What is behind your choice of this piece of art in response to Flint, Michigan’s contaminated drinking water?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: The choice of the art used was left up to the editor. I sent quite a few images of my art that I thought might work in terms of relating to this terrible situation. I’m happy with the choice, as it was open to interpretations by the writers, and I thought the image was also visually exciting.
Why did this piece of art resonate for you or seem like it would give you an avenue into writing about Flint?
Poet Amy Young: Flint was already very much on my mind. A friend in West Virginia had just spent his whole first social security check on supplies for the people in Flint, including cases of bottled water. The sheer number of plastic bottles was causing its own crisis.
I was in awe of my friend’s determination and was questioning my own. Pairing with a piece of art helped me get outside my head. Ira’s work was such a strong container (never mind the pun). The vulnerable bodies and the simple geometric shapes allowed for plenty of symbolism, but led me to something much more concrete. The twig pieces in the center reminded me of tooth brushes which connected me to the bottled water. Everything fell into place from there.
What do you think is the role of art in regards to real-world, real-time events? In other words, what makes a “successful” occasional or political piece of writing or art?
Artist Ira Joel Haber: The artist and the world is a tricky propitiation. I think that artists should and must be careful not to be seen as opportunists with regards to the miserable situations taking place all over the world. There is a Chinese artist who will be unnamed by me who I feel takes advantage of serious world problems to push his own career and I am truly disgusted by this.
With that said I of course think artists can and should take positions but not necessarily with their art. I am not a political artist, but do respond now and again when asked with my art, usually at Broadsided Press. In my younger years I did protest and march especially during the Vietnam War and did one or two pieces relating to that war.
Poet Amy Young: It is easy to react. The impulse is there, but I think for political art or art of witness to be successful, it is important for the artist or poet to not let the message sabotage the art. A measure of restraint, beauty and kindness can go a long way. It is okay to be angry, but anger is often more effective when it needles its way in through the back door, through details and small gestures. I tend to appreciate this approach. Sometimes, however, being smacked over the head with a 2×4 brings about immediate results. If you are going to use a 2×4 you should know how to swing it, and be prepared for the consequences.