ART FOR A BETTER WORLD
By Saad Ghosn
- Images For A Better World: Farron ALLEN, Visual Artist
Farron Allen grew up in the mountains of southern West Virginia, product of three generations of coalminers. He was raised by loving and religious grandparents who imparted to him the rigorous teachings of their Southern Baptist faith.
Allen earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work (1979) and a BFA in Sculpture and Graphic Design (1988) from West Virginia University, Morgantown, and an MFA in Sculpture (1990) from the University of Cincinnati (UC). He currently teaches sculpture foundry at UC where his class, in 2005 (January issue of University of Cincinnati Horizons; Insider’s tour, by John Bach and Mary Niehaus), was listed as one of the university’s hidden treasures.
The human figure holds an important place in Allen’s 2D and 3D works, which also often incorporate body parts. “I use body parts as metaphors,” he states. “They deal with the idea of attack, for me initially centered on AIDS – the rejection of a generation of people by government policy, morality, fear of contamination – but also attack on the essence and integrity of the individual by religion, politics, power and greed.”
In fact, concerns that commonly transpire through Allen’s works pertain to religion, its conflict with sexuality, its misuse for power and control; the moral hypocrisy that frequently rules society; the imposed conformist values that disagree with the individual’s basic aspirations.
- Hammered into Form, bronze and steel sculpture
‘Hammered into Form’, a bronze and steel black sculpture, represents a hand caught between 2 hammers, tools used to forge metal. It is meant as an allegory to how we’re formed as human beings, forged by our upbringing, education, external factors, opportunities. The hand appears stuck, yet wants to reach out for change. A spoon, symbol of what is spoon-fed and forced down one’s throat, is placed in front of it. A twisted piece of metal rod welded to the side alludes to knotted and painful internal organs. It addresses the boundaries and regulations set by government and laws, imposed on us, and often to profit those in power, at the expense of the individual.
- Jesus Tops, bronze, steel and plaster installation
‘Jesus Tops’, a bronze, steel and plaster installation, incorporates bronze objects modeled after children toys. It refers to the fact that religion is often manipulated to serve the purpose of men, treated like a game that can be spun into many tragic stories.
- Thirteen Connections, bronze, wood and rope installation
‘Thirteen Connections’, a bronze, wood and rope installation, deals with the Last Supper. Twelve heads with their mouths shut by spoons sit in a seemingly endless swirl of rope. The rope swirls around each head and then to a large wooden spool to which a crucifix is attached. The installation questions connections, personal between individuals, also universal as they relate to societal issues such as religion, politics, control…
- I Can Almost Touch the Water, bronze, steel and water sculpture
‘I Can Almost Touch the Water’, a bronze, steel and water sculpture, consists of a large metal apparatus containing a coil and a pitchfork. At its top sits a face with its mouth bound. A hand reaches out from the back towards a bowl of water balanced with a crucifix on either side. The face is unable to speak, the hand unable to reach the water. The sculpture alludes to our personally and societally imposed limitations.
- Words For A Better World: Michael HENSON, Literary Artist
Michael Henson is author of a novel, a book of stories, and three collections of poetry. His new novella, Tommy Perdue, has recently been published by MotesBooks. Henson is a long-time member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) and is currently co-editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, SAWC’s annual magazine. His stories, poems, and essays have appeared widely and he has been a frequent contributor to StreetVibes, the newspaper of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Henson is also a long-time activist with Appalachian, labor, homeless, and civil rights issues and he is nearing retirement from a forty-year career in counseling and community organizing. He plays mandolin and guitar with the Old Coney Bluegrass Band. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Elissa Pogue.
- Listening to right wing talk radio to remind himself of the powers we’re up against, Henson always finds himself disturbed by the hate and bigotry in their voices. But then he also hears the hate and bigotry of some of the voices on the left (and he realizes he has been on occasions one of them) and he is even more dismayed.
Voices on the radio
rumble and sting.
Words swarm out of the speakers.
They seethe and spit,
punch and dig,
blind as bullets.
