Monday, May 18, 2009

LA's Hammer Museum - It Is What It is...Conversations about Iraq

May 16 I was invited to LA's Hammer Museum to participate as a “guest expert" in Jeremy Deller's installation, " It Is What It is...Conversations about Iraq". With participants from diverse backgrounds participating in the 3 hour conversation, I shared my experiences of Iraq - and in my case, also Israel, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Afghanistan as described in the book, Long Time Passing.

Prior to these Conversations, British artist Jeremy Deller and his colleagues had towed a rusted hulk of a suicide bombed vehicle (looked like it been a passenger sedan) around the US and engaged Americans about war and its consequences. (The vehicle can be seen in the foreground of a couple of photos.)

Asked why he chose to do an installation of this sort in the US and not in the UK, Jeremy Deller responded, "...I think there’s a massive gap in information and sensible discussion about Iraq. Still. It’s patronizing thing to say, I know, but it might be needed slightly more here. It’s not that Britain is better -- It’s not great, but I think Britain isn’t so oppositional in terms of discussion. ... It is your war, after all. It isn’t a British war. We just tagged along."

While this "massive gap in information" and the "oppositional" nature "in terms of discussion" is true at the US macrocosm, at the microcosm of the Hammer Museum courtyard, participants really reached out to engage one another and me.

I found this exhibit by British artist Jeremy Deller, true to how he envisioned and designed it. The diverse group of individuals who showed up to talk candidly and with real curiosity was most welcome.

It was, as we say, "a thing of beauty"!

What was beautiful about it? Discussion participants were random members of the local community visiting the museum. While the event was advertised and some participants came specifically to attend, many folks who joined in were simply passing by. They found a seat and joined a wide ranging conversation from:

military recruitment in middle and high schools: "When I was in high school military recruiters would come into our classes and could take up a whole hour handing out surveys (we had to put our contact info on the survey, name, email, and phone number) and talking to us about what a great career we faced in the military. Some days I'd go from one class to another and the same recruiter would be in the next class doing the same thing...."

mothers and women possess a huge untapped potential to end war and perpetuate peace: "we men have messed things up so badly - these wars, the economy, the environment, and so on - and I think it is time you women have a chance to rectify these male-dominated wrongs. I'm not suggesting that women simply take over but we need women to be more pro-active and forceful, not just to demonstrate and crowd into Congress but to really strategize for the long term...."

combat troops need to find a way to forgive themselves for what they've done in war: "I'm Israeli and I served in the IDF. In the US, one thing "we" ("average Americans") are not recognizing is that many troops have done things in the heat of combat that they recognize they should not have done...and they cannot forgive themselves for it. But "we" need to find ways to forgive them too...."

We ventured into many other topics (each "expert" had a three hour shift...and every idea is worthy of discussion). I'll surface more of these topics in future posts as they are drifting around in the American macrocosm at some level albeit with different levels of opposition. It is essential that we surface these topics and engage them in ways that accepts yet marginalized disrespectful opposition - since it is the way we Americans oppose ideas that is so damaging to ongoing conversations. (This takes a particular type of that breaks the current mold and is more participative. More on that in future posts....)

The Hammer Museum event appeared to invigorate all participants and each of us was candid (no one was attacked for holding the 'wrong' view) and questioning. This allowed a blossoming of even further openness to engage 'hot' topics....

See pictures from the event.

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