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Self Portraits On Sticks

By Seth Nicholls

I had a difficult time with art galleries growing up. Staring at the paintings, arranged like flowers in a vase would leave me feeling lacking when compared to my peers. My family would wander about looking like they understood everything they saw, a talent I sorely lacked. They would move around the room as if they were following the red threads of a mystery to that perfect conclusion that wrapped everything up. On the other hand, I would continuously fail to see whatever truths might be buried underneath the brushstrokes. I would listen to conversations and debates about art. Expressionism and Baroque and blah blah blah blah BLAH. Most of all, I would often feel that what I saw was too simple to care for, pretty things painted and posted and not worth any more than a cursory glance. Attempts to engage with the theme of such art would leave me stuck at that. “Yes, that’s love, I’ve seen it before”. “Yes, this means pride, I’ve seen that before too”. “Of course this is about war, isn’t everything these days?”

Entering university, I had a similar disposition towards the forms of protest I would see around campus. Sure, they were certainly interesting, but I was never bothered enough to leave the house. They made for captivating debate, but I definitely didn’t engage. People find a lot of meaning in them, yeah, but I couldn’t see that at all. The poster campaigns denouncing racism or the animal abuse activists or even the marches that would block the streets would make me think, “Well, no shit! It’s kind of obvious you shouldn’t be racist or abuse animals” and “Why do you even need to demonstrate anymore?” This was ridiculously misguided.

Last year, I heard about the Hong Kong protests. I had followed the news stories and had seen the crowds of protesters, a damn near army of them, all marching together for their freedom and safety. I was blown away by the scale of it, the commanding passion of people fighting for justice in a way I hadn’t seen outside of documentaries and snoozy history lessons. In these protestors, I saw such a passion to fight that I decided to participate in whatever small way I could.

Through friends I learned of the Stand with Hong Kong protest, which took place last year. Placards were to be held and videos were to be played and people would gather with candles in solidarity with the Hong Kong protests. I was already gaining more respect for my fellow protesters. As we gathered around to spread the word about Hong Kong, a couple walked by us. One of them said, “I wonder what this is? Oh yeah, this shit again?” Hearing that filled me with bitterness. “This shit again?” “This shit again?!” How disrespectful can you be? It was at that moment I realised the fault of my former world view.

The realities of war, pride, love, or any other theme, should always be expressed over and over. It is essential that these messages are continued to be shown so as to cement them. Even if you “know this shit already,” even if you’ve “seen this shit before,” we have to continue to support important messages for social change, because there are still people unconvinced. There are still people like I once was, who stop themselves from getting in deep and understanding the nuances of the situation and the best we can do to help them is to continue to share these messages. We must show them what is important to us, even if we fill the streets carrying self-portraits on sticks.


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