in work.  The emphasis on these, and his voice trails off. And then he begins to tell me, you know why there are so few oil paintings?  It’s because oils are expensive, and he never had enough money to spend on oils.  Well, maybe this is true.  But I cannot get out of my mind Charles White’s own words, that art is not simply for the artist or the connoisseur but, most emphatically, for the people.  And his work was displayed and copied  and shared everywhere. Prints are a form adapted to this kind of art. Often people’s first exposure to a Charles White print was a poster on a telephone pole.  “Ye Shall Inherit The Earth” was used as a poster to advertise a 1960 NAACP rally in Los Angeles.

It is disappointing that the mural — “Struggle for Liberation (Chaotic Stage of the Negro, Past and Present)” — Charles White designed for the Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library was never installed.  He began the mural in 1940, near the end of his WPA days

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Study for Struggle for Liberation (Chaotic Stage of the Negro, Past and Present – Charles White (1940)

and before he and Elizabeth Catlett went into the South to gather material for the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship.  Striking out from the left panel of the mural is the insurrectionary John Brown, while more modern forms of protest form the core of the right panel.  A color study for the mural showing both panels is in the show, and it gives some idea of his bold ideas. The exhibit also presents a study for the mural, “The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America,” the result of the Rosenwald Fund

Study for the Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America - Charles White (1943)

Study for the Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in  America – Charles White (1943)

fellowship, and still installed at Hampton University in Virginia.  The text for the exhibit identifies fourteen figures in the mural, including his contemporaries Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and Leadbelly. I listened in to the conversations around these murals, to the excited identification of the people in the murals, to the careful examination of the features of the black and white studies for the mural (Robeson and Denmark Vesey, for example).

Charles White grappled with the idea of how to introduce new ideas into widespread discourse all his life.  Roque Dalton wrote that “Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.”  Bertolt Brecht or maybe Vladimir Mayakovsky perhaps wrote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it”;  Both certainly could have said this: it is congruent with their writing and their philosophy.  There is no doubt that Charles White, along with these other titans, saw his pen and brush as his weapon:  Art is, after all, not for the artist or the connoisseur but should be for the people.

*****

Huntington Museum acquires “Soldier”   

 

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Ned Sublette Introduces Los Van Van at World Music Conference in Cardiff, Wales

Thanks to Rock and Rap Confidential for sharing this piece:

From: Rockrap@aol.com

This presentation was made yesterday by our good friend Ned Sublette in Cardiff, Wales at the international world music conference known simply as WOMEX:

How many of you have been to Cuba?
How many of you have seen Los Van Van play?Los Van Van

You’re in for a treat today. Every Van Van concert is a historic experience, and today they’re going to play with the intensity of an impending storm.

In this kind of recital presentation in a seated auditorium, you get every note of the music, but it’s one level shy of the full experience. For that, you’d have to be standing on Cuban soil, preferably at the outdoor Havana dancehall La Tropical, with thousands of young Cubans putting their hearts into singing along with all the coros, experiencing the nuances of the lyrics in their faces, expressing the polyrhythms by moving different parts of their bodies in different directions, pushing the band to drive them harder. I saw this many times.

I came to Los Van Van late. Their official date of foundation was December 4, 1969, and I first heard them play live in January 1990 in a television studio in Havana, my third day ever in the country, at the taping of a TV special in honor of their twentieth anniversary. All that time already they’d been the maximum institution of Cuban popular music. I’d heard their records, though their records weren’t easy to get, given the pariah status of Cuba in the United States, which is why I subsequently started a record label called Qbadisc, at a time when there existed maybe five or ten CDs of Cuban music in the world.

