Art exhibit underway
Posted On: 12/07/22
A new art exhibit at Kankakee Community College features the work of Aaron Hughes, and centers on various reflections of war.
“Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem)” is multi-media exhibit that will be on display at KCC until Feb. 24, 2023 in the lower level gallery of the Miner Memorial Library.
The exhibit “connects artists across time and place, from World War I to the ‘Global War on Terror,’ from the U.S. to Iraq,” Hughes said. “These connections acknowledge the recurring traumas of war and, conversely, the human connections that happen despite the pain.”
The exhibit was first put together by Hughes in 2019, following the 100th anniversary of the first Armistice Day and the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
Hughes is an artist, curator, organizer, teacher, anti-war activist, and Iraq War veteran living in Chicago. He works collaboratively in diverse spaces and media to create meaning out of personal and collective trauma, deconstruct systems of oppression, and seek liberation. Working through an interdisciplinary practice rooted in drawing and printmaking, Hughes develops projects that often utilize popular research strategies, experiment with forms of direct democracy, and operate in solidarity with the people most impacted by structural violence.
The “Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem)” exhibit was created through collaboration with Karim Wasfi; Kevin Basl; Dunya Mikhail; Carlos Sirah; and the Syrian Kings, a hip-hop group featuring Ahmed and Hussein; and Nate Sandberg.
KCC is located at 100 College Drive in Kankakee, south of downtown Kankakee. Directions to KCC are at www.kcc.edu/about/#riverfront-campus. Exhibit hours are 7:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and 7:30 a.m. - 4 Fridays. The library gallery will close at 5 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20, and from noon Dec. 21 until Jan. 2.
Exhibit summary and artist’s statement
The project emerged out of Hughes’s reflections on Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (originally written for the 1962 consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral), the nine poems by World War I poet Wilfred Owen featured in the War Requiem, and maestro Karim Wasfi’s “spontaneous compositions,” solo cello performances held at sites of recent bombings in Iraq. These works, along with Hughes’s own memories of being a U.S. soldier in Iraq in 2003-2004, resonate with each other. They facilitate connections between the current state of endless war and its historical antecedents. Aptly, Wasfi has said of his cello performances: “I was connecting everything: death, spirits, bodies, life.” Hughes was inspired to do something similar.
Building off these connections, “Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem)” comprises four core elements. The first includes nine large-scale woodblock prints that visualize the relationship between the horrors of World War I and the ongoing “Global War on Terror.” The prints respond to Owen’s nine poems in the War Requiem, while exploring current issues, including state-sanctioned extrajudicial killing, torture and detention, the refugee crisis, the rise of extremism, and the failure of states.
The second element of the project reimagines each of Owen’s War Requiem poems, placing this historic work into a contemporary context. These reimagined works of poetry and hip-hop were performed live at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, UK in February 2019. Each poetry performance was accompanied by a solo cello performance by maestro Wasfi and presented within the structure of the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead, the same structure Britten used for the War Requiem.
Working with sound artist Nate Sandburg, recordings from these live performances were then mixed, edited, and mastered into the third element of the project, the Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem) limited edition double vinyl record. This new composition includes an original sound design and samples from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, performed at Coventry Cathedral on May 30, 1962 by the London Symphony Orchestra, Melos Ensemble, The Bach Choir and London Symphony Chorus, Highgate School Choir, Simon Preston on organ, and soloists Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
The fourth and final element reflects on the music and poetry created by those most impacted by war. In a humble gesture of reparation for the destruction and instability that has resulted from the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Hughes donated his artist fee from the BALTIC Artists’ Award to maestro Wasfi. He then invited members of the public—especially those from countries that supported the invasion of Iraq—to join him in supporting Iraqi musicians who play on, despite.
- Aaron Hughes is an artist, curator, organizer, teacher, anti-war activist, and Iraq War veteran living in Chicago. He works collaboratively in diverse spaces and media to create meaning out of personal and collective trauma, deconstruct systems of oppression, and seek liberation. Working through an interdisciplinary practice rooted in drawing and printmaking, Hughes develops projects that often utilize popular research strategies, experiment with forms of direct democracy, and operate in solidarity with the people most impacted by structural violence.
- Karim Wasfi is a renowned cellist, conductor, and founder of Peace Through Arts Foundation. Wasfi conducted the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra 2007-2016 and established the Italy Iraq Scholarship program in Modena as well as the British Council office in 2005. Wasfi utilizes sound resonance on the brain, neuroscience function, cultural diplomacy, a unique music and sound approach for healing, cross cultural integration, deradicalization, and prevention of tension. His innovative approach helped thousands of people in crisis areas to rise from violence, fear, and intimidation of terror, by conveying creative peaceful resonance through music, sound and arts. Wasfi’s current effort is to rebuild Iraq’s war torn areas by focusing on healing and rebuilding inner and societal peace that aims to proactively prevent future relapse into war and conflict.
- Kevin Basl is a writer, musician and activist living near Ithaca, New York. He holds an MFA in fiction from Temple University in Philadelphia, where he has taught writing. His work has been published or is forthcoming in War, Literature and the Arts, O’Dark Thirty, Miramar Magazine, Truthout.org and elsewhere. As a US Army mobile radar operator, he deployed to Iraq twice. He is currently a member of About Face: Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.
- Dunya Mikhail is an Iraqi-American poet. She is the author of In Her Feminine Sign, The Beekeeper, The Iraqi Nights, Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea, and The War Works Hard. Her honors include a Guggenheim fellowship (2018), Kresge fellowship (2013), Arab American Book Award (2010), and United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights (2001). She currently teaches Arabic at Oakland University in Michigan.
- Carlos Sirah is a writer, performer, and cultural worker from the Mississippi Delta. His work encounters exile, rupture, and displacement in relation to institutions, local and beyond. His most recent works include The Utterances, The Light Body, and Black ‘n da Blues: Stories and Songs from the Arkansas Delta, 1919-2019.
- The Syrian Kings is a hip-hop group featuring Ahmed and Hussein. The group formed out of GemArts, a leading arts organization based in Gateshead, UK currently working with Syrian refugee young people on a songwriting and hip-hop project as part of their East by North East youth music programme. The core group of young people in this programme—Ahmed, Hussein, Jowan, Ali and Mohammad—have been working with music leaders Izzy Finch and Pawel Jedrzejewski to develop their musical skills and aspirations. These young people participate in sessions that are very much participant-led resulting in lyrics that are often in Arabic and sometimes in English, with themes around the war in Syria, politics, nostalgia, love, lost love and friendship.
- Nate Sandberg is a composer, artist, and performer based in Chicago. He creates music and sound design for film, art installations, video games, and more. He composed scores for the Netflix Original series Flint Town as well as the award-winning film T-Rex.