Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Letter to a Friend
The Making of an Artist Printmaker’s Book

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed below other posts featuring my prints on paper that has featured on this blogspot:
Made to Order
Unique State (Partners in Print)
Veiled Curtains
A Letter to a Friend
Beyond the Fear of Freedom
Travelling Solander Project
Star Series
Cry for the Wilderness
Federation on Hold – Call Waiting
Wish You Were Where?
The Four Seasons
The Creation of Hurricane Katrina – The Disruptor
The Creation of ‘Whose Place? My Place, Your Space’
The ‘Vine Glow’ Series
Vine Glow - Series 2
Vine Glow - Series 3
‘Whose Church?’
‘A Journey Ends . . . Another Nightmare Begins’

The artist printmakers' book - Not In My Name - is the first of my trilogy on Iraq - from an Australian perspective. The second book in the series is Beyond The Fear Of Freedom

A Letter To A Friend
15th January 2004

Dear Heather,
The concept behind this artist printmaker’s book was basically born from the Not in My Name essay that I penned in the previous semester. It was your invitation to submit a print for consideration for the Journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics that sealed the project in my mind. I approached Art Quill & Co Pty Ltd and they agreed to publish it as a limited edition printmakers book. It was published in August 2003. Enclosed are artist proofs, which I wish to gift to you.

I had a yearning to map out a struggle that would end in tragedy, but with a beginning that appeared everyday-like in its rhythm. I was opposed to our unsanctioned invasion of Iraq on a number of fronts: it signalled the demise of international law and the irrelevance of the UN when at odds to an economic and military superpower; there was little or no Australian interest in such an unsanctioned war; the Pax Americana template for society was unlikely to be a template for every society on the globe and moreover, hundreds of thousands of lives would be needlessly lost (and this latter point is the most important of all). I was always supportive of the removal of Saddam Hussein (and other self imposed leaders in the world), but the means for his removal and the reorganization of its society had to be led by the grass root of the nation - its people.

In post 9/11, I viewed the war in Iraq differently from the media’s depiction. There were no superpowers left except one (Pax Americana) and so the conflict, although global, was of a different nature. It was a struggle of supremacy between two super powerful templates of society namely, those based on a "fundamentalist" Muslim faith (planned and highly structured) and those based on a Judea-Christian faith (more free market and liase a faire in design). The Buddhist template does not feature in this struggle, since it can co-exist within other templates, whereas the Confucian and Hindu templates are extremely restricted in a geopolitical sense.

The struggle between fundamentalist Muslim and Judea-Christian templates has been going on for eons in the Middle East, but was generally held in check by the tension between superpowers (i.e. more recently between the USA and the USSR). With the collapse of the USSR, a post cold war struggle surfaced, which culminated with 9/11. It is the Judea-Christian stranglehold on mass communication and its ability to penetrate via global trade into "fundamentalist" Muslim societies and influence the norms of these societies that formed the basis of this modern “religious” struggle. The “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the fear of terrorism gave justification for open warfare in Iraq.

The printmaker’s book - Not in my Name - reflects my voice about Australia engaging in this supremacy struggle, and the subsequent collateral damage. Many of the concepts outlined above have been woven in the prints/poems of the book. I can recall De Musset, who pen in A La Malibran the following:

What we must weep on thy untimely grave,
Is not the art divine the secret wisdom gave;
Someone may read the art thou couldst create;
It is thy soul, Ninette, so simply great;
Heart’s voice alone can every heart obtain,
And none shall give it back to us again.

I wanted to also weave this emotion into my voice of dissent; the preciousness and fragility of the living and how little it featured in the decision making process that led to the unsanctioned invasion of Iraq.

When I mapped out the story, I wanted it to have a Greek structure (since the perspective was going to be Australian European); below were humans at war and in the heavens the gods were also at war. I wanted them to intermingle as was described by Catullus in Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis:

For in that elder time when truth and worth
Were still revered and cherished here on earth,
The tenants of the skies would oft descend
To heroes’ spotless homes, as friend to friend;
There meet them face to face, and freely share
In all that stirred the hearts of mortals there.