They are like
small black bees
that rise from an underground hive.
Voices of oil.
Voices of acid.
These are the voices of the muted heart.
These are the voices
of the disjointed soul.
Now I repent all arrogance.
Now I repent
that I ever called any man fool.
- ‘Postcards to America’ came out of a workshop Henson did with students at Purcell Marian High School. He asked them to write a letter to America and they came up with some wonderful, extended pieces. Somehow, all he could come up with himself were one-liners. So he decided to think of them instead as postcards from a road trip through the broken heartland of America.
Postcards to America
I’m writing from a very far place
One of us is in the wrong place.
I’m steering an eight-cylinder Conestoga
down the Trail of Tears.
There are no exits.
I’m blind and deaf and my heart is breaking
but if I touch the hem of your garment,
I might win the Lottery.
The walls of the abandoned factories
are slathered with graffiti.
I can’t read a word of it,
Is it me?
Each part of you looks the same.
Your elbow looks exactly like your elbow.
What’s up with these angry waves of grain?
These toppled mountain majesties?
These out-sourced fruited plains?
America, I think the suburbs
Are very close to hell.
I can’t argue anymore.
When I hear the blonde men bicker on the radio,
I want to go someplace and die.
I don’t think I can bear
the weight of your sins any longer.
I’m letting Barabbas carry this cross.
You can tell the pin-stripe Goliaths
I’ve gone home to America.
You can tell them
I’m out in the yard with David,
- Lately Henson has been writing songs. The following is a protest song he wrote in a bluegrass mode. In Bluegrass music many songs are about the beauty of the mountains, the love of the mountains, etc. Few songs, however, are about what is really going on in the mountains and the human and ecological degradation often carried on. This song about Mountaintop Removal is Henson’s attempt to rectify the situation.
The Cold Winter Rain
The cold winter rain sweeps cross the mountain
And washes to the valley way below.
The mountains here are dying.
You can almost hear them crying.
Tell me, where can a homeless people go?
Now I’m standing in the cold winter rain.
What they’re doing to these mountains is insane.
I can see the dozers grind.
I can hear the coal trucks whine.
And I watch them in the cold winter rain.
The forests of my childhood are all gone now,
Shoved into a ditch like so much trash.
They’ve destroyed the fields and hollars
For that narrow seam of dollars,
An Eden for a fistful of cash.
Now I’m standing in the cold winter rain.
What they’ve done to this valley is a shame.
Day and night the dozers grind,
Night and day the coal trucks whine.
How I’ve cursed them in the cold winter rain.
The gray waters gather in the sludge ponds.
The winter rain soon will turn to snow.
My home is in the rubble,
My heart is filled with trouble.
It’s time, I know, it’s time for me to go.
But I stand here in the cold winter rain.
And I’ll ask this question one more time again.
What’s the profit in that coal
If the cost is your soul?
You know God watches in the cold winter rain.
Yes, God is watching in the cold mountain rain.
- If Henson had to stand or fall on any one poem as his legacy, it would be the following one, a teaching on love. At the time he wrote it, he was taken with the notion that, in the end, there is not that much new to say; there are simply new ways for what we’ve already known all along, the eternal law of love.
I have been so often mute
when I wanted most to have you hear me.
But I have studied speech
with the mole and the crow
and the unsilent dead
who speak to us daily
with their mouths of clay
and their tongues of grass,
as they drill us in the old and necessary lessons.
And what do they teach?
I have no trick for telling you
all of what I think they say,
but I believe it comes to this:
There is no law
but that of love.
That takes courage
and we often fail.
Because we fail
forgiveness is basic as bread.
We fail there too.
And so the world is sad.
If I could have the voice I wanted once,
I would be your bard.
I would bind you to me
with firelight tales
of struggle and discovery
that would drive back your darkness for an hour.
But I have only this small voice
with which my father voiced me
a voice with the reed and rasp of the crow.
And I fear it is much too small.
I tell you
There is no law
but the law of love.