"My Enemy" is the dream-child of the California-based painter Yisrael K. Feldsott. An interactive, traveling pop-up art installation, it "seeks to soften and repair divisions between friend and foe." In collaboration with his partner, Dee O'Neal, the artist plans a return cross-country trip -- a northerly trip west to east, and a southern extension on the return -- in October through December this year.
Feldsott is something of a rarity, an artist of deep social and humanitarian conscience, whose commitment spills over into his richly textured and profoundly moving paintings. Central to the exhibit he envisions are the cut-out silhouettes of two iconic kneeling figures, one derived from that iconic self-immolating Buddhist monk, protesting the then current war in Vietnam; the other, from that equally well-known, searing journalistic photograph of a prisoner on his knees before a Vietnamese general who is about to blow his brains out with a pistol. Installed behind a row of these kneeling silhouettes are six-foot metal plates inscribed in multiple languages with the words, Father, Lover, Brother, Sister, Mother, Daughter, Friend...
Primary stopping places are locations associated with mindless violence against perceived enemies: California's Pelican Bay State Prison; Laramie, Wyoming, near the site of Matthew Shepard's murder; Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, sit of the Battle of Wounded Knee; Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was shot to death. The artist also plans a video documenting the pop-up shows.
I hope this project will meet with the attention it deserves, and that it will help to generate a much-needed discussion about the hostilities that too often divide us and provoke senseless violence. It's a hard lesson, but if we can recognize some part of our own selves -- or of our friends and family -- in the enemy we project, we may learn that to commit an act of violence is to violate not only our victim, but ourselves. If George Zimmerman had seen Trayvon Martin not as "the enemy" but as his brother, he would surely not have fired the bullet that took the young man's life. If the three men who brutally attacked James Byrd Jr. and dragged him to his death behind their pickup truck had seen in him a father, lover, brother instead of an unknown, irrationally hated black man, they would have been unable to commit their crime. These, and so many other tragic stories speak too eloquently of contemporary America.
Feldsott's project is intended to change hearts and minds with the reminder that those we perceive as our enemies are not very much different from ourselves, and are entitled to the respect and kindness we expect to receive from others. The visual drama of his installations makes this insight simple and inarguable. Few, I think, could witness this exhibition and not be moved by its call for understanding and compassion.
In New York City, "My Enemy" will be on view at The Tibet House on October 20, 2013, from 2 - 4 PM. For updates on other locations, itineraries and further information, the relevant website is MyEnemy.org.