'War & Peace' in Brooklyn

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — “Art is a human activity which has as its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen,” the Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy once said. This idea rings just as true today, especially in context of the mediocre offerings of today’s lowbrow pop culture.

Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece “War and Peace” is considered one of the greatest novels ever written. Its vast panorama of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia unfolds through the interweaving lives of over 500 characters. Readers are offered the chance to view history and conflict through the eyes of each protagonist.

It is from this vantage point that the concept for the “War & Peace” group art show, which opened for a sneak preview on May 27 to celebrate the Young Communist League National Convention, first originated.

Dynamic magazine, along with three sponsors — L.A. design team Graphonic, San Francisco-based clothing line and art collective Upper Playground, and international hip-hop nonprofit group World Up — set out to assemble some of the finest contemporary artists of today and let them loose to personally interpret the themes of war and peace in today’s tumultuous world.

The aim of the show was to provoke and generate discussion. Taboos and common perceptions were to be challenged, questions posed. Is the price for “peace” sometimes too high? Can a war ever be justified? How does conflict affect the human psyche? What is the revolutionary role of art and popular culture in politics?

Each participating artist presented a unique perspective that reflected the diversities and complexities of their various nationalities and cultural backgrounds — from Japan, Italy, Serbia, Palestine and Chile to all across the United States.

And the exhibit was not limited to any one medium. The art ranged from interactive conceptual pieces, to disturbingly powerful black and white photography, to paintings and prints at the very cusp of the street art and design movements.

The featured artists included graffiti legend Mear One; renowned documentary photographer Boogie, whose first book will be put out this year by Powerhouse Books; veteran political-poster icon Robbie Conal and acclaimed Brooklyn street artist Bast.

For the opening night celebration, “War & Peace” also featured some of the finest live hip-hop from Brooklyn, Iraq and Haiti. The concept was to close the evening with music that would further emphasize the message of international solidarity that Dynamic sought to convey in the installation — and also bring the house down. And co-sponsor World Up did just that with their impeccable selection of hip-hop ambassadors.

From Brooklyn, N.Y., there was Okai, who just recently released his debut album “Dekonstruktion of the Mind” produced by underground maestro Ayatollah (Mos Def, Ghostface, Rakim). Hailing from Haiti was MC Benchoummy, a hero of the burgeoning Haitian hip-hop scene whose songs were rendered mostly in Creole. Then, from Iraq via Canada was MC Narcy of the highly revered Arab hip-hop group Euphrates, who additionally performed a few songs in Arabic. When the trio took to the stage together an undeniably charismatic impression was made.

The venue for the show was Supreme Trading, a 7,500-square-foot space with two installation galleries and an outside garden. Supreme Trading, located in Brooklyn’s artsy neighborhood, Williamsburg, one of the area’s most popular hot spots.

At the height of the evening, the enormous space was packed to capacity. An estimated 400-500 people attended the opening. The crowd consisted of a broad mix of YCLers and activists, trendy hipsters, art critics, students, artists, press and media people, hip-hop enthusiasts and comrades from the Communist Party. Press coverage for the event included Timeout NY, the Gotham Gazette and numerous local and national arts and events listings.

The installation will reopen this summer for a full run at a gallery to be determined in New York City.

For further information and updates, please go to www.dynamicmag.org.

santi@yclusa.org