Saturday, May 12, 2012

Beyond the Fear of Freedom
Artist Printmakers’ Book

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This blogspot is not only devoted to ArtCloth and all things fabric (e.g. wearables) but also to limited edition prints on paper and artists' printmakers books. I have listed below for your convenience my contribution to this artistic genre.

Made to Order
Unique State (Partners in Print)
Wangi's Djiran:"Unique State" Prints
Veiled Curtains
A Letter to a Friend
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

On the 4th of July, 2011 I was approached by Sarah Bodman (Research Fellow, Department of Art & Design, University of Western England, Bristol, UK) to participate in making three books as a response to the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi street, a street of booksellers in Baghdad, Iraq.

I pondered on how I could contribute to this project. In August of 2003 I had already published an artist printmakers’ book – Not in My Name – which was a statement against the 19th of March 2003 unsanctioned invasion of Iraq by the coalition of the willing (USA, UK, Australia, Poland). The invasion was based on a false premise, namely that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction. Needless to say they were never found!

The burning of books has had a long tradition from the Qin Dynasty (3rdCentury BC) to the Nazi’s Crystal Nacht (9th - 10th of November 1939) to the present era (21st 2011, Terry Jones, Florida, USA). This practice is usually carried out in public and is generally motivated by moral, religious or political beliefs to generate fear as well as to suppress freedom of thought. The bombing of the artisan district of Al-Mutanabbi Street on the 5th of March 2007 was of similar ilk; that is, an action motivated from a fear of freedom in order to suppress freedom of thought.

I finally understood how I could contribute. In my case, my printmakers' book would not be a direct attack on the bombing itself since I wanted to transcend this one event. My take on the bombing would be to investigate why all of us - everywhere and anywhere - should educate ourselves to move beyond the fear of freedom and so embrace, imbue and rejoice in freedom itself. I needed intellectual tools at my disposal in order for me to do this.

I wrote back to Sarah and accepted the challenge – delivering an outline of my approach to both Beau Beausoleil and Sarah (co-curators of the assemblage of printmakers' books). I now had a year to deliver – the clock was ticking!

Assembling My Intellectual Table
I needed an intellectual round table, populated by deep thinkers. I needed to assemble my intellectual tools for this project.

When I was young I read voraciously. Before I emailed Sarah, I was pondering about going beyond the fear of freedom when I became aware that I heard that phrase before. I searched my library and found the book – The Fear Of Freedom by Erich Fromm [1]. He had written this treatise in 1942, when the fall of Great Britain appeared imminent. He needed to comprehend why political tyrannies could function without internal resistance. It was clear that generating a fear of freedom amongst the populace was critical to the survival of tyrannical governments – without it they would lose control of their political grip and be seen as a dysfunctional ruling rabble - ready to be toppled. He psychoanalysed the steps needed to be a free citizen. Erich Fromm would be a guest on my round table. I knew he would dominate the discussion since his timing was right for our era.

Erich Fromm.

Australia gained independence from the UK in 1901 without a battle or struggle. Sarah emailed me on the 4th of July 2011 – American’s independence day. I remembered that on that day the United States of America (Commonwealth of States) in 1776 adopted the Declaration of Independence (penned by Thomas Jefferson) from the Kingdom of Great Britain and in doing so gave rights to its citizenry that embraced freedom and moreover, aspired to venture beyond the fear of freedom. I positioned Jefferson - in my mind - to the right of Fromm!

Thomas Jefferson.

I recalled that my teaching practice was often heavily sprinkled by the thoughts of John Dewey. Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. He advocated democracy should be vibrant at the grass roots level – not just encased in legislation. He asserted that the public could only embrace a democratic zeal if they could formulate educated opinions and act upon them, without fear or favor. I sat John Dewey next to Fromm - on his left!

John Dewey.

