Artists look at terrorism Exhibit asks viewers to reconsider beliefs

January 23, 1992|By Linell Smith

BEYOND GLORY: Re-Presenting Terrorism" travels through the mottled landscape of violence, visits gardens blooming with the surreal. There's the figure of a woman, sweetly sleeping, swaddled with barbed wire. There's the afterlife of an explosion: a suitcase, bits of metal, video monitors.

A small freezer opens to reveal icy molds of human hearts.

It's a journey past troubling, unforgettable images few are likely to buy. This art aims directly for your head.

"Beyond Glory," which opens tomorrow at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, video installations and computer-generated art from 38 well-known and emerging artists. The show is designed to make viewers reconsider their beliefs about terrorism.

The Institute has also scheduled a two-day scholarly symposium and a series of video and theater presentations to help promote new thought about the connections between perpetrators and victims.

"Terrorism is a very tricky subject. Through all the research I've done, through all the experts I've read, no one could clearly define what it is," says David Brown, director of exhibitions at the Institute and co-curator of "Beyond Glory" with art consultant Nina Felshin.

"So I had to try to break down what terrorism dealt with: Surveillance, control, intimidation, false imprisonment, things along that order. I had to try to describe it by figuring out the different elements."

Most of the pieces defy quick readings. Mel Chin's "Jilavia Prison Bed," for instance, is a bed shaped like a cross. Spikes from the rusted frame impale a stained mattress. The artist intends the piece to represent covert government activities and religious persecution in Romania.

Greg Barsamian's "Putti," which Mr. Brown calls a

three-dimensional animation, shows images in perpetual transformation from Cupid into helicopter into Cupid. This work generates notions about relationships and perceptions, the curator says.

"The most powerful types of art for me are more metaphorical, that have suggestions based on your experience and intelligence."

Terrorism carries particular force for the Maryland Institute community: Students Gretchen Dater and Louise Rogers were killed in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Scotland in 1988. Shortly thereafter, the college committed itself to an exhibition on the subject.

"T/error," an installation with sound and video, considers the aftermath of an explosion, although not specifically Pan Am 103. New York artist Terry Berkowitz has created a video which juxtaposes film footage of state-generated violence, such as race repression, against individual acts of terrorism.

Before long, the distinctions blur.

"A lot of Americans just see terrorists as evil people. We don't understand that terrorism grows from real needs of people who are incapable of acting any other way," Ms. Berkowitz says. "When you have your right to vote, your right to voice your opinion, taken away, how then do you respond to the humiliation and murder which is happening around you?

"I'm not sympathetic towards terrorism -- or violence of any kind -- but I'm trying to deal with the fact that there are reasons that this happens. It's important to try and understand where it comes from so that we can fight it."

New York artist Luis Cruz Azaceta uses himself as a model to represent terrorism. "Latin American Victims of Dictators," a 14-foot long painting of a man fettered and tortured, seems to mirror the very soul of violence.

Mr. Azaceta, who grew up in Cuba, has devoted much of his 30-year career in America to probing national wounds -- urban violence, AIDS, Vietnam, homelessness. His work hangs in many public collections -- including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston -- and a few American homes.

He says Latin Americans, used to funneling political emotions through art, are more comfortable with art committed to social change.

"Americans see my work as fantasy," he says. "Here it is kind of shocking to people. That's not my intention, I just want to deal with aspects of reality.

"I want to create an awareness that things like this can happen anywhere. I'm pretty sure that things like this happen in this country -- maybe not through the government -- but there's the Mafia. Or from husband to wife, which is also torture in a very sadistic, personal way."

Others hope "Beyond Glory" will suggest that no one lives beyond the tentacles of terrorism, that evil acts are not as random as their media renderings, and that people unwittingly fall prey to the rhetoric of terrorism.

Mr. Brown recalls that during the Persian Gulf War, Iraq's Scud XTC missile attacks were described as acts of terrorism even as the United States' arsenal was wreaking considerably greater terror.

And he remembers his own naive quest to discover why anyone would want to blow up an airplane.

"I could never find an answer. It was never addressed in what I read in the media," he says. "The official response to [discussing terrorism] was 'Let's not give them the time of day.' "

"Beyond Glory: Re-Presenting Terrorism" will run through March 15 in the Decker Gallery in Mount Royal Station, at Mount Royal and Cathedral streets, and in Meyerhoff Gallery in the Fox Building, Mount Royal Avenue. Call 225-2300 for information.

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