Artists give voice to protests

Vis­ual tes­ti­mony

Northumberland Today - - ENTERTAINMENT - MELISSA HANK

The revo­lu­tion won’t just be tele­vised — it will be painted, sculpted, danced and writ­ten. And when it is, the re­ver­ber­a­tions will be global.

Those aren’t the mus­ings of some pie-in-the-sky dreamer of the “why can’t we all just get along ” type. It’s doc­u­mentable fact, says the CBC se­ries In­ter­rupt This Pro­gram, which ex­am­ines un­der­ground arts scenes around the world itch­ing to be cat­a­lysts for po­lit­i­cal change.

Adding im­port to agency, cre­ators Frank Fior­ito and Nabil Me­hchi say what hap­pens in War­saw, for ex­am­ple, likely won’t stay in War­saw.

“We went to War­saw, where there’s a rise in right-wing ex­trem­ism,” Me­hchi says. “In War­saw, they’re say­ing that if you want to see what Amer­ica is go­ing to look like in a few years, just look at what’s go­ing on in Poland right now.”

For ex­am­ple, the an­nual In­de­pen­dence Day demon­stra­tion in War­saw, run by far-right na­tion­al­ist groups, drew an es­ti­mated crowd of 75,000 peo­ple last year, up 5,000 from the year be­fore.

The War­saw episode of In­ter­rupt This Pro­gram in turn fea­tures a pop­u­lar singer who has been black­listed by the gov­ern­ment. Her songs are banned from the ra­dio, and her pres­ence is roundly un­wel­come at any con­cert or fes­ti­val spon­sored by author­i­ties.

“You re­al­ize that this new pop­ulist gov­ern­ment is to­tally chang­ing the coun­try,” Fior­ito says. “The press is muz­zled, and artists who crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment are boy­cotted on the ra­dio. And there’s a big rise in anti-Semitism, which is ex­tremely sur­pris­ing. The voices of dis­sent right now in Poland are the artists be­cause the press is muz­zled.”

The se­ries adds to the di­a­logue by fea­tur­ing a Cana­dian artist liv­ing in the city in each episode, and the means of protest prove var­ied and re­source­ful.

“Ev­ery­where we go, we dis­cover new forms of art that we didn’t see be­fore. In the Beirut episode in the first sea­son we had a man do­ing belly danc­ing, which is un­heard of be­cause it’s usu­ally women who do it. Be­ing gay, he thought it was one way of con­fronting a so­ci­ety that’s very ho­mo­pho­bic, very con­ser­va­tive and re­li­gious,” says Me­hchi.

“We dis­cov­ered mu­ral artists, dancers, po­etry done in dif­fer­ent ways. In past sea­sons we trav­elled in Eastern Euro­pean coun­tries, like Ukraine and Rus­sia, where there was a lot of per­for­mance art in the street, peo­ple us­ing their bod­ies to protest or put the word out, be­cause they didn’t have a lot of re­sources.”

Also this sea­son the se­ries trav­els to Mex­ico City, where femi­cide — the slay­ing of women and girls — is part of a na­tional cri­sis. Last month, about 100 km away in the state of Pue­bla, a univer­sity stu­dent was mur­dered after she used a ride-hail­ing ser­vice, prompt­ing an­other round of street protests.

“Seven women get killed ev­ery day in Mex­ico, the coun­try, just for be­ing a woman. And in Mex­ico City we filmed with some artists that are at­tack­ing that is­sue,” Fior­ito says.

Closer to home — in ge­og­ra­phy if not sub­ject — is Chicago. In step with Fior­ito and Me­hchi’s man­date this sea­son to fo­cus on strug­gles that aren’t just de­fined by out­right war or nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, the Chicago episode high­lights a dif­fer­ent kind of con­flict zone.

“After the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, we knew we wanted to go to the States. We wanted to res­onate be­yond the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, and we found a city that’s al­most like the heart of what’s go­ing on in the re­sis­tance move­ment and ac­tivism in the States right now, speak­ing against ra­cial in­jus­tice, the lack of re­sources, the high amount of guns and gun vi­o­lence,” Me­hchi says.

Gun homi­cides in the city rose by 61 per cent be­tween 2015 and 2016, and so far this year there’ve been 503 gun homi­cides in a pop­u­la­tion of just over 2.7 mil­lion.

“You feel that there are artists who are try­ing to make art as ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble. Artists are go­ing out into the streets, they ’re putting it out there. They don’t want to be ex­hibit­ing in gal­leries or try­ing to work in an iso­lated bub­ble,” he says, not­ing that so­cial me­dia brings an un­prece­dented im­me­di­acy and reach.

“They’re bring­ing the art to the peo­ple. It’s the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of art, ba­si­cally.”

HANDOUT/CBC

Cre­ated by Frank Fior­ito and Nabil Me­hchi, the CBC se­ries In­ter­rupt This Pro­gram ex­am­ines un­der­ground arts scenes around the world itch­ing to be cat­a­lysts for po­lit­i­cal change.

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