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Life Arts

Women Artists Defy Gulf Oil Tragedy

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A few years back I was in Tokyo for a Japanese P.E.N. conference on art and disaster. The theme focused on how art flows from the human response to cataclysm. Nature can be the great destroyer and the great healer at the same time. But what happens when humankind destroys nature, as is certainly the case in the BP oil catastrophe that has turned portions of the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic soup, taking eleven lives in the process? When we turn our backs on nature, will she still be there to heal us?

While struggling to make sense of it all through writing and reporting here on the Huffington Post, something profoundly interesting happened through a Facebook connection. I received a message from someone I did not know--a woman artist from New Orleans who wanted to show me a painting she did in response to the fear and uncertainty she was experiencing a month into the environmental disaster. She said she was having trouble concentrating on her work, "so paralyzed by the stress and fear surrounding me that I couldn't paint anything for almost a month." These were the same feelings she had experienced after Hurricane Katrina, "that same sense of anxiety, despair, frustration and anger towards yet another man-made catastrophe in my front, back and side yards; my personal journey had included way too much turmoil; my God I thought, why can't we get a freakin' break?"

As the days marched on and the oil continued to flow, I heard from more women, some that I knew and others who were strangers to me, but all healers in their own ways. It was as if they were all reaching through the same dark tunnel toward the healing powers of creation itself. Their art incorporated individual acts of defiance against the atrocity of BP's negligence, and in the process of creating these bold acts of emotional insubordination they brought forth hope, as women often do in their roles as healers and life-givers. Each offered tender mercies, and by living their lives fully as personal acts of creation, they nourished the souls around them as surely as the amniotic waters of the womb nourish and shelter life. They worried about their children, about the marsh grasses, about the beaches, the birds, the shrimpers, the beautiful waters of Barataria Bay, and about the ability of big business and big oil to rob them of all they held holy. These women, now heroines in my mind, worked quietly and screamed loudly, creating snapshots of life, death, laughter and tears as they fought against the fear.

It is worthwhile, that you meet some of them. They include the artist I mentioned, a filmmaker, a blogging Episcopalian grandmother, a fierce rocking delta hip-hop blues singer, a Catholic sister working tirelessly for human rights, and a native leader of an almost forgotten fisher People.

Anne Cicero

Louisiana artist Anne Cicero is well known for her contemporary landscape paintings As she watched her beloved coast of Grand Isle awash in oil and struggled with her own deeply-held emotions, Edward Munch's iconic painting "The Scream" came to mind, as well as the Neil Young song "Mother Nature on the Run." Cicero initially though about running away and how "painful it was to watch Mother Nature, the provider of so many positive things-- beautiful waterways, trees, animals, the marshes, sailing, skiing, boating, fishing, seafood," and wondered "how will SHE survive?"

Then, Cicero picked up her brush and began to paint her frustration.

The result was a stunning depiction of "Mother Nature on the Run."

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Mother Nature on the Run

"The figure represents Mother Nature and yet it also represents me, my personal journey; walking and running out of one of my landscapes," Cicero wrote. "I'm trying to find a way to fit into this disaster but turning my/her back on the whole mess. She's in the foreground with the cracked and distant horizon line in the background."

Like Cicero, Mother Nature is "uncomfortable--not sure where to go or how to deal with the environment or what the future will hold for us."

Bess Carrick

Bess Carrick is an award-winning New Orleans filmmaker, producer and creator of "The Barataria Chronicles." The Chronicle series is meant to be a collection of video diaries and conversations, impressions of Barataria Bay, and the people Carrick meets along the way in the aftermath of the BP disaster that "that threatens their homes, the marshes near them and their way of life," Carrick says.

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Carrick taught herself the basics of the editing program Final Cut so that she could immediately capture impressions of the disaster. There was no time to waste. The first installment interviews Barataria resident, Dorothy Wiseman. The camera rarely leaves the handsome, elegant woman's face as she articulates the fear, the anxiety and the unanswered questions about the effects of the oil. Pay careful attention to the timeline at about one minute in as the video cuts to a possibly oiled dolphin swimming in Barataria Bay while Wiseman talks about "fear in the faces" of residents and the hundreds of "what ifs." The image of the frantic dolphin needs no explanation. This is strong, bold filmmaking--created out of necessity and not design. Carrick's passion is not about monetary profit; it is a search for truth, and the resilience and defiance of the human spirit. This series is available for viewing on YouTube, Citizen Global, and coming soon on The Barataria Chronicles website.

"Queen G," Gaynielle Neville, used the creative power of dreams as the inspiration for the uncompromising and angry "Poisoning Our Waters." If her name sounds familiar, she is married to Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, and you can find a nice profile of the couple in Break Through Media Magazine.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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The English invaded and some will say they have wo... by Margo on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 1:07:35 PM
Who wants to rewrite this song, adding fighting wo... by Mac McKinney on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 4:46:35 PM
Hello All,Ironically, I consider this to be the mo... by Georgianne Nienaber on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 1:36:13 PM
and the women whom you write about are the stuff t... by Margo on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 4:42:53 PM
Great story, great women. Thanks for sharing this ... by denialator on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 3:11:27 PM
is very cool. thanks.... by Georgianne Nienaber on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 6:50:27 PM
It makes we weep happy tears to see a woman writer... by Theresa Paulfranz on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 4:06:56 PM
Thanks all for "getting it." You all said it bette... by Georgianne Nienaber on Friday, Aug 13, 2010 at 4:59:37 PM
Much obliged for bringing these angels to by martinweiss on Saturday, Aug 14, 2010 at 12:31:29 AM
to hear from you, "Martin." I received a note from... by Georgianne Nienaber on Saturday, Aug 14, 2010 at 8:06:13 AM
Fantastic beauty from the disasters and foolishnes... by Richard Spisak on Saturday, Aug 14, 2010 at 8:27:14 PM