SOS Art: A Retrospective
It is often difficult for an artist to find venues for works that are extremely political, especially when they espouse a point of view alternative to mainstream thinking.
But for the past three years, Cincinnati physician and artist Saad Ghosn has organized "SOS Art," a series of exhibitions that have allowed artists to speak out on a variety of social, political and highly personal issues.
"They only remained up for a very short period of time, so not many people had a chance to see them," Ghosn said.
So this year, a retrospective of the previous shows includes works by 50 regional artists.
Although the timing suggests that the war in Iraq was the inspiration for "SOS Art" — which stands for "Save Our Souls," Ghosn said — the works also take aim a lot of local and regional issues. Timothy Thomas, the 19-year-old black man who's death at the guns of the Cincinnati Police Department was instrumental in sparking the 2001 riots, makes several appearances, for instance, including Steven Fox's photo montage titled "Justice," which depicts a Cincinnati Police badge half-buried in a mountain of human skulls.
Jimi Jones' painting "The Riot: A Tale of Two Mothers" compares the grief of two mothers, 2000 years apart, Jesus' mother Mary and Thomas' mother Angela Leisure.
"Both men were descended from slaves and members of minority groups," said Jones' statement. "I grieve for both of them."
Next to that, however, is a painting sporting the words and title "Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction," an ironic statement made by President George W. Bush in regard to the war in Iraq and the goal of democratizing the Middle East, begging the question of whether the United States, the only nation to have ever detonated an atomic weapon on an enemy, is a free nation or not.
One of Ghosn's own works in the exhibition, "We Will Make Oil Out of Their Bodies" refers to unsubstantiated rumors that Nazi death camp operators used the dead bodies of Holocaust victims to make soap. His construction using "corpses" of dismembered fashion dolls, however, clearly refers to the death of Middle East innocents in the battle for that region's oil reserves.
Jenny Ustick's "Leichen Verbrannt" was inspired by a trip to Auschwitz, one of the Holocaust sites, which is now "simultaneously a solemn memorial and a tourist destination."
Ghosn said that while the works in "SOS Art" are highly provocative, they haven't generated a lot of controversy.
"I think that the people who disagree have just looked the other way," he said.