Photo: Ruben Natal-San Miguel, AMEricano (Star Spangled Immigrant), 2016, Washington Heights, NYC. Copyright of the artist. WE:AMERicans @ Station Independent Projects, NYC.
Sigmund Freud famously remarked, “America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen.” The very idea that the twin engines of genocide and slavery upon which the nation was built are conducive to the conditions for an “experiment” suggests a quixotic cocktail of cold-blooded aggression and self-righteous entitlement. Such presumptuousness is difficult to top, although not in light of the Republican National Convention’s antics this week. Here we see the second part of Freud’s quote, the part where he acknowledged, “but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success.”
It’s been rather grim, this 2016, like a terrible season of Game of Thrones where you hate everybody. Except, you don’t. You totally dig it. Your America. Not “our.” That’s a lovely illusion we like to tell ourselves, but have you ever noticed the flag has a whole lot of action going on? Three colors. Thirteen stripes. Fifty stars. You could Bedazzle it and folks would love it all the more.
Because…we love our little corner of this world, a place most of us are not originally from. Many Americans come from immigrants in some shape and form—and then there are Americans who were brought here in chains, against their will. But what we all share, in some shape or form, is the desire to be here, and to be Americans. (SN: Expatriates don’t talk about it; they are just up and gone).
In the twenty-first century, the United States is a curious place, one that is heavily polarized on countless levels: race, religion, gender, sexuality, class. It’s like the 1960s all over again, if it were happening in the 1930s. Dizzifying, if that’s a word. But it’s where we’ve come, so here we are.
Station Independent Projects Gallery, New York, presents WE:AMEricans, a group show curated by Ruben Natal-San Miguel, on view through August 7, 3016. The exhibition features the work of photographers Amy Arbus, John Arsenault, Nina Berman, Michael Buhler-Rose, Amy Elkins, Jon Feinstein, Thomas Holton, Dave Jordano, Dina Kantor, Gillian Laub, Miles Ladin, Shane Lavalette, Ruben Natal-San Miguel, Catherine Opie, Mark Peterson, Justine Reyes, Alec Soth, Zoe Strauss and Betty Tompkins.
Taken as a whole we reflect on the face of America today, in its many splendored glories that remind us of why we love our mythologies so much. Here we envision a Utopia where the bet of humanity can flourish and live. But Utopia is highly idiosyncratic, and most people seem to forget this. And when the light shines on the place where Utopias conflict, Americans are quick to defend what they have taken as theirs. Such as human nature, most folks are quick to argue rather than listen. And so we there remains a fundamental schism in the psyche of this country.
WE:AMEricans lets us consider, what is this thing we call “American,” anyway? What does democracy mean when the people get to choose—and what does that say about our values? Knowing we can’t all just get along, where does that leave us?
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sagely observed, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Now, more than ever.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.