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Review: One year after 'Bring Back Our Girls,' an artist tries to heal us Special

By Karla Lant     Apr 17, 2015 in Entertainment
Canadian artist James Picard has had enough of the "chin-up" mentality that has allowed millions of people to experience horrible, traumatic events and never discuss them again.
"As an artist and human being I'm completely fed up with the state of everything and the way the world is today. The surfaceness, the superficiality of humanity appalls me. I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with the human race."
Looking at his work, it appears that the love side of this relationship is winning. Picard is primarily a painter who works in acrylics, watercolors, and oils, but he also draws, sculpts, and teaches art. Although his imagery in this most recent series of large-scale paintings is dark, at times troubling, and even painful to see, it is clear that Picard is depicting the suffering of everyday people in an attempt to help us remember the humanity we all share.
Picard continues:
"Remember how upset everyone was when Boko Haram kidnapped those poor girls? Imagine it. Imagine if that happened here. How would we react? And people cared, they hashtagged 'BringBackOurGirls'--but only for awhile. After several weeks it was like nothing happened. And I thought to myself, 'Why do we do this? How can we?'"
The Dark and the Wounded, the newest series from Picard, will kick off its global tour on May 5 in San Francisco at Alcatraz Prison. I spoke with him to get a sense of why he chose that setting, and what he hopes to gain.
Picard indicates that the entire series was prompted by a life-changing event, but one that might seem subtle to some: he lost a friend.
"The trigger came when I was having tea with a friend, someone I had known for many years. She was talking about going to her parents for Thanksgiving, and how hard that was. I said, 'Yeah, I understand,' or something like that, but she said, 'No, it's really difficult at our house.' And then she explained that her father had raped her since she was a little girl. 'We don't talk about it,' she said. And I thought, how is this possible? What's going on? These horrific acts happen every day, and there are never any repercussions. No one talks about this stuff."
So Picard wants us to talk about it. The Dark and the Wounded is Picard's fuse; he hopes that by exposing us to these images of our own pain that this experiential show will help us engage in healing dialogue. The show will be traveling to notable places in terms of the human emotional experience, and that is why it is originating at Alcatraz Island. This location, already telling in so many ways, is a ghost town in its own right.
The choice of Alcatraz Prison as a starting point is deeply significant. Of course we all know Alcatraz as one of the most famous prisons in the US, a place where the most desperate criminals would either attempt to escape, or resign themselves to a long, slow death. But this isn't the only significance of the location; for nineteen months from November 1969 to June of 1971 Alcatraz served as a spark that ignited the American Indian Movement and other civil rights activists. The occupation was a daring, unflinching attempt to bring the suffering and loss of entire peoples into mainstream culture.
The Dark and the Wounded now hopes to engage us in what is really a larger cultural struggle so that we can all learn to talk about horrible things that happen to us and others. Prisoners, victims, the oppressed, and even the oppressors must be present to make the conversation work. Picard’s work approaches pain, loss, and suffering, but not in a crassly voyeuristic sense. Picard is genuinely hoping to help others start the process of healing from wounds that often have been inflicted over the course of generations.
The Dark and the Wounded represents only the second time a creative has been allowed this kind of access to Alcatraz; Chinese dissident and activist Ai Wei Wei is the other creative to change the space in recent times. The show will actually be a multimedia event, with not only Picard's jarring yet beautiful paintings, but also composer Jeff Danna's custom soundscape. The event will also be filmed for a documentary which will be released in late 2016.
I ask Picard what he thinks happens when we let these emotional wounds fester over time. Is it a kind of emotional gangrene, where we end up losing much of our own soul? "We lose everything if we can't change the way we relate to each other and to our own wounds. We all have dark issues we don't deal with. They're like wounds, if we don't deal we can't heal."
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