Activist Art Shows The Way

After reading Mary Thomas’s excellent article about the Pittsburgh Biennial activist art segment at CMU, I was disappointed it wouldn’t be staying around longer.  After seeing the exhibit on the last day, I felt more disappointed it wasn’t staying around so I could bring my out of town holiday guests.  The exhibit left me with a pervasive sense of sorrow that I couldn’t share, even with my companions as we walked across campus. We discussed the three-story sculpture of people walking single file up a silver pole, into the sky.  Someone pointed out, the pole used to be graceful and slender, but after many bouts of being bent in the wind, it was remade for safety’s sake.  The present version has the people walking on a thick cylinder, along the same trajectory, but the present platform seems to overpower the human figures. 

Our tour began with a section of billboards, powerful shoot-outs on themes of economic equity and immigration. One of my favorites, an artful rendition of barbed wire attempting to cover the message,  “A millionaire stole your job, not migrant labor.” An instillation of small tea tables, “Feminist Matter(s): Propositions and Undoings,” by the subRosa collective contained artifacts of women artists and scientists and stories of their struggles for recognition.

This one hit home personally. Having been a faculty member at various universities, and having been told that what I considered worth investigating and teaching, (career paths of professional women leaders, movement and non-verbal communication in therapy) were subjects not worth pursuing.

In meditation in my women’s group the following Monday I got a deeper understanding of the show and my sorrowful response. I saw an image of a wrecking ball taking down a building and a large shovel scooping the rubble into a landfill. In contrast, came images from the instillation, Transformazium’ – women deconstructing a condemned building, patiently disassembling it in order to reuse the materials.  

 The patriarchal system never worked for women, but it never worked for most men, and minorities, and children either. Now as that system is in advanced disrepair, we must carefully disassemble its parts, so we can reuse what still has value. And as with the campus sculpture, special attention needs to be paid to the balance between people and technology.

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