Theodore Adorno wrote in his 1949 essay “Cultural Criticism and Society” that “After Auschwitz, to write a poem is barbaric.” His now famous adage has been adapted to a more familiar (if inaccurate) version, “There can be no art after Auschwitz,” and interpreted more broadly to say a tragedy such as the Holocaust must mean the end of human culture.
While there may be some substance in the reinterpretation, another truth also holds – fighting against an evil such as the Nazi regime, against despair, against all odds, is a fight to save what is beautiful in the world, including the beauty humans can create with and for one another. Adorno himself, in fact, played a large role in reinstituting cultural, artistic and intellectual life in post-WWII Germany.
So it is really no coincidence that times of great tragedy and crisis have historically been times when art is most powerful – holding a mirror to society, documenting the unthinkable, and providing hope and entertainment when needed the most.
As the world collectively faces a beast of a different kind than that of Adorno’s time – one that does not discriminate in regard to impact – we find ourselves in need of beauty to combat trauma now as much as ever.
Here in D.C., many artists and creative community members are coming together to transcend traditional boundaries that could impede collaboration (like limited funding and resources), in ways we haven’t seen before. One example comes in the form of an Instagram Live auction. In association with the Washington Informer Bridge, street artist Absurdly Well and PR firm InTheRough, Bid to Fight COVID is a one-night initiative aimed at uplifting local arts and artists out of work amid the pandemic, as well as the wider community in need, through donations to Martha’s Table.
Absurdly Well, well-known for polarizing public images of Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is also the artist behind the now ubiquitous “Wash Your Hands” street art motto.
“We’re attempting to transform our art into something that is going to ease the burden for families during this crisis. We need a stimulus for our art, but we also need to create that stimulus for ourselves and give back to the community that has given us so much inspiration and opportunity to convey our visions,” the artist said.
The auction features a diverse range of visual artists whose practices include street art, sociopolitical folk art, activist prints, photography, illustration and sculpture, and offers the community an opportunity to engage with artists in a safe and accessible way that will serve to generate revenue for the arts while galleries are closed and exhibitions are halted. People participating will also support a D.C. institution that has been at the forefront of providing critical resources to all residents for more than 40 years.
“Even though the pandemic disrupts and rewrites ‘normalcy,’ I have found art communities and organizations I didn’t know about,” watercolorist Aida Ebrahimi says. “Like many other industries, the art community is shifting toward online and virtual platforms to express and showcase art. We are reconsidering how resources are distributed to artists, making them available and accessible free of charge. We are reconsidering the importance of art on our communities’ mental and physical health. We are reconsidering how art can be a gateway in dire and desperate times. These are changes I hope will last beyond this crisis.”
In addition to the main artwork auction, the event will also include charity raffles. The $5 Raffle tickets available for purchase during registration enter participants in a chance to win smaller works from various artists, including a button pack made by Miriam Julianna featuring digital illustrations from several Bid to Fight COVID artists Estéban Whiteside, Decoy, Marc Pekala, Divorce Culture and Christine Vineyard, and a commemorative screen printed t-shirt produced by Maxwell Young and Quaishawn Whitlock. All of the raffle proceeds benefit Martha’s Table.
Any work not sold during the May 29 live auction, as well as buttons and t-shirts, will be available for purchase via InTheRough for an extended two weeks (through June 12).
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