Political Artworks

“Otis” Kanye West, Jay-Z

In class, we talked about the extent to which art can incorporate political elements and still be considered art. Hiphop is an entire genre of music, or art, that can be purely political yet well received, especially by young audiences.

Perhaps the reason the young generation often react to these “political artworks” is because thy are able to sympathize with the themes woven into the beat. Jay-Z’s reflections are based on his own experiences growing up in Brooklyn, much like Marjane Satrapi’s illustartions of her childhood in Persepolis. Whatever kinds of neighborhood or reformation, good or bad, are still fragments of their own society, and the illustrating characters growing up in those environments are a political statement.

The medium of these statements, in this case art, allows for a connection to be established between the artist and the audience as well. I cannot recall the exact source, but I once heard of this definition for art:

“Art: A focused work/process that holds a purposeful intention by the artist to elicit a tangible feeling influenced by the artist; this transcends from the superficial point of view, to the abyss of human emotion.”

Art is like a cloud of ambiguity that rains emotions onto the human mind. It is often difficult to compose the exact words to describe one’s reaction to a piece of panting or music. However, the young generation who dwell in the cities re often caught under their own cloud of ambiguity anyway. In a place where your senses are overfed with colors, sirens, and street lights, anything other than a properly constructed sentence channels smoothly into their minds.

Violence: An Extremity of Reality

“Elvis watched a young girl, no older than twelve, pick up a stone and throw it at Jeremiah. It struck him with a dull thud, and though she lacked the strength to break skin, the blow raised a nasty purple lump. That single action triggered the others to pick up and throw stones. The combined sound was sickening and Jeremiah yelled in pain. There was something comically biblical, yet purely animal, about the scene.” (225)

Chapter 21 opens with a scene where Elvis and Redemption witness a brutal mob lynching a man named Jeremiah, who allegedly stole money from another man. The mob circles around him, throwing rocks at him, calling him a thief; Jeremiah’s neck is hanging on a tire, claims he is not a thief, and begs for mercy.

Chris Abani’s Grace Land physical and sexual violence: both in graphic detail, and merely mentioned or implied. The previous passage is an example of Abani illustrating a scene that illustrates brutality and blood. This particular scene was one of the first times when Elvis, who is only a boy in his adolescence, is exposed to severe violence. His way of describing it as “comically biblical, yet purely animal” can be inferred that the young boy is shocked and unsure of how to properly react. He understands that there is something wrong in what is happening, yet the scenery is displaced from  his sense of reality to the point where it grazes humor.

When Elvis discovers human heads in a cooler which he though he would find beer, he was too shocked in make an audible reaction:

“The overheard light came on as Redemption opened the door, and Elvis staggered back in disgust. He tried to shout, but nothing came.” (237)

I believe that Abani’s intent behind these scenes are in order to project the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding adolescence. The novel is set in post-colonial Nigeria, particularly centered around Elvis who dreams of escaping the  ghettos and its culture. The violence, graphic and implied, is likened to a punch to a punch in the gut. We observe Elvis being affected by the graphic violence, while the readers ourselves are affected by the implied violence. We cannot help but stop in disbelief; we hesitate to accept that the young girl in secondary school will be slaughtered as a “spare-part” for the organs they were transporting.

“Ys, dose children will arrive in Saudi alive, den, depend on de demand, dey will harvest de part from den. Fresh, no damage, more money for all of them.” (243)

Abani raises the question, “how does violence influence a child’s future?” Elvis is inevitably affected, perhaps scarred. How will he mature? What will his sense of reality be? Violence is an extremity of reality, and distorts the direction of his compass.

Inside the Bird Cage

Helmer “Is that my little lark twittering out there?”

Nora “Yes it is!”

Helmer “Is it my little squirrel bustling about?”

Nora “Yes!”

Helmer “When did my squirrel come home?”

Nora “Just now. Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.”

Helmer “Don’t disturb me. Bought, did you say? All these things?  Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?” (pg.1-2)

The conversationbetween Nora and Torvald at the beginning of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is seemingly comedic. The way Torvald calls his wife a “squirrel” is not any different from 21st century couples calling each other “baby,” or “honey-booboo”. They are playful, in love, and it is adorable.

The reader then discovers that this quirk is more than just a joke. It is, in fact, a tactic played by Torvald to maintain the dominant position in his relationship with Nora. He calls his wife by these demeaning names in order to mold her into an obedient child. The way Nora asking for money instead of a Christmas gift is comparable to a dog begging for a treat from its master. Another example is the frequency which Torvald refers to Nora’s late father, who was apparently a “spendthrift”. Torvald guilting Nora is similar to a parent disciplining their child.

Torvald’s insistance on maintaining his upper-hand obviously derives from the historical context of when the play was written. In late 19th century, women had just been permitted to open their bank accounts. The social crevasse between men and women had just begun to move closer together, and not all of society was enthusiastic about such a change. During the argument between Torvald and Nora on Krogstad’s dismissal, Torvald mentions that he does not want his staff to think that he is “a man to be swayed by all sorts of outside influence” (35). It is evident that there are reasons originating from societal expectations to defend the male-supremacy quota.

However,  the reader also discovers that Nora is faced with a destiny that will strip her of the comfort that the social inequality has provided for her. Evidently, Nora has actually enjoyed being babied and nourished inside the bird cage. When she is forced out of her cage, she will realize the injustice she has been kept in for so long, and  possibly allude to the rise of Feminism.


Rubber wheels hurrying across the avenue
Late night scavengers on Bay State Road
Why yes,
“We are the 99%”

All of the people
All of the drumming
And still,
I can dream loudly