Miranda Ward – Hope & Optimism in the Art World

I have this fondness for the word juxtapositions. It appears to be constantly on the tip of my fingers, the edge of my tongue. I overuse it (we all have a few words we overuse–one of my favorite bits of Vanity Fair’s back page Proust Questionnaire was always the question “which word or phrase do you most overuse”, though most of the jaded celebrities the magazine chose to interview generally answered with something akin to “cuntsucker, of course”). So I’m going to use it again, and when I’m a famous and jaded person with enough wrinkles and sarcastic asides to warrant being featured on the last pages of magazines, I’ll tell them that the phrase I most overuse is “I’m sorry”, because I’m also going to apologize for using it, but…please note the fabulous, fantastic, phantasmagoric juxtapositions above (phantasmagoric: “characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions”–I checked!).

I think images have a tendency to be seen as what they are; but overlooked for what they represent. I don’t mean reading into the art of an image, like you would a book, and coming up with symbolism and metaphor. We do that readily enough; art historians make a career of it. But the amazing thing to me about the prints above, though I find them striking and some of them even beautiful, is their story, their placement, and the fact that they all live within one international art portfolio: so that a piece of work from Iraq is literally sandwiched between one from the USA and one from England, while a print from Israel rests peacefully next to one from Palestine.

The images are all from something called the Hope & Optimism Portfolio, which was set up by a friend of ours early, early in the 1990′s as a charity to benefit the arts in young Namibia. A number of identical portfolios, each composed of about 90 original, signed, and numbered prints from nearly as many nations, were produced; but it’s been practically 20 years since it all happened, and still a few complete portfolios remain in storage. Selling them is hard work, mainly because of the sheer scope of the project: it’s difficult for a gallery to justify purchasing 90+ prints when they don’t have space to display them all. But I’m attracted to the project for what it proves: nations at odds can still be part of something greater than themselves, can still cooperate, can still, rather crucially, create rather than destruct (or do I just like the whole thing because it gives me a valid excuse to say “juxtapositions” ten times daily?). I’m both hopeful and optimistic that the right people will see that as well, and give the prints a home.