The Arts of Resistance

Rise up by embracing writers, filmmakers, musicians, and others in the creative community.

The Arts of Resistance

I think I saw you at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st, the first full day of this dark, but hopefully brief, era of the Trump presidency. If it wasn’t you, it was someone who looked like you, or someone who was related to you, or someone who was separated from you by three degrees or less.

Wow, I needed that march. Everyone I knew who went (and almost everyone I knew marched, whether it was in DC, New York, London, or elsewhere around the globe) was uplifted, encouraged, and ready to resist a president who does not have a popular mandate, does not believe in the sanctity of facts, sows racial division, refuses to release his tax records, defends a murderous thug against the findings of his own intelligence agencies, and is on record boasting that he grabs women’s genitalia without their consent.

So it comes as no surprise that even before he took office, Trump proposed eliminating both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Authoritarian leaders abhor the arts, as the free expression of humanity’s eternal quest for beauty and existential meaning directly challenges their demand for strict obedience to monomaniacal ideologies. The Nazis ran a campaign against so-called Degenerate art, which threatened Hitler’s creed of white purity. The Islamic State destroys antiquities, burns instruments, and murders cartoonists. Vladimir Putin has so masterfully intimidated his populace that Russian artists censor themselves.

So what can an arts lover do? Well, quite simply, support the arts. And this year, especially, support women and minorities in the arts.

On the very same day that Trump made his first move to restrict abortion, I joined a group of female public-school teachers to see the play “Roe at Arena Stage. The play was moving, informative, beautifully acted, and inventively staged, showing both sides of the issue while affirming that it should be a woman’s right to choose. The theater was full, the audience wildly enthusiastic. Keep filling up those theater seats, folks.

Last night at the Hamilton, I saw legendary soul singer Bettye LaVette perform a fusion of the blues, gospel, jazz, and R&B, the original resistance art of the oppressed in the United States.  

Though I long ago gave up the movie theater as too loud, too temperature-controlled, and too expensive, I plan to venture into a multiplex to see “Hidden Figures,” that oh-so-rare example of a Hollywood movie that puts African-American women front and center. I anticipate making other forays to movie theaters to see more 2017 films directed by women.

While all of these events cost money, we are extremely fortunate here in the DC area to have access to some of the world’s greatest museums free of charge. If you can’t get tickets to the wildly popular new National Museum of African American History and Culture, check out the American Art Museum’s exhibit of artworks by African Americans.

That museum is also featuring works by Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi, an important artist of the 20th century who voluntarily interned himself during World War II. Or go see Gauri Gill’s photographs of women in Rajasthan, India, at the Freer and Sackler galleries. Flood these federally funded museums to demonstrate that they are valuable and much-used public resources.

Though I love all the arts, it is literature that is the most important to me. For 2017, I have decided to start a Resistance Reading regimen of books by women, starting with what already resides on my bookshelves: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark,  Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather, and Tara Campbell’s TreeVolution.

I will also seek out women-authored books that have long languished on my reading list: Rachel Kushner’s Telex from Cuba, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account, Julie Iromuanya’s Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? and Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.

Reluctantly, because one never likes to come to the end of a great story and say a final goodbye to characters who have become intimate friends, I will read the last of Elena Ferrante’s superbly feminist Neapolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child.

While the world eagerly awaits the last installment of the Wolf Hall books, I have Hilary Mantel’s door-stopper on the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, to tide me over.

Looking ahead to forthcoming books for 2017, I am particularly excited about Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, and Edan Lepucki’s Woman No. 17.

The paths of resistance are manifold, and nothing can take the place of contacting your elected officials, getting involved in grassroots organizations, and being vocal for justice and equality. We can’t march every day, but we can enjoy the arts every day. Against the dark arts of fear, hatred, and alienation, support the enlightened arts that foster love, understanding, and unity.

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