The Culture Project, located in swanky new headquarters on Mercer Street downtown, was founded forty years ago to address social and political concerns through art. Most famously, they were host to The Exonerated, a critical look at the death penalty that got a huge amount of media attention last year after it was made into a movie with Meryl Streep and Danny Glover, raising over $100,000 for those falsely placed on death row. In their own words:
The Culture Project views creativity, imagination, and the urge toward artisticSo given my unabashedly liberal leanings, The Culture Project is an organization after my own heart and mind; ironically, that leads me to be extremely wary of anything I see there. I always worry when I find my views represented in an organization's mission or past projects. I think it's a combination of Groucho Marx's uneasiness of any club that would have him as a member and the fact that I'm unsure whether I will be in accord with the totality of their message (or whether I agree shallowly with their idea, but an absence of nuance in its presentation will enrage me).
expression as a vital natural resource. As an arts organization that seeks to
harvest such resources, our purpose is to support work that addresses injustice,
embraces diversity, and affects social change. By creating dialogue about
critical issues, we seek to inspire and participate in a national conversation
amplifying voices which are rarely heard and seldom considered.
Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when Annie and I saw Dai on Wednesday and Iris Bahr's take on the conflict was not only complex, but represented nearly exactly the confusing dialogue that takes place between my ears every day: how to condemn human rights violations without condemning the right of the state to exist? How to walk the fine line that honesty demands? The New York Times provides a thorough discussion/review of the show and an enlightening interview with Iris Bahr. Like Annie, I left the theater shaken and astounded by the depth and breadth of Bahr's talent as well as the subtlety of her writing and presentation. The moments I thought that it was going to veer into pedantry or be bogged down under the weight of its message, the show unexpectedly shifted to a light-hearted moment, causing me to laugh and cry in uncomfortable proximity.
The play put me in mind of a thought process that I've been mulling over for a while now. It all began several months ago, when Mobius hosted an event called Hip Hop Sulha at SOB's as part of the Oyhoo Culture Conference. One of the artists, a young Palestinian named Saz, described his experiences growing up in Ramle. What struck me was the similarity in narrative to the descriptions New York inner-city youth give to growing up in the ghetto: the drugs, the crime, the poverty, but particularly the justifiable anger and feeling of helplessness. The thought of which caused me to reflect on my own reaction to the human rights violations in my backyard. It's easy to demonize or dehumanize an entire people, but much more difficult to realize that both sides are people by human beings like yourself, with day to day lives to which to attend. That human rights violations may be perpetuated by governments and implicitly (or explicitly) condoned by populations, but that an outside view can never reveal the nuance of the place in situ.
I'm a firm believer that the ends never justify the means, but given that it's taken me an entire post never to quite say that I am outraged by the rights violations, both in U.S. and in Israel (and that I have to add the U.S. caveat in order to maintain my seeming balance), I applaud Bahr for being able to present an issue and never to quite show her hand. Worried about a right wing treatise on Israel's right to the land, I was pleasantly surprised by the ambiguity in Dai. I left thinking, which is about the highest compliment I can pay a piece of art.