How do we become who we are? What experiences mold our character and how do those experiences alter the way we interact with artwork? For me the experiences that have been the most transformative happened suddenly: one I saw coming for nine months, the other I didnt see coming at all.
I was born into trauma. My middle name, which I use as my last name and nom de peinture is Bee. I was named for my great-grandmother Bella, my fathers grandmother, who died in a concentration camp along with my great-grandfather and 17 other relatives, who also died in the Holocaust.
Death leaves us speechless. I lost my sister-in-law unexpectedly six months ago and in the aftermath my wife, my family, and I barely spoke. Of course, we spent entire days together; its just that the words had all gone bad.
My name is Diane Schenandoah, I am a member of the Oneida Nation, wolf clan faith keeper of the Six Nation/Iroquois confederacy, we call ourselves Haudenosaunee.
A critics stance evolves out of a personal worldview marked by trauma; the personal is political, as second-wave feminism tells us. As a feminist, my understanding of the movement cannot be separated from my lived female experience.
Look beneath the floorboards, one trauma nestles into the next. Limbs enfold and shiver in the darkness. Across bruised skin, roadmaps of scars lead nowhere good, cigarette burns and whiplashes, a crisscross of razoring, spider-webbing from broken glass.
A lingering trauma brings relief from the nightmarish suffering caused by loss, even as it perpetuates the grief. Yet through the act of creating, the symptoms of trauma can be lessened. Empathy can be established with inanimate objects and people. When we allow it, our capacity to feel beyond ourselves deepens, and the container of what pain we can tolerate is expanded and extended.
When I heard by way of a phone call that a friend of mine had been trapped in her own home and raped by two strangers off the street, instantaneously all the violence in the world crashed into actuality.
Drugs are good because they tend to work. There’s a comfort in knowing there’s a button you can press. The button is called “agency” and you know that pushing it will change your envelope. But eventually the button sticks, so you peck your way through the whole board, through fevers of entertainment, sex, food, exercise, experience.
The inventory of trauma-based art is broad and brutal. Goya’s tree-born hacked body parts; Käthe Kollwitz’s crumpled, grieving parents; Otto Dix’s wounded madmen, etched seven years after the war and vibrating with the harrowing immediacy of a PTSD flashback; the list goes on and on.
Years ago, I bought a postcard of a Louise Bourgeois artwork that still hangs in my studio. In scratchy, uneven handwriting, she had written, “Art is a guaranty of sanity.” For Bourgeois, that special master of spinning art from torment, it may refer to her process of creation. But it is also a reminder of art’s power to affect its viewers.
Watching the video of Walter Scotts shooting was profoundly disturbing. I remember calling my partner over to watch it on my computer; he refused, but I felt impelled out of a sense of some invisible necessity.
To me, these artworks by Zhang Hongtu represent the polarities of trauma. One is retrospective, confronting the trauma of Hongtus life in China during the Cultural Revolution.