You can’t imagine Cuban music without Los Van Van, any more than you can imagine the world’s music without Cuba. Havana was the first great music capital of the hemisphere. Already in the 16th century, musical ideas traveled from Havana back to Spain and up through Europe. Cuban influence has been heard worldwide ever since then, and Cuba’s a world power in music today. But following the change of government in 1959, after Cuba declared independence from the United States, a whole world came crashing down. Many musicians left, but more stayed. Technical resources vanished. Spare parts couldn’t be gotten. Impresarios fled. The country was embargoed, and, unfortunately, still is, by the United States. Cuban music had to be rebuilt, phoenix-like, out of the ashes. That process took years, out of earshot of most of the world, and it took until the 90s for Cuban music to reclaim its place on the world’s music stage after disappearing for decades into the memory hole.

During those long years, especially after the disappearance of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, during the austerities of what the Cuban government called the Special Period in Time of Peace, it seemed at times that Cubans were surviving on music. A popular song carried a lot of weight in Cuba, where media channels were few but far-reaching. A coro didn’t attain its full meaning until the entire country, from children to seniors, had sung it for a few months. People didn’t come out to hear old hits. They came to hear something new, something that would speak to their situation, and bands competed furiously to provide it.

Juan Formell began putting his coros into the Cuban air in 1968, when he first came to prominence as music director, composer, and bassist of Elio Revé’s group Changüí ’68. After a year and a half or so, he left that band to start his own group, and was joined by a number of musicians he had worked with in Revé’s band, who wanted to be part of the new thing. The first Van Van album sounds fresh today. Despite the technical limitations of the time and place, it’s a fabulous record that already contains the basic elements of the Van Van project. It was utterly experimental in the way it broke with the then prevailing harmonic and rhythmic practices. I love salsa, which is based on prerevolutioary Cuban music, but this is something else. This music took an alternative path, drawing on deep Cuban roots not to answer, but to ask, contemporary questions.

There’s a song they opened their sets with in the 90s: Qué tiene Van Van que siga ahí? What does Van Van have that it keeps going like this? What does it take to be not only the greatest dance band in Cuba, of all places, but to stay on top for almost forty-five years in that highly competitive musical environment, which among other things depends on continually being able to please the teenage dancing public?

Formell updated the band’s sound constantly – not to be trendy, but to take advantage of new instrumental and technical possibilities, as individual musicians came and went. I count twenty-three studio albums over forty-four years, and, despite an almost total turnover of personnel, if you listen to their first album from 1969 back-to-back with the last one, La Maquinaria, from 2011, despite all the changes, there’s a unity to it. Nobody else in Cuba or anywhere sounds Los Van Van. They’ve exerted an enormous influence over the bands that came after them, but nobody could copy their sound. They have a peculiar, original orchestral texture: a charanga instrumentation of flute and violins, but with trombones to fill in the tenor register. They sound like deluxe produced music when they play live.

But that’s just the surface of what’s different about them. Formell changed the rhythmic matrix of Cuban dance music. There’s a steady pulse, which people raised on rock and roll can identify with – cha, cha, cha, cha, easy for anyone to dance to. But then there are all these internal polyrhythms. Formell brought in the rhythms of the great classical music of West Africa, the batá rhythms of the Yoruba religion, into the basic dance texture. He reconceptualized the rhythm section. He popularized the use of the electric bass instead of the upright in Cuba. Los Van Van were brought electronics into Cuban music in a different way than any other band I’ve seen. They used a drumset, something you only previously saw in Cuban jazzbands and rock bands, but they used it differently. Los Van Van has had in forty-four years, only three drummers – Blas Egues, the mighty Changuito, and for the last twenty years or so, the drummer’s been Formell’s son, Samuel Formell, who’s presided over an era in which the present-day members of the group all grew up listening to Los Van Van.

Their cubanía shows up not only in the music, but also in the lyrics written by Formell and others, most notably including their great founding pianist and composer César “Pupy” Pedroso. If you want to know what it was like living in Cuba in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, listen to Van Van, who sang in the language of the people – memorably personified by singer Pedro Calvo, among a number of others — about the challenges and pleasures of contemporary daily life. Even though Van Van played all over the world, the meaning of their music was rooted in the breadlines of Havana, and their validation came at the level of the baile popular, the popular dance. Cabeza, corazón, cintura, lots of bands have two of the three, but Los Van Van has all three. One of Formell’s greatest, simplest lyrics, is a simple exhortation to dance with your heart: Dale con el corazón, muévete, muévete . . .