Pico della Mirandola, Oratio de Hominis Dignitate may not be familiar to you. He was an Italian Renaissance philosopher who wrote the famous – Oration on the Dignity of Man - which has been described as a key text of Renaissance humanism. He sat himself next to Jefferson - without my assistance!

Pico della Mirandola.

I needed an intellectual beginning to my printmakers’ book. The beginning would come from Al-Mutanabbi himself, who I sat next to Mirandola.


I sandwiched myself between Al-Mutanabbi and John Dewey. The end statement would need to come from the Koran (Qu’ran), which I placed in the center of the round table - opened at verse 16:74.

My role was to listen, to doodle, to scribble and to sketch on paper what came into my head as they spoke. These men were to explain to me how to reach beyond the fear of freedom. My intellectual round table was now assembled; it was my style of doodling, scribbling and sketching - that is, my style sheets - that now needed my attention! The clock kept ticking - time was fleeing.

My Style Sheets
I decided against creating art objects in the form of an artist printmakers’ book. Rather I wanted to do a limited edition of digital poster artworks using the ideas of the wise from the round table. I would transform their musings into illustrative forms.

Poster art can be problematical. The essential ingredients in any poster art is that: (i) It must grab your attention; (ii) It must inform the viewer - and if need be - it must generate a curiosity and desire to engage and ponder; (iii) It must be a clarion call for action; (iv) Phrases or words on the poster need to be succinct and of course pointed. Obviously Graffiti – scratches on walls – embraces most of these criteria.

Next came my style sheets.
(a) Posters are usually on walls. I wanted the walls to be in my poster art. I wanted a “street art" feel – not graffiti as such – but the feel of a post graffiti art - the art from the streets invading my printmakers' book. I wanted images that could be drawn on walls via stencils in a city such as Baghdad. Moreover, I wanted the walls sometimes to disappear, along the journey of discovery.
(b) The images in my poster art must give an array of responses from fright (Earth), flight (Wind) and fight (Fire). The last two are often talked about, but when headlights flash into the eyes of a rabbit it is fright that freezes the rabbit and locks the animal to the earth. These three are the natural responses to any fearful challenge, but my sole objective was to tell how to resist fear and to embrace and rejoice in the folds of freedom.
(c) To give my printmakers' book a “street art" feel my poster art images would be similar to tattoo images that the youth adorn on their skin. Such tattoos are usually angular, distinctive in style and demand attention (see Movies of Stieg Larsson's book - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo); that is, I wanted to incorporate tattoo art in my voice.
(d) Democracy and freedom are such fragile concepts and structures that unless the populace are vigilant democracy may slowly ebb away or may be quickly torn asunder (e.g. Syria, Fiji, Burma etc.) Hence, I decided to use a butterfly as one of my motifs, since the average lifetime of a butterfly is one month and moreover, they appear very fragile, and easily crushable. I decided also to use birds as my other motifs, since they represent fright, flight and fight etc. I wanted to espouse at least once in my book that the sacrifices of those in the present generation were gifts to the next generation in order that they will live in an age that is beyond the fear of freedom.

My round table was in place, my style sheets were in place, the project was locked into my busy diary schedule, and now for the last scary bit - no artwork could be seen! The clock kept ticking - making no allowance for any misgivings nor for the schedule of my other numerous projects!

Fast Forward Ten Months - May, 2012

Cover of My Artist Printmakers' Book - Beyond The Fear Of Freedom.
See Print 3 for an explanation of the Phoenix.
Book Size: A4.

Print 1: All New Beginnings Commence With Healing
From a poem written to Sayfu d-Dawla, Syrian prince in Aleppo, we read:
“Glory and honour were healed when you were healed…”

Al-Mutanabbi (Abu altaybe Ahmed born in al- Kufa, Iraq {915}- Baghdad {965}).