The gods in the ancient Greek poems appeared to me to be more like the politicians of today; that is, a disparate cohort, which bring to their electorate what they believe are the important values and experiences. There are the important gods (e.g. Hussein, Bush, and Blair) and the lesser gods (e.g. Ministers, Secretaries of Defence and State etc.) It is these gods that fuel the war and of course, it is the earthlings (the populace) who do their bidding and in doing so, suffer the consequences.

It is not well known that the flower of Iraq is the “Rose”. In the West, it is considered a beautiful flower and it is often associated with love and romance. Nevertheless, it has thorns to give it some protection. Unlike the Buddhist, who can just sit there and admire a flower in its natural state, as Daisetz Suzuki has pointed out in Zen and the Japanese Culture, in the West we have to possess and conquer the rose in order to love and admire it. It is therefore not surprising to read Tomas Hood write (Time of Roses):

Twas twilight, and I bade you go,
But still you held me fast;
It was the time of roses-
We pluck’d them as we pass’d.

Thus, possession is an important plank in a Judea-Christian and Muslim template of a society. It is important, in these societies to overcome adversity via possession.

My first major print in the book is an image of a rose immersed in a satellite type landscape relief in shades of magenta, grey and brown. This colour palette has been chosen to represent the colours of the rose, the charred landscape and the richness of a culture. Soft greyed horizontal lines have been positioned, through each print, acting as “tension” lines that add a sense of subtle discomfort to each image. The Islamic script, which appears throughout most prints, and in this case is positioned within a Middle Eastern window shape, reads, “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful”.

I have purposely placed a number of mundane symbols (e.g. dollar signs and a cross) in order to tie it down to a more “ordinary” existence. We forget when we are washing the dishes, ironing our clothes, doing the shopping and cleaning the house that “our collective” politic may be causing havoc, mayhem, destruction and deaths in far away places. Graham Green showcased this in the Quiet American. He showed how easy it was for an “ordinary” person, such as Pyle, to be transformed into a killer in a war zone far away from his homeland. To transplant a war zone, was further sheeted home in 1971 by the random IRA bombings of London. They wanted to bring the British war in Ireland back to Britain. Similarly, the 9/11 act was also symbolic – a fundamentlist Muslim notion to attack and fight the Judea-Christian template in its heartland - with no regard for those who were innocent.

I am not a poet and so I tried to write this narrative in prose. It just did not work. Oh, for those wasted hours! I resisted my urge of being poetical. Just like Lady Macbeth:

Out, dammed spot! Out, I say! – One; two.

Those “spots” would not go away. I succumbed and so my thoughts tumbled from my mind onto paper in verse.

These prints/poems were not produced in the sequence that appeared in the book. The Australian Pilot was my first print/poem. The Not in My Name print/poem was the third produced. Obviously, it appears second. I needed it to set the scene - to give the context in which a personal tragedy would unfold.

Howard the "god" (the Australian Prime Minister at that time) is my second print. He occupies the heaven of this print. I wanted him split – just as he splits his personal thoughts from his public musings. (Has he ever really shed those Blainey years when he uttered racist comments?) The print is therefore sectioned. I needed debris in the heavens (i.e. the feeders of war). The maps of Australia and firearms appear like they were “…flung like leaves, by an unspoken force” (see my poem - The Australian Shield). Stealth bombers are causing the explosions, the damage of which has been purposely hidden from view in order to symbolize a populace blinded from suffering, because it is geographically and emotionally distant.

The people, opposing the war, occupy the earthly position. I gave these faces  a soft focus (Photoshop) to give a more ethereal feel to the print, to give a sense of hope and moreover, to represent a diffuse and loose coalition.

Most of this print is in monochromatic tones. However, the Australian shield and Australian maps are in red and magenta, respectively. I did not want a “Red Cross or Red Crescent”. Rather I wanted an angry shield, to represent an irritation with the lack of progress to a more humane society. The shield also tries to represent a “new” awakening; that is, a “new” template for society. The Australian doctor in the poems is in the vanguard of such a movement.