There have long been two streams of Cuban music – one for domestic consumption, another for export. But Van Van is both. Over the decades, they’ve lived on airplanes, representing Cuba with sabor and dignity in many of the countries that are represented here today. But back in Cuba, they always had a song on the radio. When they have a song out, it stays on Cuban radio sometimes a year and a half, until another Van Van song comes along. You couldn’t gauge popularity by record sales in the unique anti-market of Cuba, so the way you knew who was the most popular was to line all the bands up on the Malecón and see who draws the biggest crowd, and that would be Los Van Van.

In February 1996, with Cuban music at the peak of yet another of its cycles of creativity, I saw the band play six consecutive nights at the Palacio de la Salsa in Havana’s Riviera Hotel. By that point the band had been in existence twenty-six years, and they rehearsed every day, as Cuban bands do. I was present all six nights, and I realized: even with all those years behind them, each night the band was growing. I heard this happen. Each night the band was a quarter of an inch bigger, finding new places to go as they made their way through the complicated, stretched-out arrangements that they played without reading. The band that finished that six-night run was just a little better than the band that started it. This process had been going on, one gig at a time, for decades.

I asked Juan Formell yesterday what it was like – one of those dumb interviewer questons, right? – given the exceptional role of Cuba in the world, what it was like to be emblematic of Cuba both at home and abroad all these years.  He said, “to represent your country on a level like this — what more can you ask God for? I don’t think I could ask for more than that.”

I’m happy to bestow this honor on Juan Formell – composer, lyricist, bandleader, bassist, singer — but Cuba bestowed it on him a long time ago. This is Juan’s award, but it’s an award to the heroic musicians of Cuba who kept their country going, to the dozens of people who have played in and facilitated Los Van Van, and it’s ultimately an award to Cuba, which I highly recommend you visit. As Mayito Rivera sang in Formell’s apotheosic “Soy Todo,” Yo soy Van Van, yo soy Cuba.

PEN Releases Statement on Crimes Against Journalists in Mexico

[PEN International released the following statement about the disappearance and punishment of journalists and writers in Mexico that makes  Mexico “one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer.” — editor]
23 October 2013

Mexico: Step up measures to end impunity for crimes against journalists

The climate of impunity which allows attacks on journalists in Mexico to remain unpunished is contributing to the on-going high level of risk to the security of writers in the country, PEN International said today as it attended the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Mexico’s human rights record in Geneva.

The organization reiterated its call for increased and effective protection for journalists and writers by the federal government.

‘Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer,’ said Ann Harrison, Programme Director of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘We have joined many other civil society organizations in pressing the Mexican government for several years to end impunity for killings of journalists and provide effective protection for those still working, but the measures put in place are largely ineffective.’

Since December 2006, at least 49 print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered and at least nine others have disappeared. Few of these attacks have been thoroughly investigated.

Impunity for crimes against journalists is estimated to stand at around 90 per cent and whilst some of the attacks are perpetrated by organized crime groups, many come from government agents at a state and local level.

Despite the introduction of two mechanisms aimed at protecting journalists under threat, and the creation of the office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), fewer than 10 per cent of attacks against journalists and writers result in convictions.

‘Frankly, the Mexican authorities are paying mere lip service to these pervasive impunity issues,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘Mechanisms and promises do not constitute action. Many journalists are dying, and others are intimidated into silence.’

Other legal reforms such as the decriminalization of slander and libel, which should have decreased the risk of journalists facing prison for their reporting, have had little effect. Thirteen of Mexico’s 32 states continue to criminalize defamation; these laws are used to intimidate journalists who uncover corruption.

