Art for a Better World – May

May 24th, 2014  |  Published in *, Features, May 2014

by Saad Ghosn

I. Images For A Better World: Nathan WEIKERT, Visual Artist

Nathan Weikert was born and raised in Kettering, Ohio. He graduated from Miami University with a BS in art education (1998), a BFA in painting (1998), and a MA in art education (2002). In 2013 he had a solo exhibition at 1305 Gallery in Over The Rhine and earned an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.

Weikert is also an art educator who has 14 years of teaching experience in the public schools. He currently teaches visual art at Lakota East High School in West Chester. In 2011-12, he was an art instructor for the Cincinnati Public Schools for a 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant. In the summer of 2013 he was an Artworks Project Manager for the 12th and Vine mural.

The span of Weikert’s drawings and paintings is aesthetically and conceptually broad, but here the work is relatively narrow in focus and loosely classified within the genre of history painting. Unlike traditional history painting Weikert does not attempt to depict a moment in a story. Instead, he simply resurrects images of people, known or unknown, who have been misrepresented, trivialized, forgotten, and/or intentionally removed from this country’s historical recollection. Conveniently forgetting about atrocities for which we are responsible is “historical amnesia.” Noam Chomsky explains, “Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead.”  For Weikert this work is more than mere documentation – the creative act of drawing/painting serves as a ritual for repentance, apology, and healing. The work is an offering of love for both the victims and perpetrators of historical violence, and an emotional reminder of the moral imperative of looking at ourselves honestly in the mirror.

The Archbishop, oil on linen

Archbishop Romero, graphite on paper

The Archbishop and Archbishop Romero are images of the El Salvadorian Archbishop, Oscar Romero. Romero criticized the United States for giving military aid to the new repressive government of El Salvador and wrote President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased US military aid would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the political repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights.”  Shortly thereafter Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass. In 1993 it was confirmed by the United Nations that the man responsible for Romero’s assassination was Roberto D’Aubuisson who trained at the School of the Americas, a United States Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia.

Celina, 2011, oil on canvas

El Salvador’s civil war raged between 1980 and 1991 and resulted in the death of 75,000 civilians. In the early morning of November 16, 1989, a group of 50 Salvadoran soldiers surrounded the Pastoral Center at the University of Central America and proceeded to murder six Jesuit priests, the housekeeper and her daughter. Celina is a portrait of the slain 15 year old daughter, Celina Ramos.

Che, 2006, graphite on paper

Wekert appropriated Che from a death image of the slain revolutionary Che Guevara.  Images of his dead body were taken to prove his death, but for many the bearded Guevara shared a likeness with Jesus and had the unintended consequence of strengthening his legend as a martyr and heroic defender of the poor.

Down, charcoal on paper


The image for Down was appropriated and cropped by Weikert from a documentary photo of two civil rights activist in training. In an unsuspected act of solidarity, one activist hits another in preparation for the violence they would likely encounter in the South.

Midnight Cowboy, charcoal on paper

Weikert took Midnight Cowboy from a campaign image of Ronald Reagan. He felt that the faceless Reagan was perhaps a more honest image of this “American cowboy” and used it to comment on the deceitful practice of creating illusionary and contentless public personas in order to gain political favor.

Black Nose, oil on canvas

In Black Nose Weikert painted the image of Camila Antonia Amaranta Vallejo Dowling, a Chilean activist and most visible leader of the 2011 Chilean student protest. Camila Antonia is a member of the Chilean House of Deputies and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth of Chile.

II. Words For A Better World: Karen GEORGE, Literary Artist

Karen George has lived in Northern Kentucky all her life. She holds a BA in English and Computer Science from Thomas More College, and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University. Her chapbook, Into the Heartland, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2011, and a second poetry chapbook, Inner Passage, will be released by Red Bird Chapbooks in May 2014. She has received grants from The Kentucky Foundation for Women and The Kentucky Arts Council. Her work has appeared in Memoir, Tupelo Press 30/30 Website, Still, Wind, Louisville Review, Permafrost, Border Crossing, and Blast Furnace. She reviews poetry and interviews poets at POETRY MATTERS:

George spends time listening to music, visiting gardens, parks, woods, bodies of water and art exhibits; she practices Reiki, healing energy work that balances the chakras. Since she retired from computer programming to write full-time, she also has more time to visit historic river towns and mountains. On her first European trip to Paris, she rekindled her love of Impressionist art that led her to begin a collection of ekphrastic poems based on Monet paintings she viewed at Musee d’ Orsay. The walls of her home hold art by local artists that continues to provide a flow of positive energy.

George can’t imagine her life without writing. She believes what poet William Carlos Williams said, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” What she finds in poetry, and all art, is an examination, an inquiry, a quest, and hopefully a discovery and/or celebration of our connections and disconnections as human beings. She believes poetry, and all art, connects us to each other and all of life with its contradictions and dualities intertwined. By writing from a place of unknowing George can hopefully arrive at a place of deeper understanding of herself, others, and the world.

