Art in the Darkest of Times
By Jenuine Poetess
Whatever your beliefs—political, spiritual, philosophical, existential—we can all agree that this particular moment in time holds a greater measure of darkness than many others. If for no other reason than it being, very simply, the time of year when shadows stretch long across the bare landscapes and night lingers for extra Winter hours. There are more days where the sun remains shrouded behind thick, grey, clouds. The dazzling vibrance of Autumn is a memory and the shining hues of Spring are a fast-held hope.
We are in the in-between. The middle book of the trilogy. And often, the in-between is bleak.
Artists have long worked light motifs into their work at this time. This is also a season when spirituality and creativity intersect; the tools and artifacts of our diverse spiritual practices are artworks in and of themselves.
But light, light is at the center of so many ceremonies and rituals—from lighting the menorah for Hanukkah, to lighting the Advent wreath, to lighting mosques for Milad un Nabi, to lighting the kinara for Kwanza, to lighting Solstice candles, to a multitude of traditions worldwide reminding us to foster hope, even on the darkest of nights.
We use so many kinds of art to honor, celebrate, and cultivate our identities during this season. It is in the music we play, the vestments we don, the special culinary treats we conjure, the adornments we hang, the gifts we fashion (or have fashioned by others), the wrappings and trappings, the gatherings we curate, and the traditions we pass down to the next generation.
As I reflect on this particular season of Winter, of darkness, here and now in December 2016, I cannot help but also consider the matters of social justice demanding our attention, our action, our creative response—domestically and globally. As a practitioner of the visual and spoken-word arts, I am constantly pondering the role of arts as well as my responsibility as an artist. Chelsea Cristene, author at Role Reboot writes, “The beating heart of music, art, and literature knows that artists are morally obligated to expose human and societal truths, or else the death of our humanity is certain.”
I am well aware that not everyone agrees with this outlook on the arts and their creators. Even within the community of artists there are vastly differing notions around the purpose and motivation pushing our creativity ever onward. Being who I am, however, I cannot separate the personal from the political or the political from the personal—it is all intertwined. We can understand how an installation, or a spoken-word poem, or a journalist’s photo, or even a popular musical (*cough*HAMILTON*cough*) can be overt art-as-activism. Yet, I boldly assert, that even the most aesthetically pleasing piece of art is a protest—against all that is ugly, chaotic, and dark in this world. Poet and artist, Luis Javier Rodriguez has said that, “the first move from chaos isn’t order, it’s creativity.”
Consider the defiant resilience of love poems, love songs, love dances, love paintings, love sculptures, love confessions, in the face of so much fear, hate, and violence. Some would argue, like the unknown author of this quote scrawled onto a wall (which, by the way, is art…is it not?), that, “art is our only salvation against the horror of existence.”
I have no intention of debating or disrespecting anyone’s political or spiritual beliefs with this musing reflection. What weighs heavily on my heart and mind in this season is how we can continue to create, to speak, to dance, to compose, to sculpt, to photograph, to tell, to design, to weave, to make in such a way that perpetuates light and hope and love and truth. THAT is my challenge to you, my exquisitely diverse community: How do we continue to thrive despite dire circumstances? We create. However big or small, the act of creating is an act of thriving, an act of loving, an act of believing.
We create community. We create family. We create joy. We create life. We create solutions. We create remembrances. We create solidarity. We create meaning. We create kindness. We create love. We create ourselves.
We become art.
For me, this is the most magnificent gift of the season: our ability to create even in the midst of loss, in the midst of doubt, in the midst of grief, in the midst of shadows. There is indeed a certain magic in this creative resilience—by whatever name you choose to call that wonder.
Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective. She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities. She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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