PEN International has long campaigned for freedom of expression in Mexico. In 2012 a large <http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/pen-protesta-leading-authors-support-of-journalists-and-freedom-of-expression-in-mexico/>PEN International delegation assembled in Mexico, led by its full executive team and including representatives of all seven North American PEN Centres. PEN put forward specific recommendations, met with key government figures and held public events.

In late 2012, PEN International published the anthology <http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/write-against-impunity-latin-american-authors-commemorate-their-murdered-colleagues/>Write Against Impunity, a literary protest highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America – in particular Mexico, Honduras and Brazil – and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

During <http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/a-year-on-pen-international-renews-its-call-for-an-end-to-the-war-on-mexico%E2%80%99s-journalists-writers-and-bloggers/>a follow-up visit in March 2013 PEN found that progress to protect writers and journalists had been slow. In a submission to the UPR process, PEN International joined PEN Guadalajara to outline its concerns for the safety of journalists and made the following recommendations:

Ensure that the 49 murders and nine disappearances of writers and print and internet journalists that have taken place since December 2006, as well as any other unsolved murders and disappearances from previous periods, are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
Provide public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of writers Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila and Guillermo Fernández García;
Ensure that all attacks against writers and print and internet journalists alleged to have been carried out by government entities at any level are fully and promptly investigated as a matter of urgency;
Ensure as a matter of urgency that FEADLE is allocated sufficient financial, material and human resources in order to carry out its work, and support the office to make use of its newly strengthened powers to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists and freedom of expression;
Address criticisms of the current protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders in consultation with these groups;
Ensure that steps are taken towards the complete decriminalization of defamation in all 32 Mexican states;
Ensure that the Article 33 Regulatory Law is enacted as a matter of urgency and to provide assurances that foreigners are not being expelled from Mexico in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

To see the full UPR submission click <http://www.pen-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Mexico-UPR-March-2013-PEN-International-and-PEN-Guadalajara.pdf>here.

The Pedagogy of Hip Hop: Media Consolidation, Black Manhood, and Art in America

A message from the Secretary of Culture in the Green Shadow Cabinet. 

September 12, 2013

Structurally, technologically and culturally speaking, there is no “music industry” any more. There is also no “movie industry” any more. Those two things have been consolidated into a more generic and all encompassing, “entertainment industry.” But that’s not even the kicker. The kicker is that technically, the entertainment industry is now a sub-division of a much larger and more insidious industry known as the “telecommunications industry.” This is the delivery system under which all media and cultural distribution is being consolidated. Some entities to look out for in this telecommunications act generated morass: Google, Apple, and Access One. This shift presents both new challenges and new opportunities. Those engaged in cultural struggle as well as those engaged in labor struggle are currently smack dap up against that. Chuy Gomez has been replaced by a robot, and the VMA’s? well…

I don’t have any beef with 95-99 percent of the artists who are making an effort to generate a living for themselves and their families. Most of them are just like me in a slightly different position, making slightly different choices.

When I talk about the industry, I’m not talking about the hardworking artist or the record producer who really believes in what he or she is doing. Artists need and deserve administrative and structural support. And folks who have made it to a certain position have earned their way there. It’s not fair or intellectually honest to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I am talking about the corporations and colonial structure that has been looting and pillaging cultural production since art, music and culture could be commodified. I am not talking about DMX, T.I. or Kendrick. I am talking about the CEO’s and large stockholders of Warner Bros, Comcast, Disney and the other rapidly consolidating future monopolies of media and global cultural distribution. I am talking about the larger imaginary structures that are spying on us through our Youtube surfing as we speak. The same ones that are complicit in not sharing the easily accessible truths about current issues like Syria and chemical weapons.

Hip Hop’s dream deferred

Artists are not the problem. In fact, as much as the world fails to really engage this truth, artists are the victims. And so are the people who benefit from healthy culture. Which might be most of us.

