Does Art Matter?

Stella McGregor, Founder and Director of the Urbano Project makes a presentation at the MIT Bathos Auditorium on 7 November 2011

Does Art Matter? Stella McGregor’s pertinent question at a lecture given at the Zones of Emergency Lecture Series at the MIT Bathos Theatre, last evening, Monday 7 November, 2011, is one that lingers on. “The Zones of Emergency: Artistic In­terventions – Creative Responses to Conflict & Crisis Fall 2011 lecture series investigates initiatives and modes of in­tervention in contested spaces, zones of conflict, or areas affected by environmen­tal disasters. The intention is to explore whether artistic interventions can trans­form, disrupt or subvert current environ­mental, urban, political and social condi­tions in critical ways. A crucial question is how such interventions can propose ideas, while at the same time respecting the local history and culture…”

As artists we always self reflect on the relevance of our work and whether it rebels against the boxed type of expectation that society most times expects. Can one create art for the sake of art? What does it take to transcend the boundaries and produce art that engages the community and brings change? In her presentation, Plowshares from Swords: Social Sculpture and Cultural Agency, McGregor attempted to answer these questions. From slide shows of her initial work at the Space, she takes us into the world where art matters and brings out change in the communities. Her projects have always been community participatory, a large step from the conventional artwork where artists work alone and present their impressions to the communities. Several collaborations with different artists have yielded different results. The one that stood out for me was the work by Pedro Yes, who works with youth in the Boston area. His work involved collecting guns,smelting them and turning them into spades, which in turn are used to plant trees that stand as living memorials to those who have died as a result of gun violence in Boston. This particular artistic intervention hit a chord in me. It reminds of how in trying to disarm the Karamojong in North Eastern Uganda, the government has burned the guns collected during the disarmament process, and the return in investment in the region has not been equivalent to what has been taken out.  A Refugee Law Project documentary ‘We Died A Long Time Ago’ deftly captures this inequality. One wonders what would have come out of this process if the guns collected have been smelted and turned into hoes or other home useful tools.

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