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“The Liberation of the Peon”

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta: I recently rode the Red Line in Boston from end to end, and there was nothing interesting to read overhead.

What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: The experience of reading this poem is very meta in the best sense; there are so many layers of experience, translation, and reinterpretation. I’m drawn to the fact that it’s an articulation of a particular experience of viewing Diego Rivera’s painting, which is itself a reinterpretation and representation of a historical event, and that the poem has multiple languages.

Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I would love to see this broadside get framed and presented next to Rivera’s painting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta: I hoped the artist would refer back to the Rivera painting, which is what happened. I love the different glimpses into parts of the painting that reflect images in the poem. The artist shows great sensitivity in the response.

When you began this piece, was it color, shape, or some other aspect that you followed? Did that change?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang:
It was the idea of reading an image that got me started with combining words with images. I compared how the poem articulates components of the painting while I viewed the high-resolution image of it through the Philadelphia Museum of Art website. In emphasizing certain qualities of the artwork, other components of it become hidden. This duality of emphasis and de-emphasis became the basis for how I composed the piece.

Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art (other than Diego Rivera’s!)? What was that experience like for you? Why were you inspired to do so?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta: I wrote one other poem about the still life artist J.F. Peto, whose home is now a museum. Long ago it was a bed and breakfast run by his granddaughter and maintained as it was when he was alive. I rented a room there for a year and fell under the spell of his surroundings as depicted in his still lives. This is in Island Heights, NJ., near where I live now.

How does literature fit into your creative life as a visual artist?
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I’m interested in the way we use language to express ideas and thoughts. As a visual artist, the visual language contains larger gray zones than verbal language, which allows for broader meaning but also invites more misinterpretation and misunderstanding. It is such an imperfect and wicked system that I would have to embrace the whole of it to get anywhere. Sometimes I prefer the pairing of art with literature as a way to focus attention.

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta:  Very hot and still with a storm coming.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: A salt storm over arid terrain.

Read any good books lately?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta: I lived many years in South America and try to read in Spanish. I’m reading a collection of Garcia Marquez’s journalism El Escándalo del Siglo. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is another book I’ve read lately and really admire.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: Starting a couple of years ago, I’ve been trying to make social media work to my advantage. So I’ve curated my Facebook feed to send me articles from my favorite art magazines and creative art news source. Every day has been a wonderful mixture of career advice, art opportunities, and basically brain fodder to keep the creativity flowing.

Needless to say, reading articles has made it more difficult to pick up a book because I’m always on and working all the time. This method of trying to become healthier in my career advancement is a process of give and take. It’s great to always learn new ways of organizing my life and trying out the next hack, but there’s also a point of diminishing return.

I’ve started tuning out the noise to figure out what really works for me. All these listicles and hacks are methods that work for other folks; it’s their value systems and standards. Each one of us have to discover our own values and fine tune the method that works best for us individually.

Seen any good art lately?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta:  My latest trip to Philadelphia was to revisit the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. It has a wonderful collection of ancient and Impressionist art mixed and hung from floor to ceiling. For example, a Picasso next to an African mask. There’s a complete absence of Renaissance art.  All natural light, in a newly designed space. Unique in every way.
Artist Millian Pham Lien Giang: I saw Julie Mehretu’s lithographs and etchings at our local university gallery (the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art at the University of Alabama). I’m fond of Mehretu’s drawings, so these translation of drawings via printmaking methods really shocked me. Overall, most of the marks were lifeless and each composition appeared mechanical. Looking at these prints reaffirmed my love for the direct mark-making in the process of drawing, and reaffirmed the value of drawing as a process, a material, and an end in general.

Anything else?
Poet Barbara de la Cuesta: That such a work as The Liberation of the Peon comes out of the same culture as The Ascención del Señor Orgaz says something to me about how rich the Spanish tradition is on the two continents.

Note:  This broadside and interview are included in the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020 (Provincetown Arts Press, 2022).

P.S.: Did you notice the artist’s incorporation of text into her image?  It took us, the editors, a few views but now we can’t stop seeing it.  We’ve highlighted it below:

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