My neighbour Raghavendra Rao Karkala has a show up at The Hearth on Bowen these next couple of weeks that is a captivating look at the images of dissent in the world. Spanning movements from around the world and from the late 20th century right up to the present day, Raghu has captured images of dissent, many of them portraits of dissenters in action. It is an unusual show for Bowen Island, in that it is explicitly political. I’m sure folks will resonate with some of the dissenters and not others. Maybe none at all.
The show portrays named and unnamed people, and while the political leaning is undeniably progressive, the longing that these images portray transcends partisan politics and points us toward dignity and self-determination in the face of power that dehumanizes and uses its monopoly of force and violence to enforce arbitrary laws and create dehumanizing situations. I think Raghu’s perspective is captured best by a pair of images of anonymous women. One shows an Iranian woman clasping a lock of her hair which she has cut and is holding above her head in defiance of the Iranian state’s enforcement of hijab. The other shows a woman in a near similar pose wearing a hijab which originates from protests in India in favour of the right to wear a hijab. The issue is self-determination and choice.
Many of these images show the dissenter’s head or face and their arms. The arms are raised or outstretched, sometimes in a fist, sometimes pointing, sometimes open-palmed. They are reaching for, pointing at, or demanding something that lies just outside their grasp. A future, a right, a shred of the dignity that has been stripped from them. It is the hands I most identify with. They are an invitation to join in the struggle from wherever we are, to do whatever we can to fully support the right of human beings to determine their futures and choose lives of fulfillment and peace.
For a privileged community like ours, I think the show poses the question of whether we can reach out to those in the portraits and join them in their struggle and dissent against the brutal use of power that dispossesses and dehumanizes them. The answer is not an easy yes. Who are these folks? Who am I in relation to them? What is the real cost of my support for them? And, hey, are some of these images directed at me?
Raghu’s show runs until November 3.