2 years ago

Anger & Anxiety

After seeing "The Divide" at the Edinburgh International Festival, today Fellows reflected on the theme of Anger & Anxiety.

Anger and Anxiety

Standing in the middle of a circle formed by the collectively-seated Global Cultural Fellows, Consuelo Hidalgo scanned the list of questions in her notebook, raised her head and ask her colleagues: do states deserve the leaders they elect? 

Nearly half of the Fellows stood up to signal their agreement, although these statements were qualified by bemusement at the wording. In the proceeding questions, Consuelo asked the Fellows to expose their positions on controversial subjects: torture, gay marriage, and euthanasia, etc. The changing configurations of standing and seated Fellows visibly demonstrated the group’s political diversity, in addition to its ethnic one.

Consuelo’s exercise served as one of the opening tools used for today’s plenary discussions on Anger and Anxiety. Faisal Abu Alhayjaa had the Fellows form a line spectrum in the middle of the room denoting their level of anger and anxiety in the last month; there was a relatively even spread with a notable cluster in the middle. Arno Vinkovic introduced a short film the Anger and Anxiety group had produced with shots of Fellows answering questions posed to them over the course of the week, including Are you angry or Are you anxious. While few fellows admitted to being angry, most in the video described their myriad levels of anxiety.

The questions helped the fellows make connections with two overriding themes: the shift from the personal and the political, and the role of art in channelling social anxieties and anger.

Anger and anxiety may be related, but they are two distinct emotions. The Fellows took note of this diligently in their opening talks and small-group discussions. The small-group leaders and topics were: Faisal speaking to whether anger can protect individuals; Reem Alsayyah and the power of anger; Consuelo’s provocation to examine anxiety in context of global society; and Arno’s analysis of social anxiety in multidisciplinary contexts.

All of them made connections among arts, anxiety, and anger.

The discussions for today’s theme were colored by the populist outpourings in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the United Kingdom’s vote on Brexit. 

In the final large-group plenary session, Velani Dibba connected anger as an emotional process to political tensions, only days after the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white nationalists and counter-protesters. Velani characterized anger as an entity that communicates the need for change faster than logic allows; she called for artists to harness that quality in their art as a powerful tool for awareness and advocacy.

Jenna Ashton’s poignant comments on the social dynamic in Durham, England, and the role of art echoed that of Velani’s and provided a transnational comparison. According to Jenna, Durham has a large working-class population that has been decimated by the collapse of the local mining industry, but also a vibrant progressive culture centered around the local university. She said that employment-insecure working-class males in Durham oscillate between resentment against their elite neighbors and intra-class pressures to perform masculinity, causing socio-economic anxiety in the absence of a vibrant union culture that had once provided a space for collective grievances.

Comparisons between American and British cultures have purchase for intellectual and action-based work, but are also limited as Western case studies. Likewise, Faisal reminded the group in his opening remarks that there is ‘Eastern anger’ and ‘Western anger’. His comments made clear that while these terms need to be discussed in context of globalization and transnational exchanges, the anger and anxiety as conceptions are not necessarily universal. Likewise, Adbulkarim Ekzayez stated near the end of the large-group discussion that anger is cultural relative as he does not his emotional experiences according to the same terminology as the other Fellows.

The Fellows were publicly intrigued that Abdulkarim exhibited the least amount of anger in the opening exercises and videos, despite having experienced the conflict in Syria first-hand. He is one of three Fellows with such experience; Reem and Jumana Al-Yasiri have also been affected personally. Their stories about the violence yielded great insight, but also focused today’s discussion on political action and unrest.

Douglas Lonie argued that if anyone was to ask a protester (or Trump voter, or Brexit supporter) why they are angry, the person’s answer will show that it is always more than just the inciting event, such as a toppled Confederate statue in the American South. He reminded the group that the Remain campaign’s armada of statistics and facts still lost to the unsubstantiated narratives Nigel Farage – the Leave campaign’s de facto leader – spun out.

His comments aligned with the sentiments expressed previously today by Velani and Chankethya Chey. Chankethya related anger to the color black. She said anger was keystone to emotional extremes that does not provide spaces to think. Her comments could certainly be applied to those voters who rejected the researched arguments the Remain and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns produced.

Chris Creegan was mindful of the discussion that anger and anxiety can motivate social, political and artistic action.  However, he asked the group to consider where anger and anxiety have resulted in negative acts and horrific deeds such as rape, murder, and war.

Despite the varied responses, the Fellows’ discussions validated both the presence and the effects of anger and anxiety in society – and art.

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