The reason it is economically important for our current corporate structure to ensure that you do not see yourself in the cultural production and exchange process, is because by separating us from the process, someone can determine and direct who and what is considered legitimate and valuable in the realm of culture. This way, not only can the creative thought of a society can be controlled, but then the rewards of culture can be organized and harvested by those who may or may not have even planted the crops. The reason it is ideologically important to separate people from the process of cultural production and exchange is because art is human. Culture, itself is how we socialize, interact with and collectivize our understanding of humanity.

Those who control culture, control definition. Those who control definition, control determination.

One of the primary challenges that American cultural movement in general, and the Hip Hop social and political movement specifically, still struggles to resolve is the question of the artist’s role in movement, industry and society as a whole. In general, our society is isolated from art and artists, even though our clothes, logos, commercial jingles and pop hooks tell a different story. In the industry, artists, in general are considered incapable of managing their own affairs. This is often chalked up to their inability to think in structured terms. While generally accepted as a truth, this is both historically inaccurate and extremely dangerous.

Look at it this way. In movement work, it is not considered ethical for an outside group to come in and lead the way, or to define the terms of the struggle. It would not be considered ethical for non-blacks to lead a black struggle, for men to lead a women’s struggle, for management to lead a workers struggle.

Why then, was the center of the Hip Hop social and political movement, not the artist? And when I say the artist, I do not simply mean the ones who are signed to record labels. I mean the ones playing local bars, tagging your block, designing your flyers, opening up for T.I. and Hiero all over the world?

If we were to look through the lens of the artist, we would see that what is at stake now is what was always at stake. It is what every graph writer, dj, emcee and b-girl have in common. It was what record labels, radio stations, police and other institutions have struggled to rob of for centuries.

The struggle of the artist of America, is the struggle around the means of ownership and distribution of cultural production. The contradiction between the origin of Hip Hop and the current state of on coming fascism is the question of who will wield the power of cultural democracy and self-determination. Hip Hop, in it’s instinctive rejection of corporate domination, both in the industry and movement work was a natural target of the fascist state. A culture that, when healthy, challenges the institutions of capitalism and colonialism by virtue of it’s very existence, can’t just be allowed to exist untampered with.

When keeping it real goes wrong

At the heart of the conversation around cultural self-determination and Hip Hop is the Black male: young and old. Many, today, refuse to accept this reality. In fact, the well documented process of cultural neo-colonialism, affectionately referred to as “cultural appropriation,” contributes directly to the erasing of the story of the relationship between cultural movement in America and the Black male.

Here is the question that real “kings of comedy” have had to resolve since transitioning slaves into modes of racist and emasculatory modes of cultural production known as “minstrel shows.” How do we capitalize on and profit off of the cultural potency of Black manhood, while simultaneously undermining that potency?

For many years, they have answered that question. And for many years, artists and leaders have re-invented themselves. And for many years, they have adjusted to that re-invention.

Hip Hop, being a manifestation of many years of “a dream deferred,” literally being born out of fire, water, blood and love, spoke the truth in a way that neither US, nor global culture had ever experienced so directly. Hip Hop said, “Fuck the Police” but it also said “Be a Father to a Child.” It was able to take on the topic of “OPP,” but it also asked, “Who you calling a bitch?!?!” It simultaneously told us to “Slow Down” and to “Stop the Violence” while telling us to “Fight the Power” and to “Protect your Neck.” Before the industry was fully able to sink its’ dirty paws into every nook and cranny of Hip Hop, Hip Hop told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. It was one of the rules.

And so the natural Black male inclination to reject the shackles of the music industry wasn’t simply a matter of the artist wanting all of their royalties. It was outright rejection of the values which had guided the hand of black entertainment of culture for years. And this is not the first time it had happened in history, for sure. Paul Robeson is one of the Godfathers of the alienation of the Black male artist with a brain and a backbone. And, of course, it came on the tail end of the Black Arts movement.

