Democracy for artist and programmer Saad Ghosn means turning away no artists from exhibiting work in SOS Art 2005, his third show of sociopolitical art advocating peace and justice throughout the world. (The exhibit continues at The Mockbee through May 8; go to www.themockbee.org for hours.) The collected artwork fills all three floors of the massive Mockbee performance space in Brighton, further proof of the inclusive community spirit behind Ghosn's efforts.
What SOS Art 2005 lacks in quality — no other exhibition displays as wide a gap regarding skill and technique — it replaces with goodwill. The show encompasses 120 artists, complemented by close to 70 children from area schools. Many of the works on The Mockbee's stone walls aren't polished, but their pro-peace message is loud and clear.
Ghosn is working to make his exhibition an annual part of the arts landscape, but changes are needed. The core problem with SOS Art 2005 — the issue with many activist events — is that the artwork reaches only the converted. If shows like this are to change the world surrounding the art, they have to reach out to detractors more than fans.
Nothing is abstract in SOS Art 2005, and there's little ambiguity.
The peace metaphors are point blank. A drawn oil derrick made of guns spurts blood instead of oil. Christmas lights create a religious sanctuary with a tank at the center instead of a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Song lyrics from "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan and "Sky Pilot" by The Animals are printed on signage. "Afghanistan Freedom Strategy" is an ink jet print from artist Claude Spires that states that heroin production has returned to Afghanistan. There are photos of African refugees, child soldiers and Thai sex slaves.
Every political issue is addressed, but a charcoal drawing of the late activist Maurice McCracken confirms how much work still needs to be done to recreate Cincinnati as a more peaceful place.
Only the children offer any variety of opinions. Students from Corryville Catholic Elementary take a stance against a woman's right to choose with posters that proclaim "Stop Abortion" and "Thou Shalt Not Kill." It's not a message one expects to find at a political art show, but SOS Art 2005 is better for the variety of stances.
Ghosn is an Arab-American artist who also works as a medical practitioner at Veterans Hospital. I first met him during his February 2003 show at UC's Edwards Center, a series of pen-and-ink drawings that criticized U.S. plans for an Iraqi invasion.
Ghosn is more than a Sunday artist, but few could make that claim. Only a handful of people saw Ghosn's drawings in 2003, and only true believers in peace and justice would come to SOS Art 2005.
The Mockbee crowds might be larger than the previous SOS project — there were no crowds in 2003 — but the results are the same. If impacting social change is the goal of a political art, SOS Art 2005 is a well-meaning failure. Ghosn's next goal is to relocate the show to a more public venue, a place where common people can pass, stop if interested and comment.
Something is happening in the world outside The Mockbee. Sen. Bill Frist appears in a video message on "Justice Sunday" to advocate a conservative judiciary and an end to the Senate filibuster — despite a poll in The Washington Post that reports that two-thirds of the respondents oppose the GOP's anti-filibuster plan. The debate over the morning-after pill continues, and it's probably only a matter of time before some local pharmacies refuse to fill prescriptions for it.
Members of the Christian right and the self-promoted Moral Majority would call SOS Art 2005 offensive and unpatriotic. They're the ones who need to see this show the most.