“Asking an artist to speak about making art can be an exercise in futility,” said American painter Daisy Rockwell, as she began her talk at “Please Make it Stop! Traditional Portraiture in the Age of the Global 24-Hour News Cycle.” This CIGI Signature Lecture was co-sponsored by the Canadian International Council Waterloo Region Branch.
The event explored the motivation behind Rockwell’s vibrant acrylic paintings featuring dictators, jihadists, terrorists and other recognizable faces in world news. Her work includes paintings of Arab Spring protestors, world leaders with their pets and portraits of notorious terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. Rockwell rhetorically asked, “Why bother pondering the humanity of people who commit inhumane acts, or who plot to commit such acts?” She explained, “We are bombarded round the clock with news and information, and we are also bombarded with visual images from around the world, some of them very beautiful, others very disturbing…My goal, as an artist, is to reach out and grab at these moments and freeze them in time… I want to question dominant media narratives about who is bad, who is good and who are our enemies and who are our friends.”
Rockwell was joined by her long-time friend, political scientist and South Asia security expert C. Christine Fair. She interviewed Rockwell, moderated questions from the audience, and also asked Rockwell about her decision to pursue visual arts rather than literature. Rockwell described her artistic process, specifically the extensive research that goes into finding an appropriate image to paint. She said, however, that an “alchemy of art” exists whereby you don’t always know what the end result of adding colours to a canvas is going to be. Sometimes you can’t verbalize what you want to say; art allows you to express these emotions, she added.
Fair, who is an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies (CPASS), answered questions on politics and security in South Asia. She offered insightful anecdotes from her field research in the region, and commented on a deteriorating security situation in Pakistan, which may have inevitable negative consequences for the United States.
Rockwell, who paints under the alias Lapata, has shown her work in numerous cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. From January 20 to February 11, 2012, her work will be on display at the Waterloo Community Arts Centre (the Button Factory), located at 25 Regina St. South, Waterloo, ON.