Art as an antidote to Sept. 11 tragedy

Performers: Singers, poets and painters evoke joy and sorrow in Ellicott City during an event to benefit the Red Cross.

October 29, 2001|By Rona S. Hirsch | Rona S. Hirsch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As festive Oriental music played softly, a graceful 15-year-old Michelle Yu twisted and turned while performing the traditional Chinese fan dance, her hair kept in place by several nontraditional red, white and blue bows.

"We feel we are Americans, even though we are Asian-Americans," said Xiao Fang Xu, artistic director of Hua Sha Chinese Dance Center in Columbia. "We want to share in the country's sorrow and happiness."

The company was one of 13 Howard County arts organizations and artists performing yesterday afternoon at Mount Ida Visitors Center in Ellicott City in response to the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

The free event, "Out of the Ruins: An Artistic Response to Tragedy," was sponsored by the Civic and Community Life Committee of Vision Howard County. Donations benefited the American Red Cross. "Artists have the power to transmute emotion and unite us in beauty," said Sally Voris, event chairwoman.

In the intimate adjoining parlor rooms of the 19th-century mansion, audience members cried and clapped to music, poetry, storytelling, dance and visual arts presentations. "It was wonderful," said Dan Driscoll, a Columbia marketing manager. "The variety, engaging the audience. It had a strong impact. The caliber of the artists was incredible."

Columbia performance poet Linda Joy Burke handed out shakers, claves and other percussion instruments to audience members before reciting "A New Way to Say I Love You," which she wrote after Sept. 11.

During the attacks, Burke was teaching poetry at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. "When I came home to talk to my mentor, she told me not to lay down, not to stop, just to write," she said. "I've been writing since. One of my colleagues said it's up to the poet to create a new language because we have a `new normal.'"

As Burke doled out the instruments, the steady beat of drums, rattles and hums created a symphonic backdrop to her poetry. And after she signaled a final pounding of the drum, Burke recited the last stanza: "At the entrance to the black hole of the world's colossus, fear and rage has slammed the door. ... The blue flame of tikkun olam burns, repair the world."

Regina Zalewski, owner of Gallery-Z in Ellicott City, exhibited two paintings that hang in a separate room because of their intensity, including Hell on Earth by Baltimore artist Erik Stanger. The painting shows a man clutching the hand of a woman, whose eye is blackened, as the frightened couple flee past an ambulance.

`Something useful'

Zalewski also exhibited a handmade quilt she sewed from vintage fabric squares. A friend in Missouri had sent her a box of squares cut by a woman 50 years ago using Jell-O boxes as a template.

"I didn't pay attention to the box until Sept. 11," said a tearful Zalewski. "I had my fill of television. I wanted to do something useful, something I never did before. I never worked with vintage fabric. The colors, the feel are different. I decided to finish what this woman started."

She later sewed plaid flannel on the back and displayed the quilt to counter the terror of the paintings. "The quilt shows that out of confusion comes comfort," she said.

Valerie Sampagna, a soprano in Howard High's Madrigals choir, performed "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan. The sophomore initially planned to audition for her school's annual showcase in January by singing "Angel" with a slide show of angels as a tribute to the tragedy's heroes, but will perform instead with audio clips of the tragedy.

"Everyone's going through a lot," said Valerie, 15. "I hope this will touch some people, comfort some people."

Tom Harman, who plays guitar at Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, performed a song he composed last month in response to a friend's song filled with despair.

`A little hope'

"I thought there should be at least a little hope," said Harman, 37, an Ellicott City engineer. "I wrote it while looking at my wife, trying to get an answer."

His song, "Psalm 23," is based on the verse that says "the Lord spreads His table before his enemies" in the hope that the feast of love will replace the famine of hatred. "I wanted to convey a humanistic message," he said. "As difficult as it is not be angry, we need to see why these people have so much hate in their hearts."

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