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Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here! Event: Art & Social Justice Panel Discussion

  • Multnomah County Central Library 801 Southwest 10th Avenue Portland, OR United States (map)

Dr. Tom Hastings from Portland State University and Anne-Marie Oliver and Barry Sanders from The Oregon Institute for Creative Research/E4 and Nawzad Othman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the World Affairs Council of Oregon will discuss art and social justice. The panel will be moderated by Tim DuRoche of the World Affairs Council. There will be a question and answer period.

Multnomah Central Library US Bank Conference Room

Participants Statements:

Tom Hastings teaches, researches, and writes about social movements. He is an Assistant Professor in the PSU Conflict Resolution Department. He thinks of  “art in the context of social justice to be crucial to the connections needed to build social movements that bring about the best and most sustainable just relations. Music, graphics, works of fiction, and the many digital innovative artistic expressions growing more available every day--all can touch our emotional, identity-based core. A Scottish bagpipe can inspire the sacrifice of a life for the common defense. A mural can invoke chaos or calm. A work of extrapolative fiction can be the bloom of another possible world--dystopic or utopic. A ballad of intent to win freedom can give courage in the face of brutal oppression. A film can inspire the overthrow of a dictator."

Anne-Marie Oliver A cultural theorist, photographer, and documentarian, her work at the juncture of art and politics has appeared in Critical Inquiry, Partisan Review, The International Journal of Comparative Sociology, and others. Oliver says, “Given the substantial risks and dangers inherent to carrying out any serious protest, intervention, or act of social justice today—and I would increasingly place ecology under the rubric of social justice—art provides not only protection (immunological, legal, and other) but also, more fundamentally, the ability to force the invisible into visibility, the insensible into sensibility.  For these reasons, it is increasingly the prerequisite and starting point for activism.  Art prepares us for what is coming, as McLuhan warned; paradoxically, however, it is also capable of luring us into unreality and untruth through distraction, deception, and stupefaction—the fantastic call to oblivion—thereby causing us to misrecognize the sites where the real action is taking place, the real battles that must be fought, the real villains who must be stopped.

Nawzad Othman is the CEO of The Othman Group; founder and former CEO of Otak; Chair, Board of Trustees, World Affairs Council of Oregon. He was born in Ebril into a Kurdish family with deep connections to the history and evolution of the Kurdistan region. Nawzad emigrated to the US when he was 18. Nawzad believes, “Iraq has an amazing rich history of art and literature. Today many internationally well known Iraqi painters, writers, musicians and architects, practice their art outside of Iraq. During the very difficult decades the Iraqis endured, what sustain them was their art and their passion for the rich tradition of literature and poetry....the social fabric that bound Iraqis together.”

Barry Sanders projects occur increasingly at the intersection of art and activism, and include The Green Zone, which Project Censored named one of the top-ten censored stories of 2009, and “Over These Prison Walls,” which invites collaborations between artists and incarcerated youth. Sanders says, There is no such thing as social justice; that is a sentence without an agent or actor; it is a sentiment without the sensible.  ‘Social justice’ says, someone else will take care of seeing that everyone is treated fairly—that is why we have a judicial system; that is why we have laws and legislation.  It is a phrase usually limited to people and not to animals.  That is unfortunate.  For most people, the arts have nothing to do with fairness and setting level the pans of justice.  For us, the artist is the last bastion of reason and resolve; the artist lets us know, before anyone else, what is wrong and how it went wrong. Art can insist on agitation, on action:  the image precedes the imagination.  Following the death of reading, of knowledge, of journalism, of the public intellectual and the public forum, the artist perseverates.  More so than at any other time, without the injunction of the artist, there is no move toward justice, there is no insistence on change, there is no attention paid to the entirety of living things"

Tim DuRoche, moderator— Tim, the director of programs for the World Affairs Council of Oregon, has worked for over 25 years as an artist, writer, curator and facilitator of community conversations. His public art installations, writing and performance have for many years been concerned with the public realm and how we share the common.