Thursday, October 17, 2013

Curtains

In our New School history class yesterday, we took the students to the Orozco room. One student took the panorama below, which, for all the inevitable distortion, gives a remarkably good sense of it as a space. Behind J and me, you see "Struggle in the Orient," a tableau you may recognize; just beyond us are the portraits of Gandhi and Naidu. Between the windows is the "Table of Universal Brotherhood," with its multiracial vision of global harmony, occasion for many a bigoted response in its time. (Today we see mainly missing women.) To their right is "Struggle in the West" with Mexico, Lenin and goose-stepping Soviets, including Joseph Stalin. This is the wall which was once covered over with a yellow curtain - see the image from "New School Keeps Red Mural Hidden" below.

This visit was, I dare say, the highlight of a week which somehow fell flat. The analog last time round was a great success - "I think we did the three-ring circus of The New School proud today," I crowed - so this was a bit of a surprise. The week was devoted to two important programs which, for a brief time in the 1940s, made The New School an even more than usually cool place - Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop and the Ecole Libre - and the theme of art as politics. Plenty interesting, you might think... but not to our mostly Parsons students. That what we hope is a complicated but empowering sense of place means little to them was clear from my students' response to the Orozco room. It's dated; worse, in its way, it's off-limits to students. And when I showed them the recent cool student efforts to bring it up to date, indifference: what would be the point of trying to make it relevant today? It's a slumpy part of the semester in a class already dealing with the low morale of required courses, but these responses cut to the quick. Next time, we hope for more interested students; even then, we may have to leave these parts of the story out.

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