I had a cringeworthy moment yesterday. I admit it—I was tired, not at my best, but still. A woman came into The Myrna Loy expecting to see a different art show, and saw instead the “Creative Human Flow” exhibit of handmade books about human migration, empathy, and world events, created by middle-school PEAK students.
Teacher/artist Katie Knight recruited poet Sean Hill and movement artist Julynn Wilderson to lead the students in an independent study project around human migration. They unveiled their creative results this past Friday at The Myrna Loy, and the resulting hand-made books will be on exhibit through the weekend.
You should come see these works. I’d like to hear different responses than the one I heard yesterday when this gallery visitor said, “Immigration is fine until they start practicing Sharia law, stoning women, and cutting off men’s heads. Then you have to draw the line.” (This may not be a direct quote. I was too stunned to dive for a pen.)
And that’s the point. I was stunned. I said nothing. I looked at the books hanging on these former prison walls, books about children fleeing their homes and families struggling to stay safe in border camps. Books created by young artists developing their compassion, creativity, and intelligence. And I reflected on this woman’s first response—one of fear that people unknown to her might wreak violence on her world in frightful ways.
There were so many things I could have said.
I could have pointed out that Sharia Law, like the Ten Commandments, are practiced within obedience to national laws, and don’t supersede U.S. laws against murder, torture, and assault. I could have reminded her that jurisprudence based on religious law–Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim–is already commonplace in America.
I could even have asked her how much she knows about Sharia Law, and what specifically makes her so fearful of its followers.
Instead I said nothing. I let her words hang in the air, alongside these handmade books. Partly because: This is our world. The fear is spoken—sometimes shouted, but in this case just simply stated as though it were fact. And the compassion, the complexity, the human struggle toward life and freedom—all that hangs in colorful, hand-pressed silence in the background, speaking volumes.
I choose color. I choose art. I choose compassion. I stand with these creator-children in the work they presented us on Friday. I am so proud of the work they are doing.
And I see my silence, in that moment, as one small failure. Knowing that of such small, momentary failures does tyranny build its kingdom.
To atone personally for my silence, I have joined the Longer Table Initiative of Amnesty International, pledging to stand up for refugees, to build a longer table in America, and to welcome others like ourselves—other human beings—to that table.
What I hope you’ll do this weekend is spend half an hour viewing the works of Katie Knight’s students.