On this tenth anniversary of the most devastating attack on American soil, I chose to spend my morning not sleeping in or watching football. I chose to spend it in solemn remembrance of a day many seem to have already forgotten about. With the immediate and ongoing involvement in two horrific wars (which many people choose to not think about) and the societal division thereof overshadowing the feelings of unity and solidarity the country had immediately following 9/11, I needed to go back and feel the emotion of those days and months in the fall of 2001. And that is exactly what I did.
The Chicago Fringe Festival, the Pilsen-based indie performance art extravaganza, concluded on this prescient anniversary. The day was highlighted by a powerful yet hopeful event organized by the Pilsen non-profit HumanThread. Entitled American Armistice: The Epoch of the PeaceMakers, it featured readings, spoken word, live music, guest speakers, and art exhibits all focused on peace, unity, and moving forward with open minds and hearts as Americans. The event was recorded for broadcast on Chicago Amplified on WBEZ. In a large open artist loft with Roman columns and peeling white paint on S Halsted St people sat on makeshift wooden benches reminiscent of pews to hear respects and have action inspired. The rustic, stripped down atmosphere couldn’t have been more apropos.
For two and a half hours performers took the stage one after another without breaks, bleeding into each other like a weeping of watercolors creating a liquid kaleidoscope of tears. Like any good cry, it was at once cathartic and recollecting. As a native New Yorker, I may have been hit harder than most. The events and emotion of that day are forever seared into my psyche. But judging by the solemn solidarity that engulfed the rest of the crowd, I was not the only one impacted.
The performances were almost all of the oral variety, ranging from original spoken word to readings of famous humanitarians from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. There was a guest speaker from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Many words and phrases echoed throughout my brain long after it was over. More than the specific words, however, it was the general ideas: Why does it take a tragedy to bring people together for the betterment of mankind? Change is ever-present. Every day is full of opportunities to seize the moment, to make the world the best in can be. Truth is the law of our being. If you’ve got love, life can be everything you’ve dreamed of. War for democracy is a contradiction of terms. Be true to yourself and you will never be a traitor to anyone. 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead. History glorifies war, not peace. Words contain an energy you can spend.
Perhaps just as poignant as the verbal art was the visual art. Three art exhibits accompanied the performances. Before the festival, Fringe and HumanThread came up with the idea of “One Common Thread for Peace.” They asked people to write a message of hope on a ribbon or piece of thread and mail it to them. They received 1200 ribbons from all over the country. Made from random fabric, ribbons, bed sheets, some cut precisely and others torn haphazardly, they were made into a giant collage that nearly covered an entire wall. The messages were as diverse as the cloth they were scribed upon. There were also fantastic quilt artworks based on these themes that were on exhibit and available for purchase.
The most difficult part to pull off for an event like this is how to make art based around such tragedy; how to do justice to something with a scope that has impacted the whole western world. They chose to focus on moving forward with love and goodwill rather than backwards with disdain and fear.
It is almost always good to get outside one’s comfort zone. Americans have other distractions, and for many the 9/11 attacks have been filed away as a distant memory. But in Pilsen last Sunday, perspectives were changed, and hearts awoken.
Copyright Time Out Chicago 2011