But Hip Hop was comprehensive. It could hit you from a million angles. And it was responsible for the creation of artists like Dave Chappell. Artists who reflect that struggle of the Black male artist in America. The struggle that writer, artists and educator, Jeff Campbell, refers to his upcoming play, “Who Killed Jigaboo Jones.”

Recently, Dave Chappelle stopped during the middle of show. Some say that the audience was just cheering Dave on, and he over reacted. Others say that the audience was not respectful, and did exactly what Dave asked them not to do. One thing is for certain. Dave Chappelle has made a choice. Whether you agree or not, he has proven again and again that he will not be a jiggaboo. That he will not be the butt of a centuries old joke about the purpose, pressure and power of Black cultural producers in a colonial entertainment factory.

Dave Chappelle is Hip Hop. And it would make sense that he would walk away, because really, that is some Hip Hop shit to do.

And as he pointed out, in this environment, keeping it real can go horribly wrong.

But that’s the thing. This isn’t over. Quite the contrary. The landscape is both global and infinite. And humans are genetically wired to fight or flight. And what will happen when there is nowhere left to run to? When the truth is too overwhelming to ignore, because it’s right on your doorstep, in your living room, sitting on the edge of your bed?

~ Shamako Noble serves as Secretary of Culture in the General Welfare Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States.

Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest, Occupy, and MORE! Events

This weekend, August 16, 17 and 18: Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest:GAAF2008_1sm

Lew Rosenbaum will be exhibiting (as usual) at the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest with a wide variety of books. Features this year include remaindered copies of the acclaimed autobiographical Black Radical by Nelson Peery; Heartfire, he recently issued dynamite second volume of poetry by the Revolutionary Poets Brigade; and selected works of fiction by Barbara Kingsolver, Jose Saramago, Jorge Amado and many others.  We’ll of course have copies of the Chicago Labor Trail Map that offers a self guided tour to places of interest in working class history. And we have limited numbers of copies of the important books on education in a time of austerity, written by Bill Watkins, Willie Baptist and Todd Price.

Diana Berek will also be displaying her art work in the adjoining booth, along with colleagues from the Greater Northside Artists Revolutionary collective (GNAR).  The tents will be located just south of Morse on Glenwood.

The Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (GAAF) is a free, weekend-long arts festival that features 100+ artists, open studios, and live entertainment on three outdoor stages.  Experience art of all disciplines, music, theater, food and drink on the cobblestone streets of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in Chicago’s historic Rogers Park neighborhood.

The 12th annual Fest will take place the weekend of August 16-18, 2013. Mark your calendars! Join us at the fest launch party, the Friday Night Cobblestone Jam, on Friday from 6pm to 10pm and the artists’ market on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from Noon to 9:00pm.

Wednesday, August 21:  Unfurling #8 with Dan Tucker at Spontaneous Interventions

Daniel Tucker will share some gems from the Never The Same archives, which document social, public and political art in Chicago. Unfurlings are show-n-tell events that Never The Same uses to highlight portions of their collections. In this instance, Tucker will share materials, selected specifically for Spontaneous Interventions, that show ways artists in Chicago have dealt with the politics of public space over the last 15 years.

Chicago Cultural Center  78 E Washington 5:30 to 7

For more information, visit

never-the-same.org and

miscprojects.com

http://www.spontaneousinterventions.org/

Saturday August 24: Occupy Rogers Park Presents a Teach In: Understanding the History and Role of The State:

And no, we aren’t talking Illinois here.
Not really sure what people mean when they are talking about fascism? Curious about the historical emergence of governments? Not sure what governments are like outside of the United States? Join us for some opportunities to learn from one another! This is the first in a five part series.  We’ll be meeting August 24th, September 7th, September 21st, October 5th, and October 19th at the Rogers Park Public Library (in the conference room on the second floor) from 2:30-4:30pm. (The conference room is accessible)

ClickHandlerWith failures in our justice system, like the Zimmerman trial; with violations of our privacy, like the NSA and CIA collecting information from our emails and phone calls; and with abuse of police authority, like stop-and-frisk and targeting of activists, one has to step back and consider the true motivations of our government. This series is designed as a discussion forum to facilitate understanding of political ‘isms’ like socialsim, communism, fascism, and anarchism; to explore the history and origins of the state; to compare the nature of state power in the US to that of state power abroad; and to examine how our government impacts our daily lives.

