|Dialogue: Peace by Barbara Romain|
A rare opportunity for transformation arose in Montana in 2004. A defecting leader of the “Creativity Movement” – one of the most virulent white supremacist hate groups in the nation – presented the Montana Human Rights Network with 4000 volumes of their “bibles,” books promoting extreme anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, racist ideologies.
In partnership with the Network, the Holter Museum of Art invited artists across the country to respond to, integrate, or transform the books in provocative ways. Work by sixty artists was featured in the resulting exhibition, Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate, which opened at the Holter Museum in Helena, Montana, in 2008.
We have all been socialized to both subtle and overt forms of prejudice that contribute to attitudes of fear and mistrust and restrict our capacity to more fully experience the world. While the rapid rise in the number of hate groups and hate crimes is a cause for alarm, so is institutionalized discrimination. Systemic oppression broadly impacts members of many groups based on their race, religion, gender, sexual identity, country of origin, disabilities, economic class, and age. By responding creatively to hate, injustice and violence, the artists in Speaking Volumes provoke thinking and conversations that encourage empathy for others and respect for social justice.
Cruelty often reflects underlying fear and unmet needs. Might hate be disarmed by meeting needs and relieving fears? The world as we know it would be transformed if we had the insight, skills, and motivation to turn negative expressions into positive influences.
The artists participating in Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate embraced this challenge in multidimensional forms when they converted white supremacist propaganda into art. The books in their original form represent the most extreme forms of racist, anti-
Semitic, anti-Christian, and homophobic thought: yet we are all vulnerable to beliefs that diminish people who seem different. Most of us have been socialized to both subtle and overt forms of prejudice, which restrict our capacity to understand the world and contribute to attitudes of fear and distrust. By responding creatively to hate, injustice, and violence, the artists in this exhibition encourage empathy for others and respect for social justice. As curator of the exhibition, it is an honor and inspiration to work with them as they share their perspectives, ranging from grief to celebration.
Not all of the artists reshaped the physical material and content of the books. Some chose not to handle the books directly but contributed relevant selections from large bodies of work developed throughout their careers. Many of these artists are pioneers in the use of art as civic dialogue; they have focused on issues of social justice for decades. It is a joy to include their work, which has shaped the collective understanding of the power of art. The work of these individuals has deepened our sensitivity to subtlety and irony while exploring the complexities of equality, race, gender, and beauty.