1.    George wrote “Dilemmas” after a dream spurred by watching the documentary Wild Madagascar, which revealed that at least 15 species of Madagascar lemurs had already gone extinct, and that the remaining were threatened by habitat loss from extreme deforestation— the slash-and-burn agriculture of the island’s desperately poor inhabitants, (who also hunt and eat the lemurs), and the cutting of trees for fuel and by commercial logging. The film nudged her to be more mindful of our impact on animal species and Earth’s ecosystems.


~ after watching the documentary “Wild Madagascar”


Imagine, sixty million years ago,
the first lemurs floated on matted plants
to an island cleaved from a continent.
Now, they’re endangered by logging
and the poor who eat them.

I dream of lemurs
thriving in Kentucky.

At dusk they descend
from pine, locust, shagbark hickory,
cross the sliding glass
threshold I keep open,
line up in clans led by matriarchs,
litter shards of nut shells, pine cones,
ricket and beetle legs.

They groom with toothcomb and tongue,
climb my books, piles of poems,
snort, chirp, shriek, purr—
tiny mouse lemurs
to tall ring-tailed and aye-aye,
long middle fingers tap-tapping.

I wake, wishing
all adaptation that easy.

2.    In “Impulse to Judge” George meant to explore how easily we can make false assumptions, and fall into judging something or someone we don’t fully understand. We can judge people by their ethnicity, religious beliefs, or something as insignificant as a silk scarf.

Impulse to Judge

Across from me, a woman lifts from her lap
a large silk scarf (swirl of fans, feathers, flowers),
covers her blonde hair, pale face, releases
a sigh that flutters the fringed edge.

I’m quick to assume it’s some form of protest
against women forced to wear burkas,
those judging women in burkas,
or to support diversity.

Her turn to introduce herself,
she folds back the scarf, half opens
blue-gray eyes, explains the migraine
makes her light-sensitive.

I settle in my chair,
inhale the silk glow
of gold, green, azure.
3. “Homogenization” deals with another complex human tendency to control and measure, to classify things, to decide that there is a certain standard way things, and even people, should be and/or act. And if they don’t follow what is determined to be normal, then we often go to any lengths to force them to conform


Every time I pass the hydrangea, I smile
at the rogue shoot a foot above the bush,
resist the urge to prune. Soon enough
condo lawnmen will lop it off.
Meanwhile it continues to inch
toward the lap of light.

Why are we so compelled to level,
trim to some one true shape,
despite an equal, opposite need to gush
against the grain like salmon to spawn?

Revel in disorder:
the pleasure of hanging
art off-center, the not-telling
a coworker the opal of her necklace
nestles at the nape of her neck,
clasp in the notch between clavicles.

4. Monet’s painting, “Ice Floes on the Seine at Bougival,” painted in 1867, which shows people gathering water at the river Seine, made George think about how hard life was back in the nineteenth century, compared to current times, and about all we take for granted and are wasteful with, such as hot and cold water at the push of a handle. And then to consider how, in many parts of the world, people still are forced to walk to get their water, and how for some it’s a daily struggle to find a safe water source.

Monet’s “Ice Floes on the Seine at Bougival,” 1867

Sky consumes half the painting, a steel grey mass
same as the wide river with slabs of ice, one stretched
ten times long as the stooped figures not much
more than smudges, bare as the wood posts, spent
matchsticks leaning this way and that.

They’ve come to the jagged edge for water.
Two wait their turn behind a woman
who kneels with one pail submerged,
the white of her bonnet dissolved
against the snow-choked ground.

Two canoes pulled onto shore are looped together
by a rope tied to something not in view.
A hint of houses, spare brushstrokes of pitched roofs,
huddle in a triangle of trees that narrows
near the scene’s center where sky and water merge.

A side view of the woman who dips
her pail in the river, gazes to the opposite shore,
its dark-snarled poplars mirrored
in the river like nubs of rotted teeth
or haunts who gathered water there year after year.

The pale sun provides no warmth,
her cloak not thick enough.
Hired out at fourteen, twice daily she plods
to the Seine, tries not to think about the soiled path
behind her, how far she must go, handles dug into her palms.

How easy to lean
toward the flow, slip
into the liquid bed.
Cold creeps up her arm, her hand held
by the frigid river forever.

5. George wrote “The Older I Get, the More I Question” after a stranger confronted her at a local garden center. Her first impulse was to challenge him with her own beliefs on spiritual diversity, and ask him, “But what about the Torah, Quran, Tripitaka, Vedas?”

The Older I Get, the More I Question

As I linger at fragrant lilac and daphne,
a man ambushes me
with What church do you go to?
None, I say, as I aim
for blue hydrangeas, white viburnum,
wanting to add, right now.

Near the knock-out roses he presses,
But you do believe in God?
and I say, In a way, keep walking,
eyes on an urn of deep purple
petunias, orange marigolds,
yellow lantana, crimson coleus.

I pass through the exit gates,
pleased I didn’t tell him I want
no part of a faith that shuns gays,
allows women only lesser roles,
claims our inherent evil,
values guilt or shame.

His question, What about the Bible?
lapses into air honeyed
with hum of bees,
swaying begonia baskets,
sweet alyssum, impatiens,
licorice vine.

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