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“Lejos de Todo”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What is behind your choice of this piece of art in response to the topic “Guns in American Culture”?
Artist Sandra Cohen: The fear-mongering gun lobbyists have continuously needled the over-zealous gun defense by gun owners; it has become ludicrous. The refusal to see the reality of the problem, especially after so many recent gun-related tragedies, correlates in my mind with the over-zealous defense of hate by some people who believe they hear the word of God.

Why did this piece of art resonate for you or seem like it would give you an avenue into writing about this subject?
Poet Daniel Aristi: I was first drawn towards the hugely dissimilar meanings that the various sets of hands convey through the very minor variations in the fingers’ position: two hands together for praying, two hands together (but with some flexed fingers) to simulate a gun. Murder or redemption – fully opposing propositions – depend on whether a couple of fingers get bent or are kept straight. I found this concept fascinating.

Second, I’m Spanish and have spent some years living in South America, which helps me combine English and Spanish when writing poetry. The hands in the painting struck me as being Latino imagery, possibly the hands of Virgin Mary as we see her depicted in street and tattoo art in the LA area. This speaks to me of Hispanic ethnicity and the surrounding violence.

What surprises you in the poet’s response to your artwork?
Artist Sandra Cohen: I love the avant-garde quality, the mix of lyricism and story. I was surprised that Daniel’s writing brought to my mind another piece I’d submitted for this collaboration, one he could not have seen!

What do you think is the role of art with regards to real-world, real-time events? In other words, what makes a “successful” occasional or political piece of writing or art?
Artist Sandra Cohen: Honesty.
Poet Daniel Aristi: I’d say that writing and art certainly have the ability – not sure about the obligation, though – to add their voice to the political discourse of the moment. Zola’s open letter J’accuse…! during the Dreyfus affair in France comes to mind.

As for the level of success of a political art, I would say that it needs to both contribute to the political goal it has set to achieve and, at the same time, it needs to be considered a good piece of art in itself, aside from the political context. In my mind, some of the propaganda posters of the Soviet Union in the 1960s would fulfill this double aim.

If the Broadsided collaboration were a piece of music, what would it be?
Artist Sandra Cohen: Something by Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Massive Attack,” or “David Shire.”
Poet Daniel Aristi: I would go for a mariachi-inspired type of piece…or something from Los Lobos!

Read any good books lately?
Artist Sandra Cohen: The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood, M Train by Patti Smith.
Poet Daniel Aristi: I’m halfway through Theodore Rex, the second volume of a biography of President Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, a superb read. Poetry-wise, I’m reading lots of Kaveh Akbar and Randall Mann.

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Sandra Cohen: The Obama portraits are going to be awesome. I saw the artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald profiled in The New York Times. And the puzzle portraits of twins by Alma Haser.
Poet Daniel Aristi: I recently visited the Ethnography Museum of Geneva (MEG) and it has gorgeous artifacts from all over the world.

Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).
Artist Sandra Cohen: I love your mission to bring art to everyday places—very proud to be a part of it!

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