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As I look around our art community—one that celebrates diversity and liberal values—I see us broken. We are in stages of grieving. Some of us are in denial. Others are angry, depressed. I have felt a tired weight on my body—the reality of our divided country given physical effect. An election acts as a marker, a line in the sand. The metaphorical gravity of the results shines a potent light on the realities that have been present since the birth of our country…now they are simply pointed at, and in many ways legitimized. We have been sheltered in our liberalism.
Grief is essential. We must move through it in our own ways, and support each other in our desperate stages of mourning. But I believe it is essential to move past denial and anger and into acceptance and action. By celebrating art (in the broadest sense of the word), we strive towards a multiplicitous viewpoint—one where there is no right or wrong, no right or left, but instead only open space. It is now more important than ever to dig our heels in, and commit wholly to our hard fast beliefs and vocations through a lens of unity and acceptance. This alone can be a form of protest.
In response to last week’s election results, I have asked a number of our Carla writers to join me in this shared Letter from the Editor. Because Carla is not about me, and my singular viewpoints. It is all of us. It is also you. We create this voice together, and as Editor-in-Chief, I will strive to continue to capture the shared voice of our community. In unity, we find strength.
–Lindsay Preston Zappas
Carla Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Think of the histories “Make America Great Again” erases—slavery, Trail of Tears, Seneca Falls, much more—and the votes that saying “I won easily” ignores. Simple, power-driven narratives have always been a threat, to freedom, awareness. They should be excavated, pulled apart. I want, now as much or more than ever, complicated, messy, sensuous, probing criticism that revels in uncertainties. Which great? Whose great? Nothing worth having comes “easily.”
Much stews in our minds in the aftermath of this election—so many symptoms pointing to such deep sickness. Perhaps as in no other election in recent memory has this one been so in opposition to the future. The return of America’s “greatness” as a crucial tenant underscores this—nostalgia as policy, bleached, airbrushed (white, wrinkly) narratives of success as the only aspirational game in town.
And yet, lack of imagination may be the most dangerous culprit, and one which connects directly to an increasingly rarefied art world, market-driven and largely unaccountable to the public (if much of the output can be said to have any interest in the public at all). It seems obscene in this time of electorally-rewarded xenophobia and bigotry to draw the parallel between visual art and the lack of imagination that has left us at the beginning of a wholly avoidable mess; I would conjecture that it is one cause among many. Art challenges, enlivens, strengthens and opens us—but only if we see it.
America, what are you? For the past six years I’ve told my friends and family back home that the America that they sneer at, and condescend, is not the America I know and live in. That there are many Americas, more even than there are States. I said—ironically, it turned out—that America is more like Europe in its conglomeration of difference. Now I do not know what to tell them.
Making, writing about, and thinking about art can feel impossible in the face of world tragedies such as the 2016 presidential election. It’s up to each of us individually to continue to do this work and to support others for whom doing so might be even more difficult – even dangerous or life-threatening – in an effort to move forward meaningfully and empathetically.
–Claire de Dobay Rifelj
If art can do anything, it can perhaps urge people to look differently in order to see differently in order to think differently. In times like these, the darkest some of us have known, it is necessary to find newly lit perspectives and share them with each other. I would like to urge my peers to step out of the art world and into the real world. Let’s forget about student loans and market bubbles and focus instead on connecting communities and expanding awareness, together.
–Keith J. Varadi
As sickening as the results of this election are to me, I still have hope that out of this ugliness, something beautiful can be born. Friends and colleagues, let this be our wake up call. The demographics are in our favor but we can only win if we stand strong together. Finding our common ground amongst those that are different from us is crucial. Together we have the power to create a country as well as an art world that reflects the best of humanity.
Whatever our cultural roles are within this construct we call America, there is now an urgent imperative to be open, engaged and critical. Our thoughts need to be more complex but still defined, more erudite but not rigid, more malleable but not passive. In the words of Tony Kushner, “We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.”
“Beauty will be convulsive or not at all,” wrote André Breton ninety years ago, yet his message seems just as relevant today. Now more than ever, it is the role of artists and writers to rage, scream, curse, protest, and reflect all of the ugliness, fear and hate that have become more visible recently, but which have no doubt been part of American culture all along. It is also our job to dream, hope, and scheme of possible futures with reckless abandon.
As the election results poured in last Tuesday, I sat shocked on my couch. I alternated between disbelief, numbness, crying, and stoned shock. Like so many of us, I had not prepared to encounter the worse, and I was left defenseless in its wake. I went to sleep that night (in my red state) and woke up sobbing; the feeling was not unlike suffering the death of a beloved, or incurring deep, irreversible heartbreak. The question is, of course, what now? I had to start with grief. I allowed myself to mourn, to feel the loss—and all that will come with it—deeply. (A double loss for me; not only is Trump in power, but Hillary, whom I admire deeply and consider to be profoundly qualified, is not and never will be.) Coming into contact with our own anguish, our own sorrow, will ultimately make us better organizers. Because organizing is our power. Without majorities in the house or senate, WE THE PEOPLE must be more motivated, more unified, more committed, to social justice causes than we have in our lifetimes. This may be a silver lining of this global catastrophe: the mobilization of a powerful and effective new left. I’ve witnessed it already: my students are calling their representatives to condemn Steve Bannon’s appointment, they are marching in the Columbus, OH streets and holding community action groups in their homes. Sustaining this energy, and not succumbing into normalcy (this is NOT normal, let’s hold onto that), will be the greatest test for us as artists and human beings.
In the wake of this devastating election, I’m reminded that criticism is a guard against the multiform forces of ignorance, and to critique is to champion plurality and to multiply intellectual and creative possibility by offering new pathways of thought. As a form of resistance, criticism is needed now, as ever, so that our collective failure might turn into permanent postures of criticality in all aspects of life, not just with respect to arts and letters.
We survive together or not at all. We build together or not at all. We thrive when those around us thrive. Now more than ever, we are called upon to use our creativity to imagine new and better forms of solidarity between all people who have been denied their voice, their safety, or their freedom. There are those who believe that power comes from tyranny and oppression. We know this to be untrue; we will prove them wrong.