Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looking Beneath the Surface

Distractions and Diversions
Joan M. E. Gaither, 2010


What do you see when you look at this quilt?

The hand? The caution tape? The orange bars? The American flag border?

Did you see that there are images underneath the hand, caution tape, and bars? Did you bother to really look at them or was your attention distracted?

Distractions and Diversions is Dr. Gaither's latest quilt and part of her current exhibition, Respecting Humanity, at the Maryland State Arts Council. The quilt revolves around the idea that today's society is too distracted by what is immediately in front of them and that people do not look beneath the surface at larger and more important issues. The giant hand dominating the quilt serves as a visual distraction from everything beneath it. The symbol of the hand can be interpreted as a way of saying "stop," cautioning people against taking an in depth look at the entire image. They only focus on the hand because it is the biggest and brightest image on the quilt. The hand, created with yellow ribbon and fabric, has words referencing superficial issues embroidered into it with matching yellow thread. Words and phrases such as "prisons for profit," "violence as entertainment," "celebrity antics," and "habituation" are stitched into the hand representing the many distractions and issues that take our attention from real issues and problems. When you look underneath the hand of distractions, you begin to see many other images representing issues of importance that are crying out for immediate attention but not getting as much as they should. Images representing topics such as education, the economy, the environment, politics, and health care are on the quilt, ever present but not immediately seen.

Think about the last time you watched the news. How many stories were about real issues and how many were "puff pieces?" What do you look at most often when you are on the Internet? When I looked at a recent Sunday edition of the Washington Post, I went through and counted how many sections of the paper could be classified as "distraction-based." Of the 10 sections, half of them were devoted to diversion topics including sports, comics, arts and leisure, and shopping (classifieds) to name a few. I must admit that when I pick up the newspaper these are the sections I always look at first, promising myself I will go back to the other sections later but either I never do or I don't spend nearly as much time looking at them. 

Consider how much time you spend trying to find distractions from everyday life and serious issues. In today's society it isn't very hard. We are constantly bombarded with information from all angles and it is very easy to look away from what is unpleasant and find something that will interest us. As society becomes more and more consumed with instant gratification, the message of this artwork will grow in importance. Consider the recent cases of information hitting the Internet and going viral with everyone accepting the first thing they hear as fact with actual research and fact checking/contextualizing only occurring much later and after people had already formed opinions. How many times have you believed the first thing you heard about a topic without questioning it? How easy was it for your opinion to be swayed from that first impression?

We must look beyond what is right in front of our faces and delve deeper. We must not get caught up in superficial topics. Forcing ourselves to go beyond what is immediately available and questioning what is in front of us and why it is placed there will be more and more critical in the coming days, months, and years.  Distractions and Diversions is truly an artwork of, by, and for the 21st century.

Distractions and Diversions is now on display at the Maryland State Arts Council in Dr. Gaither's latest exhibition Respecting Humanity: Quilts for Social Justice. This exhibition contains 13 artworks concerning several social justice topics. This exhibition will be on display until 11 February 2011. An exhibition reception and artist talk will be held at the Maryland State Arts Council on Friday, 3 December 2011 from 5:00-8:00 p.m. with Dr. Gaither speaking about the exhibition at 6:00 p.m.

Respecting Humanity: Quilts for Social Justice Exhibition
4 October 2010 - 11 February 2011

Backas Gallery, Maryland State Arts Concil
Gallery Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 AM to 4 PM
Closed State Holidays

Maryland State Arts Council
175 West Ostend Street
Baltimore, Maryland
410-767-6555
TTY 1-800-735-2258 or 711

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