Code Red as an Epidemic of Peace spreads at Fair Trade Coffeehouse
Post by Jesse Russell on 1/17/2006 9:20pm
What if instead of spending our days worrying about an epidemic of bird flu, we spent our days pondering what a world would be like after an epidemic of peace imagery? That is exactly the question being asked by the images and poetry spread across the walls of the Fair Trade Coffeehouse during the months of January and February.
Seeing striking art hanging on the walls of Fair Trade Coffeehouse is not an unusual site, but there is something extraordinarily gripping about the current show being put on by the Epidemic Peace Imagery Project. More than 90 12-by-16 inch pieces decorate the walls, each capturing a moment of peace as interpreted by the artist or poet.
The project is the brain child of Russell Gardner, a visual artist who shares his birthday with the day the bombs began to drop on Baghdad. He was inspired by a trip to Australia where a similar art show structure was being used to convey the message the indigenous in that country were people, too.
In Australia, the indigenous are more or less invisible. When the continent was settled by the Britons there were an estimated 300,000 indigenous, today there are less than 50,000. The idea behind creating a display with multiple artists, Gardner said is that, Ã¢â‚¬Å“a group can present an idea with greater power.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Australia project must have worked because when he returned home and a month later the he turned 65 while watching bombs kicking off the first war of the 21st century, he was inspired to create something that would drive home the message of peace.
The name of the project was born from the steam of coffee and conversation. Two friends, Claire Box and Robin Chapman were having a discussion about the war images on television and the scare caused by SARs when Box asked Ã¢â‚¬Å“why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t their be an epidemic of peace imagery?Ã¢â‚¬Â
That question made it back to Gardner and it merged with the buzz brought back from Australia. Coordinating with the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors Society and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, a call for work was sent out. Initially, 43 entries were brought in, three years later that collection of peace imagery stands at 293 and is growing.
According to Gardner, 20 states and 15 countries are represented in the project as a whole. The images have been divided up to tour Wisconsin, with shows as far north as Door County and as far west as Eau Claire. Buzz has spread concerning the project and now there are plans to ship a portion for exhibition in Davis, Calif. It will be the first of what Gardener hopes will be many interstate journeys for the art.
Many of the pieces combine the words of poets with images created by the visual artists. After one of the early showing the poets were concerned about their work sitting in a pile on a table and not being seen. That was when Gardner came up with the idea of creating a sort of concrete poetry and took the imagery described in the poems and used it to make a visual frame for the words.
Ayeshah Ifitkhar has one of her poems hanging at the Fair Trade exhibit. She grew up in Pakistan and is one of the founding members of the University of WisconsinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s South Asia Forum. The forum was originally founded to bring Indian and Pakistani students together to create an open dialogue and a platform to interact with the Ã¢â‚¬Å“nameless and facelessÃ¢â‚¬Â enemy.
That desire to create a dialogue is reflected in her work. Ifitkhar says she became interested in the EPI Project because she Ã¢â‚¬Å“could not understand why people who all have the same needs, all feel pain Ã¢â‚¬â€œ why kill each other in order to prove a point?Ã¢â‚¬Â
She also said her work reflects her lifelong passion, the need to fight for the rights of women. Growing up in Pakistan she has struggled with the identity of being a second class citizen. She referred to a quote by W.E.B. DuBois in his book Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Souls of Black FolkÃ¢â‚¬Â:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s self through the eyes of others, of measuring oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,Ã¢â‚¬â€an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
Many other artists are represented on the walls. One includes a picture of the Berlin Wall, another by Terry Hoard is an image of three Buddhas on State Street, one by Sally Berner is a poem about her dog called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dogs bring me peaceÃ¢â‚¬Â one is a elegy for NYC written by Joel Pace in the shape of the skyline, before and after 9-11.
Fair Trade is full of images that capture the essence of peace for nearly 100 individuals. Time will tell if those images cause an epidemic of peace to spread in those drinking coffee below.
Jesse was born and raised in Connecticut, began blogging in 1997, and moved to Madison in 2003. In 2005, he co-founded dane101 along with Kristian Knutson and Shane Wealti. In addition to helping nearly a dozen contributors run this website he's helped launch various events in the city including What's Your Damage?!, the MadPubQuiz of Awesomeness, the Fire Ball Masquerade, Dane101's Freakin' Halloweekend, and more.