Experiments With Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence

Curated by Josef Helfenstein

The Menil Collection | October 2, 2014 – February 1, 2015


Some of Gandhi’s last possessions, ca. 1948 – 50. Photographer Unknown. James Otis/GandhiServe.




Remain in silence we must!
In 2 minutes 56 seconds,
We will see the world change from eastward
By our brothers, our sisters, who were told individuality
Is necessary when it liberates human freedom from
TYRANNY AND DESPOTISM.

How miraculous was David with his sling-shot modernized
Into two shopping bags that stopped the advancing
Tanks of the People’s Liberation Army!
How Buddha raised his right hand of compassion that
Bred images of non-violence!

Henri Cartier-Bresson was there
To capture his “decisive moment.”
Jean Tinguely’s “Prayer Wheel” remains still
To honor the silence inside the Birla House.
Through the network of Shilpa Gupta’s “1:14.9, 1188.5
Miles of Fenced Border—West, North-West,” and various
Quilt offspring from Gujarat, I heard the familiar voice
Speaking from “A Season Outside.”

Cosmic man, Leo Tolstoy, John Ruskin,
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau,
Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln,
Calligraphic Figure, Florence Nightingale, Henry Dunant;
Bob Gober’s gun bent, twisted in legible profile
Like a coat hanger on an old Spindle or Side chair
From the Pioneer West with two asymmetrical breasts
Actually not that far from René Magritte’s
“The Survivor,” and Mel Chin’s “HOME y SEW 9.”

I still remember my uncle telling the tales of
Albert Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life” in Gabon,
West Africa, after the Tet Offensive.
Dominique de Menil said, “The struggle for human rights
Must be at the forefront of all that we do.”
Green Tara, Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zarina,
Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, all have
Graciously entered the house with their bare feet.
Ai Weiwei who I haven’t seen in a while—
How his ten broken pairs of feet from Buddha statues of
Northern Wei period, different sizes and heights,
Offers lightness that counters the brute weight of
Violence. Dark shadow cast against the walls,
Floor, even the wristwatch is stopped at 11:02,
August 9, 1945 in Nagasaki, 1961!

How can we forget Mary Ann Vecchio in the familiar gesture
of mercy at Kent State in 1970! Dan Flavin remembers it well,
While Dr. King in his office looking at an empty space
TO BE EMPTIED OUT;

And Aung San Suu Kyi speaks lovingly to her people
About “Freedom from Fear.”
Cesar Chavez, Oscar Romero, as always, they were there!

When was the last time we saw a picture of a U.S.
President conversing at the Rothko Chapel?
When was the last time we saw Rembrandt’s
“Christ Healing the Sick” in the same room with Buddha,
And the prophet Muhammad reciting Rumi’s “Masnavi”
In Husamuddin Chelebi’s dream, adjacent to
Saint Onouphrios, whose long beard divides
TRUTH AND FALSE IN HALF
FOR THE WORLD IS MAD!

In the memory of the farmer who committed
suicide in Odisha: The lying down protest to save the
Land has become our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies
In horizontal and verticle formation at David Novros’s
Luminous “6:30,” while Kimsooja’s centralized figure
Has never seemed so urgently relevant back to us standing
In six places on earth,
Exposing the population to expose their similarities
In spite of their differences.

How faces claim their differences for the pages
To turn; for the words on a film screen that draw out:
THAT WHICH IS NOT DRAWN
HEALING TO ALL GLOBAL.

William Ansah Sessarakoo looks at the empty space
To be emptied like Dr. King had earlier.
What was Aelbert Cuyp’s motivation to paint
“The Baptism of the Eunuch”?
I see the crucifix of the Republic of Congo
Hanging high enough to force us to acknowledge
Sir Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of “A Young Black,”
Who is looking at an emptied space to be empty.
Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt, Suzan Frecon, Brice Marden,
are all having a conversation in the next room;
William Kentridge declares, “Johannesburg,
2nd Greatest City after Paris,”
“Monument,” “Mine,” “Felix in Exile.”
All were to be reminded of Nelson Mandela in his visit to
A familiar space in Robben Island, South Africa, 1994.
He is in a serene profile looking at an empty space out
The window of the prison cell
TO BE EMPTIED OUT.
All Leg Irons have to be broken.
IN ALL EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
WE FOREVER STAND IN SOLIDARITY.

Contributor

Phong Bui

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