Last week I had the pleasure of attending the first Honors lecture of the fall semester. Dr. Naida Zukic was the featured speaker and her topic was “Lost in Language – Violence/Art of Resilience.” It was a heady topic that, I am sure challenged the students’ critical thinking and intellectual boundaries. In essence she suggested that performance art – in this case Japanese Butoh dance – can be used as a way for us to think more deeply about trauma, terror, genocide, and violence. She referenced a number of incidents including the killings at Charlie Hebdo in France, Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, and the police killings that led to the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States. She argued that while mass media “frames” these events in one minute sound bites, the true understanding is “…often hidden and silenced.”
Through performance art she suggested to the honors students that they could find a space where they could become an “ethical witness rather than a voyeuristic spectator of trauma.” In this space, art could be the medium for reflective critical thinking. Dr. Zukic was abstract and complicated at times and used a litany of citations including Judith Butler, Susan Sontag and Slavoj Zizek. Yet, throughout her talk, she kept asking all of us very simply – how do we experience war, crisis, and trauma.
It is my deepest of hopes that when the honors students first saw the media framing of the terrible killings at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College that they could sort through the complexity of the recent honors lecture and conjure new lenses so that they could be that ethical witness rather than a voyeuristic spectator of the CNN portrayed horror and trauma.
It is also my deepest of hope that the greater public will someday learn that we can no longer be voyeurs of unspeakable violence but must become ethical advocates for policy and practice that ends – in the words of Dr. Zukic – “the blindness of the continued accumulation of these atrocities.”
While it may help, it does not take the performance art space to be critical thinkers and ethical witnesses, it takes the courage and attention Dr. Zukic imparted to our students – a lesson we should all learn from.