A Labor Day Tribute

The Statue of Liberty Soliloquy 
BY Jim Johnson 

Give me your poor, your mouth breathing, your drooling
Give me your tired masses.
I have floors to clean, tables to set, guests to feed.
Give me preferably your Scandinavians.
I have shoes to shine. So hurry up now, give me your Blacks.
I have laundry. Give me a few Orientals.
I have flowers, lawns to trim, fruit trees. How about some Latinos.
I have boats to unload. Give me some Irish then.
I have minerals to mine. Give me any from the
slag heaps of Europe.
I have this thin soil to till. So send me some serfs.
I have trees to cut. Finns will do.
Just give me your workers, your farmers. Give me your all.
I exclude no one ? not even democrats. Socialists,
communists, intellectuals excepted.
I have so much work to do.

This tribute to both immigrants and labor was written by 2008 Duluth Poet Laureate Jim Johnson.

My afternoon with Sargent

Last weekend I went to Washington DC to accompany my sister on a speech tournament. I could do that because school is over.  Since the group had free time, we went to various museums around the city.  I went to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) which was great fun especially because it was so hot outside.  The museum was big but not huge like the Louvre or the Hermitage, and I felt like I saw most of it.  It’s a gorgeous building with an atrium on either side – where one can sit and relax.  There was a Sally Mann photography exhibition going on in the museum.  Her large black and white landscapes of the South were really stunning.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the exhibition.

I spent a long time admiring the John Singer Sargent paintings in the museum. Sargent (1856 – 1925) is an American artist, who was trained in France, and lived in London. He is heavily influenced by Spanish master artist Velazquez, whom he studied passionately.   Interestingly, Sargent also painted murals which can be found in the Boston public Library and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  The NGA in DC has some beautiful Sargent works which I photographed (with permission of course).  The paintings in the museum show his versatility as an artist – his landscapes, portraits, interiors are all equally beautiful.  It’s very difficult to pick a favorite but if I had to, I would pick the lady in the white silk gown with the paisley shawl.  I had a really fun time in the museum because I saw a lot of stuff but focused on one artist the most.  Others may not like to focus on one artist as they feel it limits their enjoyment of the museum – for me it was great fun.

Sargent - Pavement, Cairo, 1891Sargent - Nonchaloir (Repose), 1911

Arts in the City Beautiful

Art, in the words of Picasso, “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” For Orlando, it was the balm that soothed its wounds from the horrific nightclub shooting. Orlando, as a city, collectively turned to art to heal the wounds of that horrible night and find a way forward. Lake Eola Park is a beautiful public space in downtown Orlando.  For the last year, the hatch shell has been painted in the colors of a rainbow to symbolize LGBTQ pride and #OrlandoStrong.

In Orlando, all around the ‘city beautiful,” there are new murals, graffiti, and even painted electric boxes – some memorializing the Pulse nightclub, others just there to add a little beauty to our day. Driving to school, stopping at red lights, being stuck in traffic, I have appreciated this art.  It has brought a smile to my face and reduced some of my morning tiredness – wouldn’t you smile if the Girl with a Pearl Earring smiled at you from a dumpster on your way to school every morning!!

An Ode to A City

Patrick Martinez was born and raised in Los Angeles, with a multicultural heritage – he is Filipino, Mexican, and Native American. This gives him a unique persepective and outlook – something that he has translated into his artwork – all of which show that his figers are firmly placed on the pulse of his city and the nation.

He captures the essence of the city and its forgotten nooks and crannies – neon signs from convenience stores, bakeries, and barber shops that tell desparate stories, funeral wreaths for sale on street corners, a shocking pink bogainviilea peeking out from over a fence – all these show up in his mixed media work – and convey messages about forgotten streets and overlooked people.

Martinez has taken very ordinary neon light signs seen in local shops and bars and turned them into meaningful works of art.  In one, the neon sign reads, references German (anti-Nazi) pastor Martin Niemoller’s  (1892 – 1984) well known quote: First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

Baggage Claim

Only an immigrant, especially one that has left home in a rush can understand the value of baggage. The exhibition Baggage Claims at the Orlando Museum of Art explores the role of baggage in our lives – baggage is the only thing all our immigrant parents brought with them when they came to this country.

South African artist Dan Halter’s large world map made of cheap woven plastic bags – which serve as baggage to many poor people throughout the world -shows more people are displaced today than at any time in world history; all they have is the baggage they left their homes with.  Refugees from Syria are travelling through continents with their baggage, and with the emotional baggage of leaving their homes under such sad circumstances.

Here a pile of suitcases wait patiently on the floor waiting to be picked up by the owners.  Almost all pieces of art in this exhibition were on the floor – as though they had just been left there briefly by the traveler, while taking a break from carrying them.

Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s Nostalgia is a brick filled suitcase – perhaps reminding us of the dangerous voyages the people of Cuba have taken across the seas at the risk of drowning to the bottom of the sea with their heavy baggage. Indian artist Subodh Gupta showcases a common piece a luggage used by the weary traveler – a rolled up mattress that can be unrolled for sleeping on, when the traveler gets tired. 

Portable City Chinese artist, Yin Xiuzhen, shows a suitcase which carries an entire beloved city. Pieces like this make one realize how difficult it is for immigrants and refugees to leave their hometowns, not knowing if they will ever see them again.  The bright and cheerful color of the suitcase shows how much the artist loves her city. 

Richard Mosse: Peace Attack

This is an analyis my sister wrote of a piece she saw in a photography exhibition in Winter Park, Florida. Richard Moss is a documentary phographer who gained fame after he documented the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is known for using infrared color film.

“The most striking thing about this piece is its color.  Instead of the black and white image or forest greens that one expects, there is a vibrant and bold pink over the image.  The color is unnatural and artificial – not something one would ever see in this setting.  It takes over the entire piece – and gives it a surreal feeling. I was impressed by the juxtaposition in this artwork – the vibrancy and brightness of the colors are in sharp contrast with the darkness of the subject matter.

The artist has also portrayed layers and depth in this piece – one figure is placed closer to the viewer than the second figure instantly creating a sense of depth.  The sense of layers and depth are heightened by the trees and other foliage in the background.  The overall piece has a sense of depth.  The artist further added to the sense of space by making the viewer try to look into the distance where the two figures seem to be looking.  They are looking in different directions, and the viewer feels a sense of great space and distance by trying to see where the two figures are looking. 

The piece has been anchored by the seated figure, who is not completely centered but is off a little to the left.  The standing figure on the right balances the figure on the left. The horizontal lines in the piece (on which one figure sits and the other one rests) also provides balance to the vertical positions of the two men.”