There’s not much festive about war or its aftermath. But when war ends, or bitter conflict is resolved, entire nations have been known to rise up in joy.
"If Not Now When," an art and music festival, carries that idea inside it. It’s a party, a rock show; a picnic, an art exhibit; a celebration of the hard work involved in seeking peace, and a remembrance of those who have fought, suffered, endured or escaped.
Honolulu artist Joe Bright’s photographic collage in the art exhibit, "Affirmed: This is Real," encompasses some of these fleeting conceptions. It’s beautiful from afar — the image of a serene Buddha. Look more closely, however, and it begins to seem grotesque, unsettling — at midrange, one cannot see clearly what the unique images are, but there is flesh and blood, and it’s not good.
Face it clearly, and you’ll see that Bright has fashioned the Buddha’s image from photos of the 2007 Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, when 400,000 monks assembled to march for a loosening of the military clamphold on that country, ultimately provoking that country’s junta to forcefully clear the streets, killing many of these peaceful protesters.
Hope for peace, brutality of conflict, ugliness and beauty. "If Not Now, When" is going to bring you some of all of that.
"IF NOT Now When" is brought to you by Creative Modern Activism Hawaii, an organization that seeks to combine art and community involvement. Recent law school grad Sonny Ganaden and University of Hawaii-Manoa law professor Mari Matsuda co-coordinate CMA-Hawaii.
The goal isn’t to hit anyone over the head with any one way of thinking, Ganaden emphasizes: art- and music-lovers, Korean War veterans, anti-war activists, young Korean-Americans who want to know more about their country’s history, the curious and people who like to party are all welcome. "We’ve tried to be really inclusive," he said. "And it’s not so wild to think you can do that while having a really good time."
"STILL PRESENT PASTS"
National traveling art exhibit.
The multi-media show, which includes audio, video, interactive installations and historical photos, is based on oral histories of first- and second-generation Korean Americans, based on memories and legacies of the Korean War.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of armed conflict between Korea and the U.S. Creative Modern Activism Hawaii brought the exhibit to Honolulu to "start conversations about the experience of war and the possibility of peace." The hope is raise awareness of "Korea’s forgotten war" among contemporary viewers.
Where: Bishop Museum
When: Today-Sept. 26. At 6:30 today, Ramsay Liem, curator of "Still Present Pasts" and a professor at Boston College, will speak, followed by a panel discussion.
Cost: museum admission
"IF NOT NOW WHEN"
Art and music festival, with Denizen Kane, Skim, Paula Fuga, Kings of Spade, Linus, Youth Speaks Hawaii, Kavet the Katalyst, NoMasterbacks, DJ Eskae, and DJ Cape Cod. Catered by Chiquis Surf Grill, Da Spot and Hokulani Bake Shop.
There will be lawn seating for the musical performances; guests are invited to bring a beach blanket or low chairs.
The exhibit "If Not Now, When," a companion show to the national touring exhibit "Still Present Pasts," features local artists who explore "the shared histories of all communities experiencing the harms of war."
Where: Bishop Museum
When: 5:30-9:30 p.m. tomorrow
Cost: Free; all ages
That’s why music is a big part of the event. Rising hip-hop stars Denizen Kane and Skim are jetting in from the Mainland. Paula Fuga, Kings of Spade, Linus and DJs Eskae and Cape Cod are major local draws. There will be spoken-word, too, from Youth Speaks Hawaii. "Everything you’re into," Ganaden notes.
For 27-year-old Randi Jeung, a Korean-American volunteer with the festival, the event is a coming-out party. "I don’t think young Korean-Americans have had a chance to have a voice and to get organized in the Hawaiian community — and this is it," she said.
"IT’S BEEN a long road," says hip-hop artist Denizen Kane, a young Korean-American musician, poet and writer who has lived in San Francisco for nearly a decade, but first made his name in Chicago. He has a new record out, "Brother Min’s Journey to the West" (find out more at www.galapagos4.com), and is working on a play, loosely based on his youthful experiences as a Korean American in "Black America," making poetry and hip-hop — inhabiting what he calls "a blank space between identities." You may have seen him on the HBO series "Russell Simmons Presents: Def Poetry Jam."
Kane lost a brother shortly before leaving Chicago, and this has informed his art since. It also makes him particularly well-suited to participate in an event that is about keeping memories alive.
He’ll perform here with a guitar and microphone, share poems and stories.
"As we journey in this life, we have a particular experience," he said. "We lose things, we lose certain people, and through music, through art, through spirituality, we see that those things are still living. … Music is a form of record-keeping, a form of protest."
He has a complex take on the Korean-American experience — acknowledging the attractions of the "melting pot," but warning of the danger of losing one’s sense of self when questions of identity are not addressed.
"There’s just so much in this world that isn’t broadcast. So much sameness, tragedy and conformity that’s being exported," he said.
"PEACE, as it turns out, is as complex and delicate a subject as war," says the art exhibit’s curator, Trisha Goldberg. Goldberg personally invited five of the artists, including Bright, to show their work. An additional 42 artists were selected by juror Alison Wong, the executive director of The Contemporary Museum of Hawaii.
Wong saw pieces with "strong sentiment," she said, by artists in their early 20s to late 60s. All bring war and its fallout to the forefront, in an effort to raise awareness of history. Many evoke Korean culture, as "If Not Now When" is a companion to a national traveling exhibit focused on the Korean war. ("This hits very close to home for a lot of people," noted Ganaden.)
One print is made of blood; others use serene imagery. "War is still with us," Wong said. "In all countries."
Goldberg had included the piece Bright submitted in a previous exhibit, and, she said, "I know a good opportunity to spread the news of good art when I see one!"
For Bright, an acupuncturist and tai chi practitioner who follows a form of Buddhist meditation, Vipassana, practiced in Myanmar, his art can be a path to a kind of "transformation" that allows people to rise above the ugliness of anger and violence and visualize another way. He says the Burmese people he has met, who are amazingly generous and kind, also demonstrate this.
His piece, "Affirmed: This is Real," combines the image of the Buddha with images of resistance and violence. "You could be with the icky, painful stuff and emotions, and still make something beautiful out of it," he said.
For people who are living with oppression, there is suffering; but it is a greater despair "to feel no one knows, no one cares," he said.
"The big goal is not to be stuck in these extremes; to understand that they both exist simultaneously. … The purpose is to help people understand that within this, peace is possible."