Meeting Mohamad Hafez at CCSU

How lucky am I to have to the opportunity to, not only meet the artists that we showcase at the CCSU Art Galleries, but also the artists who we (the art department) invite to present lectures for the students.

This week, as was the case, we had the honor to present Mohamad Hafez to speak about his most current body of work.

Mohamad Hafez Bio

When I first saw Hafez’ artwork at City Wide Open Studios in New Haven back in October and I was immediately intrigued.  It was as if gravity pulled me in closer to each piece.  The subject that his works portrayed revealed themselves to me immediately as I discovered a Middle Eastern citadel, shattered and ravaged by what one could easily identify as the trademark of war.

If anyone knows me they will know that I don’t shy away from politics.  In fact, I actually attempt to keep up with current events around the world.  And it’s not unheard of, amidst my friends and family, to have argumentative discussions about the state of world.

However, what I love more than politics is art with a powerful message.

A Refugee Nation - Shown at CWOS, New Haven, 2015.When I turned into the small room where the artist had his work displayed, I knew I had found a special treat.  This work by Hafez was skillfully crafted and installed in the perfect setting that is the Goffe Street Armory in New Haven.  A run down industrial space, the Armory space gave his pieces a sense of belonging, a kinship the works shared with the deteriorated walls, peeling paint, and rusty window frames and exposed structures.

The art history professor in our department contacted me to find a time frame for hosting an artist lecture in our gallery.  When I learned who the artist was that would be presenting a lecture, I was utterly enthused.  Admittedly, she was also a big fan of Hafez’ work like myself, and unfortunately she had missed seeing him speak at Real Artways in Hartford, so what better way to mediate that problem than by hosting his lecture for her students and the university body.

Both sides of the conflict. Shown at CWOS, New Haven, 2015.

detailShotIrrevocably, I loved everything about his lecture and message.  My favorite part of the presentation was his end goal.  He wasn’t just trying to make a statement with his artwork.  The work was born out of his necessity to feel closer to home, to his roots, and to his people rather than trying to spread his own idealistic beliefs.  He focuses his efforts on shedding these perceptions we have which corporate media has manufactured so wrongly in our minds.

He didn’t need to convince me, I was already on his side before I even saw his works of art.  I may not have first hand experience in the kind of suffering that war brings to cities, countries, multitudes of people but my empathetic heart stretches into a universe inside of me, feeling very helpless and wishing I could do more.  He did more by simply sharing his family life in Damascus with us.

He showed us the snapshots he took of every day life when he was finally able to go back to his country.  Homesick and nostalgic about the little details of his home country that most might miss if you’re not really looking, he shed light to his culture’s best aspects.  A culture where humility is of utmost importance is truly noticeable in the neighborhoods as you walk by front doors of houses completely clear of embellishment, they all look the same regardless of how much or little you may have.  He also shared how communities come together when there are neighbors in need.  He showed us pictures of a normal Friday night dinner with immediate family, gatherings of 15-20 people around the table having a grand meal and actively being a family.  It reminded me of some family gatherings I have been to myself, where family extends not only to brothers, sisters, and parents but also cousins, second cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends whom we consider family.

It was easy to relate to his stories, and though our cultures may be different, they are also so similar.

This was my take on the artwork and the artist’s presentation.  I am sure I could go on for another 600 words to critique the quality of the artwork but after all I have already said, I don’t think it’s as important as you (the reader/viewer) to draw your own conclusion and opinion.

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As an audiophile…

…I must share this music video, I love it in every language.  Calle13 does not disapoint!

Ok, yea my political inclination might have pushed me to post this.  I hope you enjoy it too!!

Political Ideals in Art

One of the things I find most fascinating about art is that it can actually be used as a vehicle to change the world.  I know, changing the world, what an ideal to have.  Both my parents, and many other university students, were very politically active in the 1970’s in Lima, Peru; a time when right-wing dictatorships of many surrounding countries were actively eliminating any influential communist ideas from the population because it contradicted the existing government.  In 1983 my father was tortured in jail for possessing written documents from leftist idealists.  This while my mom was giving premature birth to yours truly.

Growing up, I always admired my parents’ struggle for bettering others’ lives.  We never had a lot, but my parents were always willing to help however they could.  As I write about it now I cannot help but analyze this as being the biggest influence on the way I perceive the world today.

