YORK—The galleries at York College of Pennsylvania have assembled an intriguing exhibition examining peace—global, local, as well as personal—which does so without sensationalizing or trivializing the topic.
“Perspectives on Peace” seeks not to shock or pacify. The images will not cause the viewer to look away in revulsion but instead seek to the make the viewer look inward at one’s own personal role in creating a more peaceful world.
Often fine art uses the most violent imagery to promote peace. Similarly, the notion of peace is often illustrated in simplistic terms, idyllic scenes of a utopian society. Both approaches can be superficial, leaving the viewer with only a guttural reaction as opposed to thoughtful dialogue or personal connection.
“Perspectives on Peace” has assembled nine artists to speak to the aspects of peace – conflict resolution, non-violence, societal change and personal responsibility. Their media include print, audio, video and photography; and each with a voice that resonates with the audience.
Baltimore street artist Gaia was an artist-in-residence at the college for 11 days and conducted interviews, shot video and painted an 80-foot wide mural to examine the dynamics of York city and the surrounding area. “Invisible Boundaries” explores the stories of four local women who discuss the separations between people that arise from economic, social and educational circumstances that have shaped their communities and how those boundaries can hopefully be crossed to bring the city together.
“Grace Before Dying” is a photo essay by Lori Waselchuk, telling the story of a prisoner-run hospice group at Louisiana State Penitentiary. These black-and-white photos capture the compassion and personal peace that is shared by a population brought together by crime and violence. The images of prisoners spending time to comfort their fellow inmates who are terminally ill depict the humanity that can exist in a system not typically known for its empathy.
Lebanese-American artist Helen Zughaib’s paintings address the current situation in the Middle East and Arab-American relations in the United States. “Re Imagined Peace” is a vibrant patchwork of color that fits together to represent a harmonious cityscape against a tranquil sky, all in hopes that the diverse people of the Middle East region can live side by side in a cohesive community.
Zughaib created “Prayer Rug for America” in reaction to the struggles of Arab-Americans in a post-9/11 world. A traditional Muslim prayer rug is constructed of Islamic mosaic patterns in the colors of the American flag. By combining these two elements, she suggests a merging of cultures instead of fear and distrust.
Jefferson Pinder, with Matt Ravenstahl, filmed a visual representation of non-violence and civil disobedience in “Passive/Resistance.” Over the course of several minutes, Pinder who is black is repeatedly slapped by Ravenstahl, a white man, with increasingly harsh blows. The split screen presentation is difficult to watch, yet it compels the viewer to see if Pinder retaliates. The unanswered violence continues until both men turn to face the viewer, turning the audience into an active participant as a bystander who can choose to be complicit or to intervene.
Our personal responsibility for peace is undeniable in Sarah Maple’s “Inaction.” Maple has printed across a mirror the phrase, “Inaction is a Weapon of Mass Destruction.” The message challenges the viewer to not only read the phrase but also look into one’s own eyes while doing so, begging the question of what we can each do to promote peace in some way, no matter how small. The direct message was meant to spur us all into action, and while not directly telling us what to do, it warns that the real danger is inaction or doing nothing at all.
“Perspectives on Peace” does not promote a specific agenda but instead seeks to advocate for continued understanding, growth and a commitment to non-violence. Each artist is able to make an appeal for peace on a personal level in a sophisticated and insightful way. The entire exhibition is an ideal blend of fine art and advocacy to make our world a better place.
“Perspectives on Peace” is in display at York College Galleries, 441 Country Club Road in York until Nov. 14. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. All events are free and open to the public.
For more information, visit the gallery website at galleries.ycp.edu or the exhibition Facebook page.