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Live And Let Live

'Coexistence' Challenges Viewers To Ponder Tolerance And Understanding

May 17, 2007
By MATT EAGAN, The Hartford Courant

At quitting time, crowds of folks in gray flannel suits stream out of the office buildings of Hartford and drive their cars along Asylum Avenue bound for whatever leafy suburb they call home.

This ritual unfolds with seamless symmetry each work day as progress is measured in the number of city landmarks left in the rearview mirror.

But for three weeks beginning in late May, artist Raphie Etgar, along with the folks at the Hartford Financial Services Group, will attempt to change this robotic commute and get people thinking about our relationships to one another.

Etgar is the curator of "Coexistence," an international traveling public art exhibit that will be displayed on The Hartford's city campus from May 26 through June 17.

"This exhibition encourages people to think about issues of tolerance and understanding and raises questions that we must answer about ourselves and our communities," Etgar says in the exhibition's mission statement. "We are learning to live with differences and to respect our neighbors. It is not always easy, and we do not always succeed, but we must continue to try and confront our misunderstandings and prejudices."

The 45 works are big enough (9 feet by 15 feet) and bold enough to command attention from a distance but the message grows more detailed the closer one gets.

Consider the work of Japanese artist Shigeo Fukuda, who has re-created three Mona Lisas using all the flags of the world.

From afar, the image is easily seen, but standing in front of it, observers will see the detail in each of the flags and discover the words Fukuda has chosen to accompany his work.

Fukuda uses the writings of the late Polish poet Czeslaw Milooz.

"Are we this? Is this about us? Yes and no," Milosz' words begin and the reader and viewer is left to ponder things often shoved to the back recesses of the brain replaced by more mundane thoughts.

"Coexistence" was created at the Museum on the Seam, where Etgar is curator, in Jerusalem in 2001 and has traveled to more than 25 cities.

It was mounted in the Paltz der Republik where the Berlin Wall once divided East from West. It was shown in Capetown and near the reflecting pool in Washington.

Almost always, the exhibit is mounted in a central place in the city it visits. But Joshua King, vice president of media relations at The Hartford, said the company had a different idea.

"Typically people drive in, park, go to work, finish work and go home," King says. "For this one month we wanted to open our campus and let it become a backdrop for something more profound. We thought it was important to find an idea that got the community thinking about itself and about how we try to get along."

King says there will be at least 18 parking spaces open to the public all day at the company's portion of the Bank of America lot across Asylum Avenue. But after 4 p.m., many of the spaces in The Hartford's main lot will be vacated and visitors are welcome to use them.

"If we can offer a calm, contemplative place where people can pause to think about these things for a few minutes it will be a success," King says.

But more is planned.

The Hartford has arranged for a series of cultural events - from children's theater to jazz to salsa sabor dancing - during the three-week span. Connecticut schools are also being asked to contribute student art based on the "Coexistence" theme.

The art work in the exhibit, contributed by 42 artists from 19 different countries, comes at the theme on different levels.

Yoko Ono's concerns seem environmental and her text, taken from the Book of Genesis, reflects a notion that the Earth is divine.

Isreali artist Yossi Lemel focuses on the struggles between races. His poster of intertwined black-and-white hands is accompanied by text from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," speech.

Long Gang, a Chinese artist, takes the exhibition in an anti-war direction and uses words from Yitzhak Rabin to punctuate the message.

And then there is Polish artist Piotr Mlodozeniec, whose spells out the word Coexist using the world's most iconic religious symbols and emphasizes his point with the words of Thomas Jefferson.

"On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from the moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind," Jefferson said.

COEXISTENCE runs May 26 to June 17 on The Hartford Financial Service Group's main campus, 690 Asylum Ave. For details about Coexistence and related community events, visit www. thehartford.com/coexistence or contact coexistence.hartford@gmail.com or call 860-547-2239.

Student artwork done on paper, card stock or poster board no larger than 11x17 can be submitted to Coexistence Student Art, c/o Judie Bergstrom, The Hartford, One Hartford Plaza, Hartford, CT 06155. Artwork also can be submitted digitally. Digital files should be submitted electronically to coexistenceforkids@comcast.net in either TIFF, JPEG or PDF format. The first 20 schools submitting five works by May 25 will receive gift cards to Staples to purchase supplies.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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