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Author Topic: 2015-01-01 Living Arts of Tulsa exhibit shows hate turned into art

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Living Arts of Tulsa exhibit shows hate turned into art

James D. Watts Jr | Tulsa World | 1 January 2015

When confronted with what is essentially a mountain of hate, the best advice about what to do with it can come from an unlikely source. In December 2003, the Montana Human Rights Network was approached by a member of a white supremacist group called the Northwest Church of the Creator. The man had become disillusioned with the organization and offered to give access to more than 4,000 volumes of racist literature that the group had stockpiled.

“These were primarily books that the group’s founder had written,” said Katie Knight, who at the time was the curator of education at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana. “More importantly, these books were also the group’s main source of income. There were about 13 different titles in all.”

The members of the Montana Human Rights Network originally wanted only to get the books out of circulation, and to deny the World Church of the Creator the potential income the books represented.

But after distributing copies to law enforcement agencies as well as to researchers and others who monitor extremist groups, there still remained the question of what to do with the more than 3,000 copies still in their possession.

“They knew they didn’t want to destroy the books, because that seemed counterintuitive to their mission,” Knight said. “Finally, Ross Toole, the 17-year-old son of one of the MHRN directors, said why not use these books and make art out of them. And that’s pretty much where I came in.”

Knight, who teaches art and photography at Carroll College in Helena, began a three-year effort to turn thousands of hate-filled pages into uplifting, unsettling works of art.

The result is “Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate,” an exhibit of works by 60 nationally known artists, which debuted in 2008 at the Holter Museum.
A touring version of the exhibit will open Friday at Living Arts of Tulsa, featuring works by 40 artists.

For Knight, who continues to serve as curator and manager of the exhibit, “Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate” is something of a culmination of her life’s work.

“I’ve been working with art that deals with social justice issues for more than 25 years,” she said. “When I first met with the people from the MHRN and they told me the idea for this, I could immediately see all sorts of possibilities.”

Knight sent invitations to a number of national artists whose work dealt with social issues; 12 responded. A general call for entries yielded more than 100 more potential contributors.

Those selected for the show were sent a selection of books to use.

“Some of the artists took the idea to literal extremes and actually transformed the literal books into art,” Knight said. “Others chose to address the ideas suggested by what was in the books.

“And there were some artists, such as Clarissa Sligh, who really didn’t want so much as to touch the physical books,” she said. “She witnessed an uncle of hers being lynched, and she was the lead plaintiff in the case for desegregating schools in Virginia. So the attitudes in those books were ones to which she had a visceral reaction.”

Sligh ultimately turned pages from the books into flocks of origami birds that are a major component of the photographic triptych in the exhibit.

“In all the work in this show, I was looking for things that in some way transformed the hate contained within these books,” Knight said. “It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction of being repulsed or outraged at something that promotes genocide of all kinds.

“What we were after were works that create an emotional, transformative experience for the viewer,” she said. “There are pieces in the show that are memorial works, for family members of the artist who were killed in the Holocaust.”

Others attempt to achieve an almost redemptive quality.

One example is the installation of Jane Waggoner Deschner titled “The Way Things Go, and Don’t.” Deschner created hand-knitted caps that she fit over each of the 13 books she was given.

“When I first saw her piece,” Knight said, “I have to admit it completely mystified me. But now, I see it as one of the most forgiving and empathetic works in the show. These little hats are a symbol of the care that the people who embrace these hateful ideas probably never had, of the love and tenderness that might have made them more loving people.”
Noli Nothis Permittere Te Terere
The only way to prevent 1984 is 2323

Reverend Cailen Cambeul, P.M.E.
Church Administrator, Creativity Alliance
Church of Creativity South Australia
Box 420, Oaklands Park, SA, Australia, 5046

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"In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, brave, hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." Mark Twain.


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