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Art: A powerful engine of history

Yesterday, we watched "Lebanon: Of Wars and Men", an intense 3-hour movie about the Lebanese civil war presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It brought back poignant numbing memories of a painful period in our lives and Lebanon's history. We couldn't but ponder on the futility of it all... the war, that is: We, as in me and the likes of me, innocent bystanders who got caught in the midst of it to no fault of our own, but strikingly and almost refreshingly, perpetrators of the war crimes as well-individuals featured in the movie. These survived to evaluate the bilaterally devastating effects of their actions. Having at last realized the senselessness of their hatred, mistrust and fear of "the other side" and understood the futility of the causes they fought for, they candidly and courageously shared both wisdom and regrets... lessons for all of us to learn and teach.

The movie engendered a discussion on the nature of the work as a basis to assess its message. Was it an art project, a documentary, or both? As expected, opinions differed. But when evaluating the responsibility of the author of such a work and its potential positive or negative impact on the topic it tackles, does it really matter how we label it? In other words, is the responsibility of an artist a lesser one than that of a documentarian? My answer to the question is a clear no. Among other things, art is a powerful engine of history, a window to a time past. By depicting the big and small, tangible and intangible details of human beings' lives, experiences, realities and surroundings at a given point in time through art, we save those from irreparably slipping into the world of oblivion and preserve them forever for generations to come. But with this comes a huge responsibility as well, as art in its various forms carries powerful images and messages. Whether overt or covert, positive or negative, and factual or distorted, these can powerfully affect viewers' conceptions, opinions, and their understanding of the people, communities and subjects depicted.

Just a thought that crossed my mind and that I felt worth sharing. I will remember it as I endeavor to safeguard, through art, aspects of my culture and my world that are drifting away.

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