The third print, The Australian Pilot, you have seen before in greyscale mode (which I specifically designed for the Journal). This is how it appears in colour. I wanted two divisions to signify the two society templates that are at center of this conflict. The top is the technologically sophisticated and super powerful Judea-Christian template and the bottom represents the less powerful Muslim template. The top is more liase a faire (deconstructed), whereas the bottom is very structured (planned). You will note a slight penetration of the top template into the bottom template.

The child is an Australian Muslim (hence the positioning). The child symbolizes the fragile innocent victims of war. The fighter plane has wings forged from maps of Australia. These maps are also dispatched from the plane like bombs. The satellite relief of the landscape below gives the print a feeling of altitude and moreover, indicates the act of killing at a distance (which technology has made possible). The child is starkly contrasted with a dotted border being employed. The guns represent a “weak” resistance and also define the internal conflicts under Saddam’s regime. Images of the star and crescent and decorative motifs are positioned in a registered mode, representing the highly structured and planned Muslim state. This concept is further highlighted with outlined images of a mosque and a door inviting the viewer to enter. As a single unit these symbols are designed to depict an extraordinary event – Australian planes bombing Iraq in 2003 and the suffering that such an act causes – which this time is not hidden from view.

The associated poem to this print - The Australian Pilot - is allegorical in structure and so the print appears somewhat at variance with it. However, it is not. The print has a hidden foreboding of future conflict that will become greater in focus in the decades to come, whereas the poem needed to separate the Howard context in order to reach other planes.

I wanted the pilot to die, but in death, to recognise a fatal error had occurred. The poem ends with (The Australian Pilot):

A tear welled, his head pained, he faltered -
No thought of family, country or fame -
A truck he struck fleeing northward was his last gasp of shame.

Just like in a play, the second print/poem (see above) Not in My Name, is the prelude scene and so sets the political context. The third print/poem, The Australian Pilot, puts it in an earthly perspective. The third print/poem (as a single unit) attempts to capture the foreboding of a tragedy - not unlike ACT 1 and SCENE I in Macbeth, where the three witches fore tell a tragedy. Here though, the tragedy is not foreseen but rather it is bemoaned and so hinted at.

The next print - The Bird of Prey - was difficult to do. A winged genius, with the head of an eagle, is a type known from middle Assyrian glyphic art and it also appears on ancient palace walls. This ancient and wise eagle headed genius symbolizes the richness of culture, knowledge and long history of the Middle East. The image is positioned in history’s view – a bottom layer in grey superimposed with the next layer in light magenta. The new millennium is brought to the fore, with a very stylized and linear graphic image of an eagle in flight, hovering above the ancient images in chocolate brown. Below the eagle in flight, a child representing the children of Iraq is depicted.

The sectioning is vertical and not horizontal, extenuating the flight of the bird and symbolizing the plucking of a human being, not for possession, but on humane considerations. The child was dying, the mother was dead and so the child’s death march needed to be quickened. The associated poem contains harsh thoughts, which is contrasted by feelings of compassion. The snap shot of the one child at different focal lengths symbolizes the descent and ascent of the bird of prey. It also symbolizes the loss of many innocent children in war. This country’s involvement is depicted by the maps of Australia floating on the surface of the print.

The print/poem also juxtaposes the evolutionary tract we have taken compared to the rest of the animal kingdom (which the print merges by using the image of an eagle headed genius). For example, the associated poem - The Bird of Prey declares:

He hunted and he was hunted, but never cared to kill,
Using the emotion of a moment or to exercise his skill.

The last line of poem - The Bird of Prey - further emphasizes the evolutionary divergence:

Why disrespect the kill, he thought, why leave this child to die?

Technology no longer respects the “kill”. It enables killing at a distance and so assists to absolve any remorse associated with such deaths. On the other hand, human beings kill for more psychologically driven reasons – for strategy, for power and with emotion. In doing so, we do not care about collateral damage. Hence, the lines in the poem (The Bird of Prey):

Humans kill with dark emotions, politicians kill for power.
This child knew of no evil, but these heathens were built so sour.

