Monday, August 1, 2011

Courage, Endurance, Victory: Servants of Justice

Alabama Freedom March, Vote
©Stephen Somerstein
Great things are often achieved by a sequence of simple acts by single individuals doing what they feel singularly called to do. Historic changes have usually come from the kinds of sacrifices made by a collection of people linked in common cause. More often than not, as in the case of the Civil Rights movement in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the pursuit of justice is a galvanizing popular force and is ultimately unstoppable.

Laws exist, by definition, to be the servants of justice. When laws try to dictate justice, the perversion can sometimes elevate a population to action to reinstitute the natural order of the relationship. Recognizing those laws that attempt to become masters and subvert justice, human instinct calls us to rally against such arrogance. A culture’s inner compass ultimately raises leaders and a community’s consciousness to remove rebellious laws and enact those that honor their mistress.

Rosa Parks
©Stephen Somerstein
The courage of an unknown seamstress sparked a movement and a call to action, against the odds. The story of the murder of a young man named Emmet Till was the final sufficiency for Rosa Parks to firmly say no to unjust laws and unjust social practices. Her courage and faithful endurance moved a people to expect victory of a just cause.

The endurance of a young unknown pastor of a small church led a movement, against the odds. The endurance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courage as a leader moved the entire country to strive toward victory to overcome codified injustice.
Dr. King, Marching
©Ken Regan
The victory of an unknown community organizer placed him in a position, against the odds, to lead a nation. The electoral victory of Barack Obama in 2008 to become the 44th president of the United States demonstrated that we too can prevail against the odds with courage and endurance, as individuals and in community.

It is most certain that Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as all those who looked to them for leadership in Apartheid afflicted South Africa, were bolstered by the courage, endurance and victory of Dr. King in their pursuit of justice in their own country. Mr. Mandela most likely read and was encouraged by King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail while he himself was incarcerated on Robben Island. It has, in fact, been recorded that Nelson Mandela wept the day he first visited the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, the site where Dr. King was assassinated.

Barack Obama, Waiting
©Callie Shell
On the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, most would say his life was taken from him by an assassin, a murderer. But, as in the case of any leader whose cause they see is greater than themselves, it might also be seen that his life was not taken by anyone, but given up for the cause to which he was so devoted. It was, and is, a well known fact that Dr. King’s life was threatened regularly and for years. This was not only known to him, but was even alluded to in the last speech he gave the night before he was shot. In many ways, the nobility of his death is even greater when an understanding is brought to bear of his voluntary sacrifice, with his full awareness of its inevitability. To give one’s life for a cause that affected a generation and all subsequent generations is among the honors with which Dr. King died.

As certain as gravity, injustice is rejected and justice is perennially sought and strived for. Examples exist throughout history and even in our present day. The drive is as natural to us as maternal instinct.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Meaningful Cultural Symbols, Historical Artifacts

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
©Stephen Somerstein
As a valley is carved by natural forces, the path of history is carved by people and events. Complex patterns, cultural evidence, are left behind that trace its evolution. Every generation, every decade, certain individuals and moments of iconic proportions leave indelible marks. Sometimes they serve as banners, sometimes as profound inflection points. Ultimately they are commonly memorable and meaningful to our cultural story, hence, our lives and identities.

The passage of time often allows us to appreciate to a greater degree the depth of the significance of historical figures or artifacts well beyond their contemporaneous impact. Movements, wars, fashion, design, art, social diversions and spectacle generate some of the evidence societies leave behind.

Black Power Salute
©Neil Leifer
History [herstory, our story] requires the presence of the individuals and events that make up the milestones of the past along the timeline that brings us to where we are today. If any of these timeline “landmarks” is removed from the continuum of human experience, at least as we know it, a gap in a certain significance and human meaning would most likely result.

As a culture and as a species we trace, as on cave walls, our story in many forms of evidence using innumerable methods. San Francisco Art Exchange offers a limited, albeit impactful, selection of visual evidence in the forms of art and photography, presenting images that convey various historical symbols with which we, by definition, are familiar.

Universal Soldier
©Tim Page
By design we make it part of our mission at San Francisco Art Exchange to display, as well as offer to collectors, images of transformational leaders and events, fashion and other kinds of creative enterprise that have had major affect upon the molding of society and culture. These works are on display online and at our downtown San Francisco gallery to celebrate, remember, appreciate, and reflect upon. They are the records of a contemporary human story that have always been a part of our lives. For some of our clients, certain works have become touchstones in their personal living and work environments as among their most important art acquisitions.