It is has been one year.
I spent part of today in the Guggenheim Museum. They have two exhibits at present. The first is a Constantin Brancusi exhibit. I like the idea of his sculptures – to simplify objects into their purest essence. He sculpts an egg out of marble or stone, and the next sculpture is that of a reclined head, parallel to the ground. The facial features disappear into the stone, and soon it appears that the head is the egg, or vice-versa. His method invokes purity in the forms around us. It moves to a higher state of being – in showing the similarities and essential forms in what we see. Today when I was looking at this exhibit, I thought I stumbled upon the essence of life – the fact that all we are and all we conceive of is actually just a manifestation of some higher, more purer form of which we are a part. The shapes of ourselves are similar to that which we see in nature and others, and momentarily, it made me feel closer to the world around me and the people who inhabit it. Our forms are so similar, and that is what makes the art so powerful.
And just when I was convinced of the value of that type of purity in art, that all of the truth concerning existence was boiled down into those simple marble sculptures, I then looked at the other exhibit, a photography exhibit called “Speaking with Hands.” I was amazed at the different messages that different hands could convey. The story told by the hands varied based on the hands themselves – the different contours, lines, colors. It was in those nuances, those different cracks and crevices, that the truth was revealed about each individual person. It was an ironic juxtaposition of exhibits – one drawing on the unity of forms, the other drawing upon the uniqueness of individual forms. And both seemed true representations of life to me in each moment.
I have been troubled the rest of the day – how two opposing views of the world both could seem so true. I like the Brancusi exhibit because I like the idea that the truest nature of form is unifying – because we are all similar beings, with similar features that reflect the true essence of life. And I like the idea of each of us having unique features that reveal our own story as well, that no two people are the same. Can we have truth in both things?
I can only explain the synthesis of the two ideas by a photograph I saw at the exhibit. I was caught looking at one photograph of a cotton picker in Alabama, from the thirties, taken by Dorthea Lange. I looked at his hands, and saw the hands of my grandmother, recently deceased. I thought of the stories she told me about picking cotton as a child. She worked out in the fields from an early age with her brothers and sisters, helping her widowed mother make ends-meet, in the landscape of Southern rural Mississippi. The same lines I saw in my grandmother’s hands I saw depicted in the hands of this nameless cotton-picker. In that picture, I saw the synthesis between unity and uniqueness. His hands may tell different a unique version of the story, but their forms bound me to him, because I felt like his story was my grandmother’s, and was also mine.
It rehabilitates my belief that we can have unity and uniqueness – that both are true and lasting. I needed that today, because the voices of dissent that surround me at present seem to be lacking unity and cohesion, and therefore have left me alienated in some sense. I have wanted to feel a part of things, a part of some vision of a better, more cohesive humankind. Rather, I have seen tactics that only divide and perpetuate the use of violence. It leaves me unsure of what political action I should take on behalf of what I believe is good and right. But I have to believe there is some path that can synthesize the political chaos I feel.