I wanted those slaughtered to be truly innocent. In MacBeth when Ross informs Macduff of the slaughter of Macduff’s family, Malcolm comforts him with revenge and then adds:

Malcolm: Dispute it like a man.
Macduff: I shall do so; But I must feel it as a man...Sinful Macduff, they were all struck for thee!
Naught that I am, not for their own demerits but for mine, fell slaughter on their souls.

Similarly, in this narrative, while the Iraqi national was at war, his wife and child were slaughtered not for theirs, but for his demerits (see below).

The next print is The Australian Shield. It is has purposely been designed to appear serene, calm and contemplative. The colour blue has been added to the colour palette to reference the blue eyes of the doctor and his stance in this print. An enhanced image of a gum tree and the squiggly trail of the insect that burrows beneath its surface have been positioned in the background. The metaphor seeks to capture the unexpected directions and turns that life can unfold. Doves fly above and around the doctor’s image highlighting that he is a pacifist.

The angry, red Australian Shield is superimposed with an image of a rainbow snake. The snake is a healing symbol embracing all cultures. In Australian tribal medicine, the snake may be the agent of both healing and sickness and the doctor mediates between these two forces. Floating around the shield are blue maps of Australia depicting the doctors views, his nationality and his country’s involvement. Beneath the floating maps are white crosses referencing the unjust and needless deaths that occur in war situations. The print purposely focuses on the Australian doctor, leaving the Iraqi national in the print as a tiny rose below the red shield.

In the associated poem the Iraqi national is oblivious to the doctor’s socio-political views, but in recognizing his nationality, the Iraqi national wishes to confront the doctor, without blame, but with his political reality (The Australian Shield):

I lived in Australia, heard Howard’s speech and scrambled here to fight!

Priam in the Illiad says it better:

Not thee I blame, but to the gods I owe this woeful war.

The doctor’s retort was that of a man who is certain of the direction that the new template should take (poem - The Australian Shield):

The Doctor shook and angrily said, “It should not have been your right!”

Wordsworth in Rob Roy’s Grave gives a more graphic sentiment, when he wrote Rob Roy’s oath to his sword:

Of old things all are over old,
Of good things none are good enough -
We’ll shew that we can help to frame
A world of other stuff.

The sixth print/poem is The Well. The design components of the print feature a dank, dark wall of a deep well in the background. An enhanced image of King Shalmaneser III of the Neo-Assyrian era has been superimposed over the well. He has been reworked to give a three dimensional appearance of a leader in battle dress. Images of the grandfather appear in the same format as the child in The Bird of Prey. The snap shots at different focal lengths symbolize the descent of the fighter-bombers that are aimed at the grandfather/king images. It also symbolizes the loss of many young men. The large pink rose superimposed over the central area represents the young Iraqi national and the weight of responsibility that those of his generation carry in these times.

The visual symbolizes the Christian Cross (which in Roman times was a structure to inflict death, but which has now become a symbol of suffering to release humankind from the bondage of their sins). The rose overlays this image with strip pictures of the grandfather, the subject of the poem, giving the horizontal arm of the Cross. Red patterns mark carnage. The history of this nation, with remnants of Persia well to the fore, is in stark contrast to all those previous prints.

For the associated poem, I wanted a ballad, but with a visual appearance of a well. In dry lands, such as in Australia and Iraq, a well or a water hole becomes the hive of activity (spiritual and commercial). When it is empty, all activity ceases. Symbolically the poem is playing the role of an empty well. Thus, I needed an economy of words and a very simple structure. I wanted the poem to be vaguely connected to what went before. The reader/viewer, I decreed, would be in possession of more facts than the subject of the poem, thereby assisting in the creation of a forlorn atmosphere in the reader’s/viewer’s mind - both personal and nation-wide. The poem begins (The Well):

The old man sat there trembling,
With no history left to read.

and the poem ends in further despair:

He sat there staring on empty,
In the well of his long life.
A grandson was missing,
In this dank night.