Since I started working at CCSU, I have had the chance to interact with some of the professors in the art department I had not met.  One of those professors was Mike Alewitz.  One of the first things he said to me was “I can’t believe you graduated without having to take one of my classes.”  Since I was a transfer student in the CCSU art department, there were basic courses I was able to circumvent, therefore I did not know all the professors.

We started talking about politics the same day we met.  I told him that his class was the one I was always looking for but never knew existed.  Since, he has invited me to sit in his mural painting class.  Now I need to come up with a worthy concept to paint a mural about.  Ideas I have plenty, but more important than an idea, or a cause, is how well illustrated  and composed it is so that it is able to get the point across.  As I develop these ideas I will write a post about them.

Most people either love Alewitz, or hate him.  I have known some students that were horrified by his teaching methods and others that take his classes again and again, whether they failed or passes the first, or second time.  Some may tell you that he is crazy, but are we not all some measure of crazy?  He and I are of kindred philosophies which is why I enjoy sitting in his class.

Alewitz also grew up in a household with radical thinking parents who were highly influenced by the communist party, as were many others of that generation, my parents (at that time in South America) included.  It is interesting to me how such involvement in the political front can dissipate so quickly from one generation to the next, and even cease to exist with the following generation.  Alewitz is a good contradiction of this development in society, but others in his generation were, too, because they lived through the Vietnam war era.  A time when you fought a war against the authorities to not have to go to war.

Already Alewitz had a radical influence from his own family growing up.  By the time he was 17, he was already a self-professed Marxist.  By the time he got to college, at Kent State University in Ohio, he was organizing anti-war movements among others.  He was marching with other students the day of the Kent State Massacre on May 4th, 1970, where the National Guard opened fire against unarmed college students killing four students and injuring 9 others (source).

If you reside in the United States then you might have a chance to see one of Alewitz’ many murals.  He has painted murals in Austin, Minnesota, South Los Angeles, Chicago, Tennessee, Washington state, Washington DC, Denver, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other locations I might be missing.  Sadly, some of his murals have been destroyed.  Throughout his life he was victimized, harassed, and even added to the terrorist list.  He is never scared away from a mural project.  He has been to Nicaragua, Ukraine, Iraq, Mexico City, Northern Ireland, the West Bank and Jerusalem to paint the voice of the people.

Monument to Rachel Corrie, East Jerusalem
Monument to Rachel Corrie, East Jerusalem
Monument of the Workers of Chernobyl, Ukraine
Monument of the Workers of Chernobyl, Ukraine

Let’s talk about how this nonconformist artist, Mike Alewitz, helped to change the world.

In the early 1980’s, there was much energy brewing in South Africa.  There was a lot of friction on the capitalist corporations.  The strength of the organized community along with militant political unions was promising in ending the apartheid regime.  This was the goal the ANC (African National Congress) and the South African Communist party were trying to reach (source).  It was also around this time that Ronald Reagan listed the ANC and, by default, Nelson Mandela (source).

The racially unequal treatment of employees at the 3M plant in South Africa’s was revealed at the same time that 3M tried closing their Freehold, NJ plant (which would leave 1000 unemployed) (source).  Factories were closing everywhere.  Many were losing jobs.  And in Austin Minnesota 1,500 Hormel meat packer workers were on strike for 10 long months trying to protect a fair wage (source).

Solidarity was shared by labor unions, workers, and activists everywhere.

Enter activist and mural painter Mike Alewitz who was in Austin, MN in 1986 organizing the development for the concept and the painting of a mural.  The mural spoke for the people.  It stood for the striking meat packers, for South Africa, for working people, for farmers, for families, and for Nelson Mandela, who at the time was imprisoned by the U.S.

P-9 MURAL - Austin, MN, 1986
P-9 MURAL – Austin, MN, 1986

You can no longer see this mural if you go to Austin, MN.  As you can see from the picture below, the mural was sandblasted.  The U.F.C.W leaders (United Food and Commercial Workers International Unions) ordered the mural be destroyed and forgotten.  It was a demonstration of power on the part of the union bureaucrats; a power hold that was so weak no union member would sandblast the wall.  The U.F.C.W leaders had to do the dirty work of destroying the mural themselves (source).

Defaced P-9 Mural
Defaced P-9 Mural

This instance was only one example of art activism.  Many of the Hormel workers were changed by the experiences of the strike and the Mural.  Some of those people even went on to fight for the labor movement (source).  My only hope as an artist is to be able to influence people in such a way that they become empowered with knowledge and the desire to change the world.  What kind of mark would you like to leave behind in this world?