What Words Cannot Capture

Almost immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, several artists proposed creating projected recreations of the World Trade Center, which they called "Towers of Light." This was not intended to be a memorial, one of the artists told The New Yorker. Rather, "This is a statement to the rest of the world and to ourselves."

Of all historical events, this one did not lack for powerful images. On the contrary, pictures were replayed for days without ceasing. Words, too, hundreds of thousands of them, recounted and analyzed and lamented the day. Yet even with reality captured on film, there was—and is—much that cannot be articulated. Here is where we rely on artists, those who render sculptures, paintings, collages, and tapestries to express what we can’t. Art speaks to the heart about what the mind struggles to grasp, that which is perhaps too painful to be spoken aloud.

A new exhibit at the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore traverses the terrain of emotions that come from experiences of war and times of peace. "The Art of War and Peace: Toward an End to Hatred" features 250 works by 65 self-taught artists, many of whom are survivors—both civilian and military—of wars throughout the world. The exhibit opened in October, on the weekend that the United States began bombing Afghanistan. AVAM dedicated it to the people who died Sept. 11.

The "visionary" in the museum’s name means "outsider" art; that is, art created by those with no formal artistic training, people who are driven to create by the creative impulse itself. Visionary artists build grottos in their backyards made of seashells, colored glass, and broken tiles. They craft together a mobile using gold spray-painted cat food cans, wire rods, and fishing weights. They are farmers, housewives, people who have been institutionalized, mechanics, retired folk, the homeless, and the occasional neurosurgeon.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
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