The next print, Her Death, has an ethereal appearance. She looks directly at the viewer with a reflective concern. Born, an Australian of Christian heritage, her conversion to the Muslim faith is depicted by the design concept of the print. The print is based on the design structure of a Persian carpet, which highlights a central motif - her face - and is bordered with flower images. A decayed and burnt piece of lace is depicted in the background to juxtapose her Western background to her Muslim existence. The Persian carpet was an integral feature of the concept as it also highlights the “Magic Carpet”, with inferred tales of new and exotic Middle Eastern places. A fighter bomber, made up of two maps of Australia, is aimed directly at her, signifying that although she and the pilot come from the same country, war does not discriminate in death.

She is killed whilst fleeing from a battle zone. It is clear that she is a victim of everybody else’s decisions. At this point I wanted a poem that was narrative in structure, to fill in some of the gaps. Prime Minister Howard goes to war; the doctor defies Howard and goes to Iraq to heal; she and her child are killed. Her death and her child’s death is hinted at in the poem The Australian Pilot, is more clearly revealed in The Bird of Prey, is lamented in The Well, and is given in graphic detail in Her Death.

In writing and creating the print - Her Death - I was thinking of the Koran in The Story when it states:

As for the abode of the thereafter,
We shall assign it to those who seek neither glory in this world nor evil.
The righteous shall have a blessed end.

I wanted the print to transcend her death and for her to have a blessed end. I purposely gave a sense of calmness in the second last stanza of the poem in order to attain a more dramatic end to her life. That is, (Her Death):

Bodies hurled, her senses furled,
Within one scream was her death.

The Rose of Iraq then completes and complements Her Death. He is a national and fears the penetration of the Judea-Christian template within his own Muslim society and thus the associated poem adds (The Rose of Iraq):

He fought those thoughts and those youths imbued in the US way.

The Rose of Iraq and Her Death are both narrative poems and are similar in structure. Nevertheless, these two prints purposely do not have a shared experience (which may be expected in times of war, where separation and divisions in families becomes commonplace).

The design components of this print feature the satellite type landscape relief in the background. This is superimposed with images of the Islamic words, “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate,the Merciful”, which wrap around the top section of a mosque outline. Middle Eastern diamond shaped windows have been designed in a structured and random fashion to highlight the unexpected directions and turns that life can unfold, no matter what society one lives in, much as a chess board. Three red roses float beneath the image of the young man representing his two family structures, namely: (i) his traditional Iraqi family with his mother and father and; (ii) his more recent contemporary family of Australian wife and child. The image of the rose to his left has been specifically printed in chocolate brown, an unnatural colour for a rose, to confirm the ravages and colours of war.

In putting the collection of these prints and poems together I wanted a number of people viewing the same event from different vantage points in space and time. I did not want the prints to be sequential in time. I wanted the war and moreover, my dissent to revolve around this one transient event. I wanted to say – there is no need for a supremacy struggle but there is a need for understanding and fusion. The latter is emphasized by the child’s birth, but his death questions whether fusion could be maintained over a sizeable duration of time.

The book begins with a national, Prime Minister Howard, and it climaxes with another – The Rose of Iraq. As nationals go, these men are cut from the same cloth. Hence - Not in My Name - is synonymous with the last line of the poem (The Rose of Iraq):

He coined the phrase – in Iraq’s name – to keep the peace at bay.

The last print – The Iraqi Lament - and the subsequent poem, is my voice. I encapsulated my sentiment in the forward when I stated:

It also reflects on the collective shame of my era of humanity, namely: the need to go to war; the need to paint human suffering as collateral damage; the need to vouchsafe the warmongers who led us into conflict.

