U.S. as all-devouring monsterYesterday was the last day for "The American Effect" show at the Whitney Museum of Art here in Manhattan. As you surely know, the show brought together works about the U.S. by artists from many other countries. Some were whimsical, like the delightful large-scale model of "New Manhattan City, 3021" by Bodys Isek Kingelez of the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a future Manhattan full of shiny, bright-colored towers of fanciful shapes and many corporate logos. Some were pseudo-anthropological, like Nigerian artist Olu Oguibe's drawings by an imaginary ethnographer documenting racial types in 19th century America, or the hyper-realistic, out-sized figures of Custer's Last Stand by Ousmane Sow of Senegal, now living in France. The twisted, dying, still shooting Custer and the Sioux attacking or falling from a horse or, in the case of Sitting Bull, praying, are all made of wire, mud and cloth by somebody who really understands anatomy. The scene is quite frightening in its violence as the visitor walks among these straining, reaching men, right onto the battlefield and into the line of tomahawk thrust or bullet. Video permits the sequential telling of a story, and the three-channel video about the international battle for custody of little Elián González, made by two Cubans -- Meira Marrero Díaz and José Angel Toriac -- and one U.S. artist -- Patricia Clark -- goes futher, by playing off contrasting and complementary scenes on the three screens. Particularly effective is the "rewinding" -- the tapes actually do run backward briefly, with the scenes of the rescue/seizure of Elián from his Miami relatives, and Fidel Castro and Elián's father, and various other political and cultural figures. Then the story begins again, but much earlier, with the first great attack of the U.S. against the Cuban revolution at the Bay of Pigs, thus giving context to the tensions over the child more than 30 years later (José Martí's children's book gives the video its title).
The fear and hostility toward the U.S. in some of the other works might seem over the top, unless you've been reading the papers lately to see what the U.S. is really doing to countries around the world. For example, Hisushi Tenmyouya (Japan) has a wonderfully complex, comic book-like drawing of "Tattoo Man's Battle" in which Tattoo Man -- Japan -- on a white horse and waving a glowing sword confronts a huge monster, the United States, whose three leering mouths spew flames and whose biceps are other angry monsters and whose claws reach down to grasp Tattoo Man. This is what the U.S. must seem like to many Iraqis and Afghanis these days. The U.S. submarine's apparently careless sinking of a Japanese fishing boat a couple of years back, and the utter lack of remorse for the loss of lives, are commemorated in another of this artist's drawings. And then there are the Mughal-style miniatures by Pakistani artist Muhammad Imran Qureshi. In one, we see the tops of a cluster of trees, about to be bombarded by U.S. aid. Qureshi is quoted saying about this drawing, "no matter whether for good or for bad, everyone today is a target of America."
Over the top? Check out this article by a Chicago Tribune reporter: U.S. data mining riles Latin America.