Monday August 26: Political Repression, Here and Now

Michael Deutsch and Flint Taylor from the People’s Law Office and Dennis Cunningham, special guest and a founder of the People’s Law Office, will talk on surveillance, unjust imprisonment, criminalizing of environmental activists, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, voting rights, internet spying, drone killings and important human rights violations taking place, not yesterday, but here and now, in our own time, in the era of Obama.
What will be next?
And…
What are you going to do about it?

Monday, August 26, 7 PM   Heartland Cafe  7000 N Glenwood

August 28:  Education Under Attack!! School Boycott

No more school closings, budget cuts and sabotage of our neighborhood schools! Join together with 25 other cities on August 28th! We want an elected school board! We want Arne Duncan to resign! We want real school improvement! Meet at 125 S. Clark at 10am on August 28. If you need to ride a bus, call (773) 548-7500. Public Education is Under Attack!
WHAT DO WE DO? STAND UP FIGHT BACK!

Taksim Square Book Club: George Henton in Aljazeera

In Pictures: The Taksim Square Book Club
published in Aljazeera, June 24, 2013
Protesters stand silently and read books in central Istanbul, in stark contrast with scenes of violence.

George Henton

Istanbul, Turkey – After weeks of violent clashes between police and protesters across Turkey a new form of resistance has emerged – the “Standing Man”.
Standing silently, and initially alone, Turkish performance artist Erdem Gunduz stood, with his hands in his pockets, facing the Ataturk Cultural Centre in Taksim Square, Istanbul, for eight hours.
With extraordinary speed, Gunduz become the latest symbol of the resistance movement. In days that followed, thousands of people would emulate his solitary act, standing silently, for minutes or hours, in places across Turkey.

The contrast with the images of tear gas clouds and water cannon could not have been greater. Faces obscured by masks and helmets were revealed to show expressions of quiet contemplation.
Violent scenes are still occurring around Turkey, including in Istanbul once again this past weekend, but the Standing Man protests continue unabated.
The following images explore one aspect of the protest in Taksim Square, ongoing since before the communal standing took off. Public reading and informal education has been notable since the earliest days of the protest, but has since merged with the Standing Man to form “The Taksim Square Book Club”.
The chosen reading material of many of those who take their stand is reflective, in part, of the thoughtfulness of those who have chosen this motionless protest to express their discontent. Click this link to find the photos.

Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival Aug 18 and 19

IT’S GAAF Weekend — or Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest

August 18 and 19
12 Noon to 9 PM

This year featuring
*Booth 26 dedicated to continuing the work of
Chris Drew and the Art Patch Project
new patches printed on site!

and

**Booth 27 Chicago Labor & Arts Festival
the annual HUMOUNGOUS (great price) BOOK SALE
with books in all categories including kids, Spanish language, black history and literature, fiction and non fiction, Marxist and other political science; buy three, get one FREE.

***Plus we are a source of information about all things ré
Public Education Crisis:

  • Occupation Rogers Park Education Committee
  • Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign
  • Various community activities coming up
  • How to support teachers and the campaign for World class schools our communities deserve!

It’s not tax deductible, but your $$$ help tremendously!
Please make checks out to CL&AF
and mail to Lew Rosenbaum, 1122 W. Lunt 4A, Chicago, IL 60626

As always, thanks for checking in with us!

PS.  Have you heard about the Pied Piper of Rogers Park?  Ask us about this . . .