That Bush and Hussein are in the "god" domain is obvious. That Kofi Annan is a "god" is not so obvious. Nevertheless, he is there since the UN caused extreme human suffering of a nation in order to bring a leader to heal and often mediated between Iraq and the USA. Prime Minister Howard is not there since, although he struts on the Australian stage and is an Australian "god", on the world stage he is a follower of the greater "gods". In other words, he follows international action rather than defines it. The top panel of the print also includes the presence of the media and circumstances associated with war that are depicted as “entertainment” value. Hence, anti-war slogans appear in the background of the top section, which has been designed using textures, colours and lighting to give the appearance of a TV monitor. Images of presidential seals, international logos and firearms float on the surface with the gods of this domain. The central panel is one of hope. That eventually the world will televise a nation at peace. The bottom panel is the anti-thesis of this scenario. Images of the star and crescent are positioned in a registered mode, representing the highly structured Muslim state but these are fewer in number than in the Australian Pilot print. This is due to the carnage and loss of life, which is further depicted with a central image of a coffin and bearers in this panel.

I make my sentiments about Hussein very clear in the Iraqi Lament when I wrote:

His family were murdered with his hands;
The Sunni’s were murdered with his hands;
The Kurds were murdered with his hands;
The Shi’ites were murdered with his hands.

The last print is an anti-climax. The full consequences of a transient moment and decision-making process that took place are completely on display. The struggle between these templates of society will continue in the absence of another superpower.

How cheap it all was and then for what? Where were those weapons of mass destruction that propelled us into this unsanctioned war?

Rudyard Kipling in Epitaphs of War, 1914-18 wrote:

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

When I started this project, nothing but women came to my mind. At the end of this project the victim’s were the women and children, with the men being the oppressed and the oppressors (very stereotypical). Nevertheless, there is one difference here - the voice of the poems, the hands that made these prints and the mind that forged it was that of a woman. I was hoping to do what Gautier defined in his poem Art:

Chisel and carve and file,
‘Till thy vague dream imprint
Its smile
On the unyielding flint.

I am sorry to have burdened you with such a long tale about so very little. I had to show you my intent before handing over to you my effort.

With warmest regards,

Postscript To The Letter Written On 15th January 2004:
(i) Australia does not have a legally binding bill of rights. After 9/11 the Howard Government (Australia) introduced one of the most draconian laws in the Western world in terms of detention without trial, trials without public scrutiny, and a shift in the onus of proof, thereby creating an atmosphere of fear amongst dissenters and so in effect promoting a self-imposed restriction on freedom of speech. For example, more than 100,000 Australians in Sydney alone marched against the prospect of invading Iraq prior to these laws. After these laws were put in place, there was little dissent against the invasion. As a consequence, this printmakers' book was conceived and then published in August of 2003 in spite of the legal risks since the publisher felt that voices of dissent needed to be unfettered and so heard. These draconian laws have yet to be repealed under the current Australian Government.
(ii) When the prints from Not in My Name were exhibited at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, the only print defaced was – Her Death.
(iii) The artists printmaker’s book – Not In My Name – was collected by the following Australian libraries: Fisher Library - The University of Sydney (NSW), The University of Queensland Library (QLD), NSW Parliamentary Library (NSW), State Library of NSW, The National Library of Australia (ACT). Some limited edition artist printmaker's books of - Not in My Name - are still available for purchase.
(iv) All Australian and American troops have been withdrawn from active duty from Iraq on 1/1/2012. Iraq has now sovereign control over its destiny.
(v) In October 2002 Barack Obama gave a speech opposing the Iraq War - Full Speech. In that speech he argued that the Iraq War was: "... A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics."
(vi) In 2015 the Abbott government sent Australian troops in harms way - back to Iraq - to train the Iraqi Army to fight ISIS, which they fled from in hordes, even though billions of dollars were previously spent to bolster their fighting capabilities before the coalition of the willing withdrew from Iraq in 2012. What was shameful was that the Abbott government in 2014 cut the wage increase of soldiers to less than the inflation rate. What was further shameful was that the Abbott government proposed that these same soldiers, who underpinned their Iraqi policy, when they returned to Australia and were discharged, would not receive unemployment benefits after six months of unemployment if they were under 30 years of age. The Abbott government via these actions and proposals clearly do not respect the sacrifice that Australian soldiers are prepared to do for the government's flawed Iraqi policy.

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