University of Rochester. Plaque honoring Francis Bellamy, UR, Class of 1876, author of the Pledge of Allegiance [Photo: David Kramer]
Following up on Reflections on Activism and Art , today I share a few more of the multiple angles provided by artists. If you go to the Memorial Art Gallery, currently on view, is Sky Hopkinka. (1) (Topic for a different article — but don’t miss the upcoming lecture!) Perhaps you know that the Memorial Art Gallery has a land acknowledgement established in November 2021. (2) Perhaps you do not know that the Haudenosaunee people, who were stewards of the land in this part of Western New York, use the Thanksgiving Address, or Gano:nyok, as a daily reminder to appreciate and acknowledge all things and that you can read it on a plaque on Poets Walk at the corner of University and Prince. (3)
For more on the Poets Walk, see Emotions recollected in tranquility on University Ave
In 2021, perhaps some readers may have seen the exhibit at the MAG (March-November) “To Help People See”
Currently on view is the work North Tree by G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, Heron Clan) who many know as Historic Site Manager of Ganondagan State Historic Site.
I hope you will come to the MAG to see it, and consider Jemison’s words here:
Art helps people to see not just a particular piece of art but to see the world about you with fresh eyes. The best of art opens our eyes to see beauty even in things we scarcely noticed previously. Where we saw disorder and little visual stimulus, we now have a new perception. The art may be abstract, it might be an assemblage of objects that individually are banal, but through a new juxtaposition our mind perceives an order, a meaning greater than the parts. About G. Peter Jemison
The roots, in a lacework of what could be shadows, but with no source that seems to correspond to what is visible above ground, remind me of the roots in the Harriet Tubman maquette (which coincidentally is located on a diagonal plane nearby). (4) Combining African art and ritual, Greek mythology, and German aspects of expressionism, Alison Saar challenges stereotypes and offers an indictment of human discrimination. We are fortunate to have her model for the 13-foot Harriet Tubman sculpture in New York City whose title is Swing Low. (5)
Indeed, there is much “unfinished business” and to paraphrase from the excellent speech by Dr. Stephen Brauer about Kota Ezawa’s National Anthem (available on MAG’s Kota Ezawa’s National Anthem: Black Bodies in Protest), there is much in the “unseen making” of what forms our opinion. The beginning of this 21st century may well be remembered by the “bilious churn of 21st century culture wars “and laborious fracture. (6) Today as response, I wish to include poems as part of the artist’s way of sharing perceptions of the world.
Here is poem responding to Saar and her exhibit STILL: “Still Waiting“ by Harryette Mullen. The poem is a series of pertinent questions to guide you to “Just look at the art” (her philosophy)— to see if “you can handle” what you see as you imagine taking the place of the person you see, live his/her experience. She ends with the empathetic wish that you “ engage with care”. She trusts you, as visitor-viewer will use your own experiences to draw meaning rather than being told what something means. I invite you to look at the Dunwoody from behind the Saar, as you review the titles, Swing Low, Still waiting… and this business of liberty for all, unfinished.
Poems and history about the Pledge of Allegiance abound, particularly in this 21st century.
You can go back to the 1950’s and see Red Skeleton’s explanation word by word; read and hear Slam artists recite I pledge allegiance to the flag of a country that’s done nothing for me. I pledge allegiance to a ticking corporate time bomb, counting down the number of people left outside of its marketing cage; read poems written by people living on the US-Mexico border such as Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s “Pledge Allegiance” who puts in the language of a little girl: the pledge to the country/that says it loves me so much, it loves me so much it wants to take my mother far away from me. Or read the words of a ten-year old immigrant, who understands “allegiance to the wind” covers her truth. The question of “pledge” asks to what we give allegiance in Yasmine Ameli’s “I Pledge Allegiance To The Republic”.
Back to Indigenous wisdom, in “Braiding Sweetgrass” you read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poetic vision of the culture of gratitude, where every day you have enough…and respect all creation. This echoes the ring of enough in Shawn Dunwoody’s work, where it is high time to end 400+ years of questionable “liberty, justice for all”. When will “all” truly mean all people, and liberty entails respectful interdependence with no threats, fear of retaliation?
My favorite, is this acrostic/golden shovel, “America is Loving Me to Death” by Michael Kleber-Diggs. (7) Spelled vertically on the left-hand side, “America is loving me to death”. Spelled out word by word as last word on each line is the pledge of allegiance.To quote the Kleber-Diggs poem (line 7-8 : acrostic is; ) In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
The key word is imagine. This is what art helps us do. It is the first important step, and in the process (imagining hopefully is never finished until we breathe our last !) inspires us, gives us hope to strive to make true the words Kleber-Diggs omits in his golden shovel: indivisible with freedom and justice for all. They must not remain in the realm of fictitious fable.
Kitty loves to teach, whether it be French, poetry, or since 1999 as docent at the Memorial Art Gallery. MA French Literature; MFA in creative writing.
Since 2008 she has been leading workshops on art and word, moderating weekly sessions on poetry appreciation. Her work appears in six books, and a variety of reviews and anthologies. You can see her ekphrastic poems from her latest book, Sum:1 published by Foothills Publishing.
 a Native American visual artist and filmmaker who is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation..
 located next to “The Emancipation Proclamation” by William Heyen, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Brockport. These two round pavers by two trees, pay respect to the Earth, and to the indigenous people who stewarded lands and waterways we call home, and those who stewarded them before them. For more on the Poets Walk, see Emotions recollected in tranquility on University Ave
 Visitors at the MAG note these details: pulling up of roots; faces; quilt pieces, locomotive cow-catcher petticoat, determination of posture; facial features.
 Swing Low, has more history than simply a “Negro spiritual”: Just the words, “Composed by a Choctaw Freedman in Oklahoma sometime after 1865” should make one curious. What does “Freedman” mean in the US?
 Symbolic issues and questions of identity occupy a larger and more antagonistic position in the general culture than they did 10 or 20 years ago. As Matthew d’Ancona suggests, this development and the explosion in social media, where millions of people can seek out like-minded opinion-holders, are unlikely to be coincidental. See Everything you wanted to know about the culture wars – but were afraid to ask
 The technique was invented by Terrance Hayes, inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks, “We real Cool” which has the epigram “7 at the Golden Shovel” and repeats “WE” at the end of each line.
ON AND BY KITTY