Contemporary “Hot Spots”

CollapseMuch of the most profound contemporary art and literature – of the “impactful” kind – leads back to political hot spots – areas of civil unrest and conflict.  It is not necessarily created by those living in the midst of these traumatic events (those people are often too busy struggling to survive war, drought, famine, occupation, political corruption), but rather those who once lived in particular areas but are now in exile from them.  They could be immigrants, refugees, voices from the diaspora.  We could say that this is a positive thing emerging from otherwise bleak situations. 

While those heavily influenced by technological advances might ask us to believe that the microchip and the gene are icons of the 21st century, we could just as easily counter that the recurring motifs of the 21st century are, more tellingly, the refugee camp and the suicide bomber. 

I do not believe in compassion fatigue.  Were there such a thing, we might remain unmoved by the many strong voices bringing us harrowing and uplifting visual and written accounts of their own cultural experiences.  Instead of being worn out by all this tragedy, we  are hopefully paying attention.  Very close attention.  And, equally hopefully, empathy is the result.  Or perhaps rage.  Maybe the immediate result is not always a call to action, but isn’t empathy the first step to action?

We know that countless capitalists profit from horrific natural disasters and human-caused catastrophes (just read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism).  If you need an antidote to that dark truth, pay attention to the literary and artistic output of those artists from (and now living outside of) their home territories: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, numerous African countries… or how about commentators on what I (as someone who was a teenager in the 1970s) still think of as “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”?  I am also someone who, as a child, was terrified of the potential for nuclear war.  How sad that the post-Cold War world should still have to be worried about it.

I’ll have future posts featuring some of the artists emerging not only from the areas listed above, but also from China and Korea.  Art has always been political, but never have its multicultural imperatives been so urgently interconnected and global.


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