A few days ago it was my birthday. I find that birthdays are the real days of atonement, days when one revisits the past, vacuums it, takes stock, apologizes at least mentally, and distills lessons. Because they are tailor-made and private, I take birthdays much more seriously than somber holidays imposed by religion. Going through this form of accounting I realized, probably once more, that I’m still a militant and a student—a leftist student at that. I realized that I’m still Jewish of sorts, although totally secular. And I reconfirmed that I believe in ethics, although I see that they are increasingly ineffectual and may only serve as a tool for resistance in an increasingly collapsing world.
The student part in this is a consequence of having been raised in Uruguay, in a progressive atmosphere, and with education free for everybody. During my education I absorbed the principles of the Reform of Cordoba, Argentina, of 1918. This reform instituted an anti-elitist and autonomous university system, with students taking part in the government of the institution, with a mission to learn in order to improve society, and with the belief that education is a right and not something to be bought. By the time I studied, all students knew that we were in a privileged period of our lives. We were not mature but we were intellectually okay, ready to expand our knowledge, and aware that during that period we did not yet have to kneel in front of power or be corrupted. We were not consumers of prepackaged goods who approached them with the attitude of buyers. We were the soul and moral compass of the university and therefore also of society. And we knew that this role was something that would stop the day we graduated. Some of us, like me, would look back on this time fondly, others would renege, and many would simply be hypocritical and attribute their former actions to the unrealistic idealism of youth.
The Jewish part is because I was born into a Jewish family. We had to emigrate from Germany because of anti-Semitism. We were unacceptable to the US because of anti-Semitism. We were lucky to land in Uruguay when I was one year old, and that is what made me who I am. So, I’m a Uruguayan Jew. However, the Jewish part is only an ethical component, a bond with my grandparents who were gassed with the famous six million, all of whom I feel died so that I may live.
The ethics part is probably a product of the other two, and also the more difficult one to keep going. But it’s clear to me that it precedes my need to make art and that it informs the art I make. It’s the root of my belief that when done correctly, art and education become the same thing. It’s because of this that both are ultimately forms of political action. It’s certainly not because of any particular message they may scream to an audience either from the walls of a gallery or from a teacher’s desk.
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