The above poster art features the “Hand of Fatima” (Hamsa), which includes an eye. The eye is usually included to ward off the evil eye and protect the bearer of the symbol. The background is a deconstructed wall. The Hamsa is therefore in an Iraqi context, since in my interpretation of the image, I have incorporated both frown and tear lines in order to indicate that past hurts and wrong-doings need to be healed and overcome prior to commencing any new journey on the road to freedom.

Healing is necessary to create a new beginning. That was the case in Rwanda, when in 1994 the Hutu massacred approximately one million Tutsi within 100 days. Rwanda (as did South Africa) instigated a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" in order to air and heal past wrong-doings. Rwanda is now at peace with itself, but clearly Iraq - in its new phase - is not!

Print 2: Freedom Is A Psychological Problem
“The serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions, which have given victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battle fields are also accordingly here - within ourselves and our institutions.”

John Dewey, Freedom and Culture, Allen & Urwin, London (1940).

The above poster art is my "Graffiti-Esquie" interpretation of Edvard Munch's painting - "The Scream" (1893). Just like the image of Mona Lisa, Graffiti-ists have used Munch's image on numerous walls. The background is a wall I photographed in Venice.

John Dewey clearly understood that to create an atmosphere of compliance with respect to draconian laws and injustices, tyrannical governments will always point to outside threats for the reasons why its people must be suppressed and moreover, why freedom must be feared. When 9/11 occurred, all Western Governments restricted the rights of its citizens. The threat was not from outside, but from within. We need to continually inspect our values, and the values of our institutions and if need be rectify them in order that freedom is inculcated into the fabric of a nation.

Print 3: The Arab Spring – Uprisings Searching For Freedom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

In Congress, July 4th (1776) Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of USA) – Declaration Of Independence.

The above poster art features my interpretation of a Phoenix tattoo, which is a symbol of rebirth. The black heavy weights under the feathers show that its rising is not an easy task, but is only attained through resolve. It is a bird that has fight (fire) wired into its DNA.

Generally, the Phoenix is a mythological bird that symbolizes rebirth and renewal. It has a colorful plumage and tail. It is said that the Phoenix is destined to live 500-1,000 years. At the end of it's life, it builds a nest around itself, which then ignites into flames. The bird burns with its nest and nothing but ashes remain. But this is not the end, rather from the ashes a new, younger Phoenix arises, and it will go on to live a long life. This image symbolizes the end of one life and start of another, and on a more personal plane, the death of some aspects of oneself that needed changing, and the beginning of a newer, more conscious persona.

What is not generally appreciated is that prior to 1776, European-Americans were under the yoke of a tyrannical rule from the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The war of independence in the USA was a search for freedom. The words penned by Thomas Jefferson have relevance today for the peoples of Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Iran and Malaysia etc. - and in fact, across the Islamic world - where the youngest freedom Phoenix has recently been born. Jefferson, like the protest movements in these countries, espoused the principle that when governments represent their own needs, rather than the needs of those who they govern, the people have a right to abolish those governments and replace them with governments that reflect the people needs, and in doing so, secure for them a safe environment in order that they can search - without hinderance - for paths that will lead them towards happiness. Iraq is at the vanguard of this movement. Its freedom Phoenix has arisen!

Print 4: Genuine Ideals Form The Basis Of A Free Society
“We must recognise the difference between genuine and fictitious ideals, which is just as fundamental a difference as that between truth and falsehood. All genuine ideals have one thing in common: they express the desire for something which is not yet accomplished, but which is desirable for the purposes of growth and happiness of the individual.”

Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1942) Page 229.

The above poster art depicts the plight of all struggles which strive to reach beyond the fear of freedom. The sacrifices that are made by this generation are made so that the children of the next generation will be free. The slaves of one generation may produce a First Lady (Michelle Obama) of another generation. The hands are enslaved and a struggle begins, while the diminutive butterfly represents the "free" children of the next generation - fragile but free!

Real ideals - do not espouse hatred, violence and destruction. Rather, real ideals fertilize growth and happiness for the individual and for the co-operative society in which individuals reside.

