by Bhima Aryateja
(THE IRISH TIMES, LttW, DUBLIN) Poverty is often related to all things negative. To some extent, poverty can even lead to crimes, violence, drug abuse, etc.; although in reality, we don’t really care about much, do we?
In this case, there is one who does. A German artist named Andrea Büttner responses poverty through art. She sees poverty as a virtue, as presented in her Solo exhibition at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland, opened from January 24 throughout March 19, 2014. Büttner, a PhD at the Royal College of Art, London, has long been interested in subjects as ‘poverty’, ‘shame’, and ‘vulnerability’. Büttner’s works have surprised many audiences by the thoughts and symbols she used as response to the complex and problematic issue like poverty.
Inspired by the links between the notions of poverty as expressed in the 12th century by St Francis of Assisi, and in the 20th century by the Italian art movement of arte povera – radical art is (in theory) free from the concerns of the marketplace, she doesn’t view poverty as a state of devastating physical want. Within this corridor of thinking, she realized that poverty is one reason that makes many people feel ashamed; but there is also other things left unnoticed, that is the artistic, philosophical, religious and political explorations of poverty can also worked as a conscious choice, to be part of a good way of living the world.
To do so, she distills ideas and things down to a simple form. Her fabric sculptures, for example, are a series of square monochrome abstracts, each a slab of intense color. She clearly likes the idea of taking a humble, workaday material and recasting it in a pure, aesthetic form in the privileged context of an art gallery. Similarly, she uses plywood shuttering to make her woodcuts. Shuttering is a disposable building material commonly used to shape cast concrete structures such as the gallery itself, as she points out. The woodcuts refer to St Francis of Assisi.
In the end, Andrea Büttner has shown us that there are many ways to response to issue as poverty, how complex and intricate it may seem. To artist Andrea Büttner, poverty is “good”; and her art can show you that she really care about poverty—let’s hope so. Now the challenge is, how to make one really care about what the art says? One such as myself.
Caring is believing
Poverty itself, however, has more than one definition, and area of ‘problem’. One figure which has been suggested is that an income of half the national average indicates poverty; the World Bank Organisation measures poverty based on incomes, or in this case, a person is considered poor if his or her income level falls below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs; the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions, also debility due to malnutrition.
Within those definitions, I may trapped to the very common perception of poverty as a state of indignity or helplessness, and moreover, the human inability to create something positive out of it. Having live my life this way all this time, perhaps this constant ignorance had become a habit of mine that’s very hard to get out of. Thus, issue as poverty is neither mine to care, nor mine to comprehend.
Happily though, there are also others who care and take a stand before it; ones who are able to see it as a force of courage, creativity, and conscience within self and others. In the latter case, art is a very good example of one who can gain from and even rise up above poverty. In the context of art’s creation, poverty can be experienced as both artistic and aesthetical force. In fact, we have witnessed the birth of many great works of arts that derived from such force, such as El Sistema, Kool Herc, Jean Michel Basquiat, and more.
Having seen many examples as such caring individuals and groups, I realize how often I complain about how ignorant people are about poverty, when I’m actually one of them. Poverty is still around us; in fact, it is very close to where I live. So I guess ‘seeing is believing’ is far than enough if one speaks about poverty. It takes a lot of caring as well; then the world will start to believe.