First of all, you don’t have to speak truth to power, because they know it already. And secondly, you don’t speak truth to anybody, that’s too arrogant. What you do is join with people and try to find the truth, so you listen to them and tell them what you think and so on, and you try to encourage people to think for themselves.

 

The ones you are concerned with are the victims, not the powerful, so the slogan ought to be to engage with the powerless and help them and help yourself to find the truth. It’s not an easy slogan to formulate in five words, but I think it’s the right one.

– Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Tresilian

Al-Ahram Weekly, June 3, 2010

I am coming late to this interview but sometimes you read things when you need them. Having taken myself away from the community in which I am regularly engaged and having had several conversations with people who are actively trying to use art to change things in their communities, I have been faced with the question over and over again of why I am concerned with being part of the conversation of the ‘powerful.’ What is the relationship between that group and the people I want to impact? Am I looking for permission? for acknowledgement? for respect? And if I am, from whom am I looking for it?

As an artist, it is important to be thoughtful, listening and aesthetically strong. Who is my audience? As Chomsky says, you don’t have to speak truth to power, because they know it already. For NODhouse, Grand Center knows they aren’t engaged north of Delmar. For NODtoBristol, the current government knows austerity cuts are only being proposed for sectors with the least political and economic clout (so they, in turn, can fight amongst themselves for the scraps). My engagements in these pieces are not with the powerful. The focus of my practice is with the powerless. That is absolutely clear to me in the studio however, what throws me off-course is my desire to be acknowledged by the powerful of the art world. If they too already know the truths, then what is my relationship to them? Do I want to engage with them? If so, what do I want that engagement to be?

Accessibility to the art world powerful seems possible. There is a perception that all that matters is that the work is good and that, given the artist’s perseverance good work will be noticed. Maybe that’s not true. Or maybe it is. But maybe it’s not important. Maybe what is important is to engage with the powerless and help them and yourself to find the truth. Maybe, the question to ask myself is whether or not I have done that each day.