Jitish Kallat’s Art Installation Reminds Viewers of an Earlier September 11th International Event
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
“‘Public Notice 3’ explores the possibility of revisiting the historical speech as a site of contemplation, symbolically refracting it with threat codes devised by a government to deal with this terror-infected era of religious factionalism and fanaticism.”
— from The Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition website
The grand staircase at The Art Institute of Chicago features the art installation “Public Notice 3” by Jitish Kallat. (photo: swimfinfan/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
Before September 11th became synonymous with terrorist attacks and religious intolerance, it was host to that event’s antithesis — the First World Parliament of Religions held in The Art Institute of Chicago’s Fullerton Hall on September 11, 1893. The parliament was an early attempt to create a global discussion of religious faiths, and Swami Vivekananda delivered an eloquent keynote address to an audience of over 7,000.
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
Now, 118 years after his speech and nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Jitish Kallat reintroduces the public to Vivekananda’s words in “Public Notice 3,” an exhibition on display at The Art Institute of Chicago from September 11, 2010 through May 1, 2011.
The Indian artist, known for using historical speeches as the structure for his work, seeks to hold up these “blurred and sometimes forgotten” speeches as “apparatuses with which to grade our feats and follies as nations and as humankind.” “Public Notice 3” continues this approach from his previous exhibition in 2007, which he based on a momentous speech Mahatma Gandhi delivered on the eve of the historic 400-kilometer “Dandi March.”
In the current installation, Kallat displays the inspiring, inclusive words of Swami Vivekananda’s text in LED lights on the 118 stair risers of the historic Woman’s Board Grand Staircase, adjacent to the site of Vivekananda’s original address. Phrases from Vivekananda’s address are lit with the colors of the United States Department of Homeland Security’s alert system, creating color patterns that reach up the meandering flights of stairs to a skylight above the top flight. The effect of these patterns, coupled with the resonant sound of footsteps and voices in the cavernous staircase, is profound.
Phrases from Swami Vivekananda’s speech displayed in “Public Notice 3” on the Grand Staircase steps. (photo: swimfinfan/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
The following video of a conversation between artist Jitish Kallat and curator Madhuvanti Ghose provides additional insight into the artist’s desire to highlight the chasm between these two very different events of September 11.
Public Notice 3 — a hopeful and poignant reframing of “the events of 9/11” — is an inspiring, redemptive “must-see” for anyone in or passing through Chicago.
Can Fear and Burning Unite?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11."
Fear is very real for many Muslims in America today. I don’t think I truly understood how real this elevated level of anxiety is until I read Patel’s quote in Laurie Goodstein’s article in Sunday’s New York Times. He is a man who has spent a good deal of time speaking to all sorts of people and members of religious groups trying to build interfaith dialogue and understanding; I’m sure he’s witnessed some heated arguments and outlandish actions. For him to make this statement is striking, and troubling. We should take heed.
So much is happening right now, and the confluence of popular opinion and current events must be weighing mighty heavily on the minds of many Muslims. There are decreasing favorability ratings of Islam. There are heated protests and debates surrounding Park51, the Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan. There are bricks being thrown and a taxi driver being stabbed. And, then, all this crazy media coverage of a Florida pastor pulling a publicity stunt by planning to burn Qur’ans on Saturday.
As to the Dove World church’s plans, there seems to be very little response from other faith leaders and religious communities. Where’s the outcry? But, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests Tuesday in “CNN covered interfaith call to oppose Koran burning. Who didn’t?,” perhaps it was in the lack of live coverage of events like this press conference at the National Press Club in which dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders stood together while calling for a united front against Qur’an burning and other aspects of Islamophobia. The Dove World church’s fiery intentions are brighter than the stars in the night skies. Or are they?
I’ve noticed myriad secular and faith leaders, people who write and blog and tweet, vehemently protesting and uniting behind their Muslim brothers and sisters. They act not by decrying but by reading, reading the Qur’an itself — even at the holiest of times. On the heels of Rosh Hashanah services, the Velveteen Rabbi writes:
"In response to the rising tide of Islamophobia and especially to those who intend to burn the Qur’an on 9/11, my teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman suggested that as Jews gather to worship on Shabbat Shuvah, we might consider reading from the Qur’an as a gesture of respect toward our sister Abrahamic tradition. At my synagogue, we typically gather for Torah study after services, around 11am. On 9/11, our text for sacred study will come from the Qur’an."
And the Undercover Nun continues:
"On Saturday, September 11, 2010, I’m reading the Quran so that I can be a better American and a better Christian. Won’t you join me?"
Many more noble efforts like this are taking place. Look around. And as we non-Muslims try to pay attention and express our sympathies, we ought to remember that yesterday was the last day of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration and thankfulness. It’s Eid.
When Sayneb, a young Somali woman and co-worker came through the office the other evening, we got talking about Ramadan, next year’s dog days of July and fasting, and current events, to which I gestured, “Boy, these are crazy times.”
She paused. Then she looked kindly at me, smiled softly, and said with no uncertainty, “These are good times.”
I have no grave site to visit, no place to bring my mother her favorite yellow flowers, no spot where I can hold my weary heart close to her. All I have is Ground Zero. … I do not like harboring resentment or anger, but I do not want the death of my mother — my best friend, my hero, my strength, my love — to become even more politicized than it already is. To the supporters of this new Islamic cultural center, I must ask: Build your ideological monument somewhere else, far from my mother’s grave, and let her rest.
—Neda Bolourchi, from her powerful commentary in The Washington Post's opinion pages.
Earlier this week, we posted video of Mayor Bloomberg’s moving speech in which he advocates building a mosque near Ground Zero, and we asked, “How do we go forward and be sensitive to all parties involved?” One way is to make it an imperative that we pay attention and listen to the many points of view out there. And, ones we haven’t heard that much from are Muslims who were victims of the 9/11 attacks. Ms. Bolourchi’s voice is one to hear.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor