2017 IWF World Leadership Conference Presentation
In October 2017, Carole Feuerman presented at the International Women's Forum World Leadership Conference in Houston as part of the Ideas Remaking the World segment of the program. The following are the text of her speech and its accompanying images.
As an artist, I have travelled to many countries around the world. On any given day, I might be standing in front of an audience of leaders like yourselves, or discussing the construction of my artwork with a viewer just walking by my sculpture. Working as an artist has brought me into contact with people who share both similar and different beliefs and has expanded my perceptions. Being able to take part in these local and global exchanges have profoundly affected the artworks that I make, driving me to create art that touches people emotionally.
One of the great challenges facing us today is that we often feel powerless when it comes to helping others and to solving problems. We may feel disconnected and unable to change world issues but we must not be quiet. Only through letting ourselves be heard can we have a say in shaping our world.
There are many artists who have used their art to bring about change. Some of these artists may be familiar to you, such as Picasso. Others, who you may not know, have used diverse ways of communicating their perceptions to the viewer.
Guernica, for instance, represents Picasso’s moving anti-war testimonial. This large-scale painting conveys the chaos and torment of war.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei created his works under a repressive regime. He made a temporary studio on the Greek Island of Lesbos to bring attention to the plight of the millions of immigrants trying to enter Europe. He posted images of a helpless toddler being washed ashore, and laid his own body down to be photographed, saying that each human life is of equal importance. His photos shocked the world, making people aware of human tragedies.
He famously said, “There’s no refugee crisis, but only a human crisis”.
He is an artist who is making a difference!
Another example of an artist changing the world is the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. He created a sculpture of a knotted gun, called Non-Violence, after the murder of John Lennon in 1980. It was first installed in Central Park across the street from Lennon's home. The sculpture was later moved to the U.N. headquarters where it can be seen today. The bronze sculpture has enriched the consciousness of humanity with a powerful symbol that encapsulates the greatest prayer of man: that which asks not for victory, but for peace. It has become a symbol of the ongoing struggle for gun control and non-violence worldwide.
The Guerrilla Girls, the anonymous feminist activist group, are another example of how artists focus on issues to expose gender, ethnic bias and corruption. It isn't necessary for any of them to know how to draw. Instead, they find original ways to convey powerful messages which they then show in public forums. They wear gorilla masks and use facts, humor, and outrageous visuals. They have made more than a hundred street projects from billboards to art demonstrations.
In 1981, moved by immigrants that I saw floating from Cuba into Key West, I made my second swimmer sculpture, a contemplative woman resting peacefully on an inflatable tube. This serene and meditative sculpture, which I called the Survival of Serena, was exhibited in the 2005 Venice Biennale in Italy. She was re-named “Serenissima” after the Island of Venice.
I have used my works to be my voice. Images can speak volumes to people and be very powerful. After 9/11, I turned from my hyperrealistic figurative art and began making bronze spheres. I also made a series of sculptures called Seen but not Heard. These sculptures all have strong messages that express how I feel bout many world issues.
In my first sphere sculpture, Still Standing, I show that in spite of the fragmentation and empty areas, which represent bombings and violence, we remain one world, and are still here!
In my sculpture, Seen but Not Heard, I portray a young girl with her eyes closed and her mouth taped shut. She is bound as if she is not able to be heard. In front of her is a bowl with no food in it.
In my sculpture, It Seems, we see the plight of all too many women who are not allowed to be seen or heard. They are wrapped in cellophane and paper-like objects to be bought or sold.
In my latest sculpture, called Chrysalis, I show a woman in meditation, praying for world peace and tolerance. She is seated on top of a polished stainless-steel sphere that represents the world. When the viewer looks into the sphere, they see themselves.
You can also effect change by doing one small thing at a time. You don't have to do much, the point is, you just have to do something! Even a small thing makes a difference. If each one of you did one positive thing, the world would be a better place. Speak up, sign petitions, write letters, or sit down with someone who has the power to change things.
Most of us know the feeling of being moved by a work of art, whether it is a painting or a sculpture, a poem, a play, or a dance. When we are moved, we are touched; and then we are transported to a new place. We become aware of things that were previously unfamiliar to us, situations that we didn’t focus on before. I believe that this is one of the major responsibilities of artists, to make people feel and see.
The contributions of artists have all too often been overlooked. When we think of leaders who make a difference, we may not think of artists as leaders. However, they have shaped cities and communities, and they have influenced people's feelings for hundreds of years.
Artists can also make art about uplifting experiences. They can effectively drive people's sensibilities to be aware of all the good and beautiful things in the world. I started making art when I was six years old. My art has shown me another way to communicate. My messages are hopeful and easy to understand.
Thirty years ago, people were not embracing my art the way they are today. The popular art was about doom and gloom, or it was expressionistic, with no discernible message, but people need balance. People want to reflect on beauty, on things they are familiar with, and on normalcy.
I have participated in many Art Biennales all over the world. Biennales join nations together, showing the best of their country’s art. This year, I have the honor of exhibiting 10 of my sculptures in Giardini Della Marinaressa, during the Venice Biennale in Italy. The show called Personal Structures, Open Borders, a fitting title, will be visited by more than half a million people.
What kind of world do you want to live in?
Can you imagine a world without art, a world without creativity?
Art motivates us to think. Art is not exclusive. You can join in. It's free. These days, we are focused on achieving materialistic things and making money. Now is the time to focus on making our voices heard.
Each and every one of you can engage in art and claim your place in history.
At this critical juncture, I believe artists have an obligation to speak through their work. You’ve all heard the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, but art is even more than that. Art teaches, it heals, and it influences opinions. Art opens cultural borders and helps us get to know each other, transforming our differences.
And why do we love images so much? One side of the human brain dedicates itself to visual processing. Our love of images lies with our cognitive ability to pay attention. Our encounters with art, and with others over art, can help us to be more tolerant and identify with one another, expand our notions of who we are, and show us that individual engagement in the world has actual consequences. Ultimately, each of us must maintain the courage of our convictions to meet the extraordinary challenges that confront our world.
As you saw in my work, it is about survival, balance, courage, and strength. These are the messages that can bring global change. Each of you in this room can appreciate and understand this, and that's why you are making a difference. That's why you are here. You are critical to our survival as a global community.
We must start now to change the thinking of the past, and speak about the problems of the present, and the infinite possibilities of the future. The moment we find our voice, we are set free!