Art as a Work of Witnessing

Yet another powerful message from author and earth advocate Terry Tempest Williams around the transformative power of art and bearing witness. She speaks of art as a form of witnessing our grief and staying present to it. I have been feeling so much grief around species extinction as I work on my ‘Garden’ triptych, which includes endangered species. I can not accept in my heart that tigers could be extinct in as little as 12 years. I feel helpless to stop it while also being inspired by the work of so many organizations who are fighting to save our big cats from extinction. Most recently I discovered the work of filmmakers and activists Beverly and Dereck Joubert through a TED talk, which I highly recommend viewing. There is also the Serengeti Watch, an organization working to prevent the road through the Serengeti that has been approved by the Tanzanian government. The road is considered a faster, more direct route to get minerals to the international market for cell phones. At what price? This road would have an irreparable impact on the future of these wild creatures. If you feel moved, sign the petition at their web site.

So, I bear witness, I sign petitions, I speak out. I paint my heart on the canvas. To quote Williams: “Can we stand together in the center of our grief?”

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

-William Stafford, A Ritual To Read To Each Other

I have posted several articles here that draw from the wisdom of Terry Tempest Williams as a voice for the earth, for beauty, for grief, for bearing witness. Click here to review them. The artist she references here in the clip is Chris Jordan. View his work here.

Film to inspire the world

I watched this documentary yesterday and it is a must see for anyone who believes that they have no power to change their circumstances and, on a larger scale, the world. After decades of civil war wherein systematic rape, unimaginable violence, and poverty permeated their lives, the women of Liberia (both Christian and Muslim) came together to stand for peace. It is heart-wrenching to bear witness to the suffering shown through interviews and archival footage and awe-inspiring to see these women not only end the civil war but get the first female head of state elected to an African country. I was both weeping and cheering by the end.

From the web site:
Thousands of women — ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters, both Christian and Muslim — came together to pray for peace and then staged a silent protest outside of the Presidential Palace. Armed only with white T-shirts and the courage of their convictions, they demanded a resolution to the country’s civil war. Their actions were a critical element in bringing about a agreement during the stalled peace talks. A story of sacrifice, unity and transcendence, Pray the Devil Back to Hell honors the strength and perseverance of the women of Liberia. Inspiring, uplifting, and most of all motivating, it is a compelling testimony of how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations.

Their story gives new meaning to what Margaret Mead said: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world. Indeed, it has never been done otherwise.” The women of Liberia, the Suffragettes who fought to guarantee women the constitutional right to vote, Gandhi’s non-violent actions to end British colonialism, and or course, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Jesus’ message of love for all beings. Great moments in history that often took decades of committed citizens to alter the course of history. They were (extra)ordinary citizens who stood up and challenged the status quo and, tragically, many often paid the ultimate price with their own life. We are more powerful than we know. Lest not forget that especially now with all the political rhetoric saturating our airwaves during this election season. It is still business as usual for those in power but we the people, have the power to change our world. This film was a reminder to me of that. I don’t get political in my blog but I’m feeling passionate enough after seeing this film to speak out. I’d like to see our grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and our sisters from all faith traditions join the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers and storm Washington DC to stand up for the Earth and all her creatures. Demand from our leaders immediate legislation that would force corporations and individuals here and abroad to reduce carbon emissions and begin the move towards sustainable energy now. Global climate change is a reality and we have no time to lose. For love of the earth, and for our children and their children’s children…may it be so.

350.org and Four Years Go are also two grassroots organizations that are doing amazing work on the ground to make this transition happen. Get involved for the 10/10/10 work party with 350.org! Read an article on the difference between men and women on global climate change.

Bearing Witness

A heartfelt message from author and environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams regarding the state of our public lands in the American West. These sacred lands are essentially under siege by the oil and gas industry with the support of our government (and many citizens of our country). I had no prior knowledge of the current environmental and human devastation including the high rates of cancer caused by the effects of coal extraction in Wyoming. It’s heartbreaking but important to see. To learn, to bear witness, to act. Perhaps we can find a way to simplify our wants and desires? To put less strain on our natural resources? What is happening in the United States is but a microcosm of what is happening worldwide on our beloved planet. I’m told a coal-fired plant goes online every day in China. It grieves me and I feel helpless yet again to stop this massive ecological assault but I can’t turn away either. We, as a global community, cannot afford to turn away either. In his Nobel Peace Prize winning memoir of the Holocaust, Night, Elie Wiesel writes: “Convinced that this period in history would be judged one day, I knew that I must bear witness.” This resonates deeply for me not only around the ecological crisis but twenty years ago I felt called to bear witness and speak out during the early years of the AIDS pandemic. After my brother died from AIDS in 1989, I became an activist offering education and outreach to heterosexual communities, but was ultimately met with denial. Fortunately, there are now drugs to extend life but so many people worldwide continue to be devastated by this disease. Unfortunately, there are no magic pills to cure the ecological crisis. This will require a radical shift in consciousness and in our way of living. But as the economic crisis has been teaching us, sometimes simpler can be better. More time for family, friends, community, creativity, simple pleasures. How will we be judged by future generations? What will be remembered about this time in history will be determined by how we respond right here, right now. Denial is not an option.

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restrain, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the uncertainty we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert