Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Artists on 20 Lessons for the 21st Century

Last week I attended the opening reception of 20 Lessons from 20th Century History: Artists and Designers on Civic Engagement, an art exhibition based on the writings of Yale historian Timothy Snyder. Twenty artists had a total of twenty four works on display. Each artist took on one of the 20 points of Snyder's essay and interpreted it in a poster-sized 16"x20" format in a wide variety of styles and media. Two of the posters were accompanied by sculptures.

Poster for the Show
Art and words are both powerful ways of communicating. Seeing how these artists fused art and words to create powerful statements about what it means to be an active participant in our society in these times felt really inspiring. There were a couple of works that I kept returning to over and over during the evening because the visual imagery brought the ideas to life in a way that the words didn't.

Early Arrivals
I was impressed with the attendance on a winter Tuesday night. People started arriving on the dot of 6PM and just kept coming. By 7PM or so, it was quite busy. There were tasty refreshments and, of course, coffee (I think there must be a Lowell bylaw that wherever two or more are gathered there must be coffee). I talked with some of the artists and asked questions about the work. That's part of the fun of going to the opening reception.

Some of the "Posters" were Paired with Sculptures
LTC is always a great host for these kinds of events in addition to their role as a community communications technology center. I've been to many FreeVerse! events,  LCK events, and cool art shows  that they've hosted. It seemed fitting to be reminded of our responsibilities as citizens in such a community-minded place.

The size of the works and the resistance theme brought back memories of the 1960s for me. I was already thinking about the history of those times because earlier in the day I'd gotten email from my Mom who had been contacted by someone working on a history of Freedom School and the Boston School Stay Out. She asked if I could provide any memories, so I had just sent her what I could come up with.  (The Roxbury-Newton Freedom School grew out of the second Boston School Stay Out in 1964 and continued for years as an after school program. The historian was asking about that too.) It felt good to relate the 20 lessons to what I learned all those years ago. I only hope that we don't lose those advances that people fought so hard for in the sixties.
Works in a Variety of Styles
 Each work spoke to me in a different way. Some were abstract and some were quite literal. One of my favorites was a map of North Carolina congressional districts in red and blue, clearly showing the results of gerrymandering. One of the blue districts had a tree growing out of it. Such a simple graphic, yet it clearly communicated the importance of voting in state and local elections (lesson 13 on the list).  Another favorite was a painting of the faces of participants in the Boston Mother's Day March for Peace. One face cried tears so affecting that I almost started to cry myself.

I don't think I've ever been to an art opening and come away with a reading list and a handout meant to spur action. I kind of like that Orwell's 1984 and Camus' The Rebel are on the reading list.  I hope anyone who hasn't read 1984  goes to the library and checks it out ASAP.
The Crowd Kept Growing
Words and art are powerful and relevant. I feel glad to have been reminded to use them well.

Words are Powerful


  1. Great review! A downloadable a copy of the show booklet is available here: