Art and Citizenship

Photographic view of the apex of the Vietnam W...Image via WikipediaLast week, President Obama made a trip to Ireland, and it was described in terms of finding his "roots." I watched a video in which he was described as a "rockstar," and felt the immense anticipation and pride that the audience (and the Obamas) felt that day.

To stand in a space and consider your roots and your legacy can be a joyous occasion. Art can also facilitate the connection between one's personal identity and their cultural heritage, and may reveal paths to a greater understanding beyond monolithic depictions of race and ethnicity. (Even Obama had to confront such misunderstandings recently when he presented his birth certificate to the public, finally putting the questioning of his citizenship to rest.)

I wonder, "How do art and citizenship intersect?" The first image that springs to mind is that of Peter Paul Rubens' depictions of war--but why? First, he was quite fascinated by the topic of war, as explained in this succinct Guardian UK article. This seems a timely thought since it was just Memorial Day weekend, too. I think that the reason that Rubens' works stand out to me has to do with the fleshy women that stood for national vulnerabilities, such as family (losing a member of family to war is a common tragedy), life in general (the ability to produce life), and on a more symbolic level, one's "land." Here's the image of the Allegory of the Outbreak of War:


An artist that honored history and our contemporary understanding of war and national identity is Maya Lin. She designed the internationally recognized Vietnam Memorial monument (shown above). Considering the subject matter, it was considered a controversial work because of its design. The symbols she used were not in keeping with the more traditional symbols of American citizenship, such flags or images of the soldiers who were in the Vietnam War.

There are other works, such as Picasso's Guernica, in which women played a major role in either the symbolic content or the creation of the works. Which spring to mind? How do they address citizenship and a nation's identity?

Enhanced by Zemanta