Print 5: We Are Born Different But Allowed To Be Equal
“Positive freedom as the realization of self implies the full affirmation of the uniqueness of the individual. Men are born equal but they are also born different. The basis of this difference is the inherited equipment, physiological and mental, with which they start life, to which is added the particular constellation of circumstances and experiences that they meet with.”

Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1942) Page 226.

The above poster art is based on the Russian Matryoshka dolls (Russian nested dolls). They are a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size - placed one inside the other. My re-interpretation was to take from two different sets of Matryoshka dolls, one doll from each set that was equal in size but different, and placed them side-by-side.

Iraq is a pluralistic society composed of different religious and ethnic groups. In this poster art I have focussed on the Sunni's and Shias. The difference in dress code is even more obvious among clerics. Shi'ite holy men wear either a black or a white turban (depending on their lineage) and a robe. Sunni clerics in Iraq rarely don a black turban. The white headpieces they do wear look markedly different from the Shi'ite versions. Each sect has its own call to prayer with slightly different language and timing. You can also tell a Sunni from a Shi'ite based on where he goes to pray: locals would know the affiliation of each mosque, and outsiders may be able to tell by reading the banners or inscriptions. (The text on Shi'ite mosques, for example, will mention the Imams.) Sunni's and Shi'ites in Iraq also differ in the way they hold their hands during prayer — up toward their chests or down at their sides, respectively.

Whilst we are all born different but equal, laws do not necessarily reflect the latter. All free societies not only build equality into their legislation, but moreover inculcate such equalities in the attitudes and sentiments of its peoples.

Print 6: Freedom Is The Acceptance Of Others
“We believe the realization of self is accomplished not only by an act of thinking but also by the realization of man’s total personality, by the active expression of his emotional and intellectual potentialities. These potentialities are present in everybody; they become real only to the extent to which they are expressed. In other words, positive freedom consists in the spontaneous activity of the total, integrated personality.”

Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1942) Page 222.

The above poster art is a continuation of the theme of the previous poster. The images are based on a Kurd clerics dress (headpiece) and a Coptic middle eastern clergy dress (headpiece). The central body includes Kurd textile rug designs on the left and Coptic textile designs on the right. These designs merge in the centre to unite both religious orders since co-existence is symbolized by them being joined at the hip.

If everybody has potentialities and positive freedom exists in spontaneous activity of the total integrated personality, then each of us must accept the importance of others to express themselves in a creative but positive manner. Acceptance of each one's potentiality is a basis of a free society.

Print 7: Freedom Is An On-Going Growth
“We believe that there is a positive answer, that the process of growing freedom does not constitute a vicious circle, and that man can be free and yet not alone, critical and yet not filled with doubts, independent and yet an integral part of mankind. This freedom man can attain by realization of his self, by being himself.”

Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1942) Page 222.

The above poster art features my interpretation of the "Rose of Iraq" - the rose being the national flower of Iraq. Flowers such as the rose symbolize love and growth. The background image has the words "Imagine Peace" stamped over it. The background was my photograph of a work that was at the Venice Biennale ... people were invited to stamp the words onto the piece - a truly democratic activity. The black rose signifies the needless deaths in recent times of so many Iraqi's of all faiths and of all ethnicities.

Growth of the individual in a society that is reaching beyond its fears is not an "alone" process. The artisans and book sellers of Al-Mutanabbi street were growing their society not alone, but rather in unison with their readers, their audience and their spectators. For a society to be free its citizens need to have the opportunity for positive growth.

Print 8: The Acts Of Being Free
“Neither heavenly nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal have we created thee, so that thou mightiest be free according to thy own will and honour, to be thy own creator and builder. To thee alone we gave growth and development depending in thy own free will. Thou bearest in thee the germs of a universal life.”

Pico della Mirandola, Oratio de Hominis Dignitate.

