Curators of exhibitions rarely receive more than a mention in exhibition signage–“curated” or “organized by.” But it is nearly impossible to talk about “For a Better World 2007” without acknowledging the organizer, Saad Ghosn (head of U.C.’s department of pathology and laboratory medicine and an artist), and the show’s genesis. It grew out of another of the apparently indefatigable Ghosn’s activities–SOS (Save Our Souls) ART, a show open to anyone whose work addresses the themes of peace and justice and the event associated with SOS, which involves other art forms, such as poetry readings. In 2004 in conjunction with it, Ghosn began publishing books of drawings and poems annually. As he explains, For a Better World marks “a yearly milestone reflecting current issues our city and our society face, as perceived by our local poets and visual artists.”

For each year’s edition, Ghosn issues a call to poets in the Greater Cincinnati area to submit poems about peace and justice. A jury of poets judges them for quality and appropriateness to the theme, selecting 40 or so for the book. Ghosn then invites artists to participate, “assigning” them poetry that aligns with their work and with their own poetry preferences. The visual artists may choose to illustrate the poem or let it be the springboard for their own aesthetic response. For uniformity, the drawings are restricted to black, white, and gray on a standard 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper.

At the Covington Artisan Enterprise Center, “For a Better World 2007” presents the original drawings by 41 artists paired with the poems by 49 poets that inspired them from that year’s book. Here’s where Ghosn loses me. The drawings and poems are installed on a wall, but they were intended to be in book form and meant to be read in comfort (physically if not emotionally) and at your own pace, picking it up, paging through it, putting it down, and then, perhaps, returning to it. None of that is really possible when it’s all on the wall. There’s no comfort in standing and returning to view them requires more effort than simply reaching for the book. However, you can skim both the drawings and poetry and can skip at will, which I did.

Illustration is generally undervalued as an art form, yet it is quite challenging to create a visual expression that enhances, perhaps even amplifies the verbal. I ping-ponged between Robyn Carey Allgeyer’s “Cut Flowers” and Thomas Hieronymus Towhey’s line drawing, checking for the images that reinforced the words. The poet laments the death of a young soldier, and the artist responded by drawing symbols of youth and death. A toy tank in a sandbox, a teddy bear, and an outsized pacifier represent his childhood while a Jeep with rain falling like tears marks his death. The flowers of the poem’s title represent both life and death. Allgeyer ends with “A well tended garden less a few blooms / Goes to seed only / To flower another spring.”

Other artists were less literal. Frederick Ellenberger’s bird, perhaps a crow, sits on a barren branch, its sooty blackness silhouetted against the white ground. The image is striking in its boldness and elegance. Its inspiration, Aralee Strange’s “Stop Look & Listen,” is eloquent and evocative. She devotes a stanza to each word, requiring the reader to do exactly that—stop, look, and listen. Has Ellenberger’s bird done the same? No matter. The simple image is arresting, forcing the viewer to follow her “commands” to understand what the poem and drawing are communicating.

Fitting in between these two approaches is Paige Wideman’s charcoal-and-pastel drawing for Fran Watson’s “In Cologne,” a “city flattened once more / I saw the cathedral blackened by fire / bent and tired, but standing / in defiance of all it had witnessed.” Wideman’s drawing reflects the mood of Watson’s poem, but also conjures up her specific subject. Within a circle, with a densely drawn and thick border looking like, in absolutely prosaic terms, a tire, is a lancet arch framing a cathedral spire. It’s not the Cologne Cathedral, but the elongated spire recalls it. Naked trees stand tall in a desolate landscape, their branches reaching upward, as do Gothic spires. Watson’s poem specifies a particular city, but her message is universal: “Wars are like the river, / rising to a chorus of disbelieving cries / smashing, destroying, uncaring, / leaving behind debris and sorrow / that seems insurmountable.” She offers hope in the next to last stanza: “Not even chaos lasts forever. / Whether defeated by boredom / or lack of strength, / (even horror wearies in time), / its energy wanes, and peace returns.” But in the last line she snatches it away: “Until the next time.”

As an exhibition, “For a Better World” packs a wallop, but I would prefer to take in its message as intended–sitting down.


– Karen Chambers


*The 2007 book is displayed because Ghosn wishes to have them seen publicly in chronological order, and subsequent editions have not yet been exhibited.

For a Better World 2007 on view through June 3rd at the Covington Artisan Enterprise Center, 25 W. 7th St., Covington, KY  41011. 859-292-2322.






2 Responses

  1. Thank you. I feel very strongly about places I’ve been, echoing events that I know. Their loss, and their hope affect me. I can only wish that others will feel the same connection to other peoples, other places that travel makes possible. Go out. See and feel. Tell it to the world.

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