Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Experiment 2: The Art of DC

Tabla/sax/beatbox concert at Atlas Theater
My parents took me to a good amount of concerts when I was growing up -- Jackson Brown, Don Henley, Sting, U2, Zakhir Hussain, Pandit Jasraj etc. It was a mix of classic rock and classical Indian music, kind of like Concert for George, which embodies both the raag and rock of my upbringing. I eventually peppered their taste with my own flings: the Backstreet Boys, Maroon5, and eventually Ani Difranco and one random night with Styx.

Partly because of this, I've always subscribed to the idea that art is one of the few things worth paying for -- concert tickets, books, paintings, instruments. These, along with travel, are worth my paycheck, and make for an easy sacrifice of things like fashion, makeup, cab rides and expensive drinks.

As my second experiment this year, I spent the last few weeks discovering DC's art, in all it's forms. I attended slam poetry events, visited the Hirschorn twice for an Ai Wei Wei exhibit, perused the National Art Gallery with a teleguide, listened to jazz, spoke to street artists from Nigeria and Northeast, saw a tabla-sax-violin-beatbox concer at Atlas Theatre, and went to a handful of photo exhibitions.
Nat'l Art Gallery

It isn't hard to find art in this city. You just have to stay off the Hill and say yes to every invitation you get, every flyer you see on a lamppost. And suddenly there's a 15-year-old kid standing in front of you reciting a poem about the emotional and physical abuse that daggered through his childhood,  making your entire body shake because you can't lift your fingers to snap when someone's soul has taken over the theater.

You learn that a man's curated pile of rusty rods and portraits of his middle finger were strong enough to have him detained by the Chinese government, and that the swiftness of a painter's brushstroke can speak volumes about his mental, physical and political state. There's ancient, and new, and accidental, and ruined. There is art from the poor and  rich, and  from men who decided to equate a smaller "package" with masculinity because they had control of the industry.

DC Youth Poetry Slam
The art immersion was a reminder about creating. About writing stories even when nobody will read them -- stories that are an extension of daydreams and reeling thoughts on long train rides. About making compositions on my tabla even if I'm a novice, because those beats are just as instructive as the ones penciled in my book.

I think it's cheesy to say I discovered art this month. I never lost art, whatever that word means, and I've always valued the delicate design and rhythm of the places I've lived. But I also think that an intentional focus on that graffiti in Shaw and the guy at the farmer's market with pen sketches has shed light on the District's relationships. It's a chronicle of the city's heartbreak and strength and violence -- and it's told through acrylic, wood, word and the absence thereof.

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