The above poster art features a happy stick figure who is free "to do". The winged eagle that is framing the action figure, is safe guarding his free will. The search for happiness and safety are important ingredients in the flight of any free society.

The realization that "being" and "doing" is according to one's own free will is an important step on the road to freedom, since it actually sheets home the responsibility of one's actions. Bombing a "book" street or destroying books is not in accordance with "God's Will", but rather is accomplished by people who are alienated, frightened and lost, and moreover, who fear freedom, and of course those that embraced it. To invoke "God's Will" in order to justify one's actions is an act of cowardice, since it denies the truth about who "owns" such actions. Free will and reaching beyond the fear of freedom places an extra burden, an added responsibility, a wonderful weight on all of us - we hold in our hands which of the socio-political futures we wish to design, build and endure.

Print 9: Beyond The Fear Of Freedom
“The victory of freedom is possible only if democracy develops into a society in which the individual, his growth and happiness, is the aim and purpose of culture, in which life does not need any justification in success or anything else, and in which the individual is not subordinated to or manipulated by any power outside himself, be it the State or the economic machine; finally, a society in which his conscious and ideals are not the internalization of external demands, but are really his and express the aims that results from the peculiarity of his self.”

Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1942) Page 233.

The above poster art is based on a tattoo image of a Celtic butterfly. The Celtic butterfly tattoo symbolizes growth and change and moreover, all that is positive in life. Furthermore, the butterfly also features Iraqi textile designs in a very graphic mode to encapsulate strong, not fragile, positive growth and determination. The colors of the butterfly have seeped from it into the background wall - just as reaching beyond the fear of freedom can seep from one person and eventually spawn a mass movement for change (see Syria and Malaysia at present).

This statement from Fromm is his realization of how to ensure that one can reach beyond the fear of freedom. When he wrote this book he was unsure if it would ever be enacted upon or even widely read. The Nazi's were at the doorstep of Great Britain - the outcome of any free society was no longer certain. In those uncertain times, he strove for greater understanding and in doing so, he became more certain why societies should embrace freedom!

Print 10: Safeguarding Books – Such As The Koran - Is Critical To Being Free
“I swear by the shelter of the stars (a mighty oath, if you knew it) that this is a glorious Koran, safeguarded in a book, which none may touch except the purified; a revelation from the Lord of the Universe.”

Koran 16:74.

The above poster art features tattoo stars that protect a central star, with galaxies of stars (dots) embedded in the tattoo stars. The tattoo stars are based on the Japanese Hira-shuriken stars (shaken sword hidden in hand) that are constructed from thin, flat plates of metal derived from a variety of sources including hishi-gane (coins), kugi-nuki (carpentry tools), spools, and senban (nail removers), and generally resemble popular concepts of shuriken. They are popularly known as throwing stars or ninja stars. The background script (which is also protected) is that from an ancient middle eastern manuscript. A five-pointed star(s) was on the Iraqi flag from 1963 to 2008 - which brackets the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi street. The central five-ponted star is black due to the many deaths of Iraqi's that has occurred in this era. Clearly, we should "shelter books" if we wish to embrace freedom.

No words need to be added to the Koran (Qu'ran).

To the families of those who died and to those injured in that bomb explosion in Al-Mutanabbi Street we note - their sacrifice will be remembered, since it has soaked deep into the voids of our fabric - as witnessed by our books.

(i) The printmakers' book - Beyond The Fear Of Freedom - is held in the collection of the following libraries: National Library of Iraq (9/15); National Library of Australia (12/15); State Library of NSW (Australia) (13/15); Fisher Library, University of Sydney (Australia) (14/15); NSW Parliamentary Library (Australia) (15/15).
(ii) A number of printmakers' books - Beyond The Fear Of Freedom - are available for purchase. In total, there were 15 editions printed and those that are available are editions numbers 2-8 out of 15. Email Me

[1] E. Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1942).

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