Volunteers in white clothes laid out one million bones on the National Mall near the Capitol building on June 8, 2013. June 9, the Dresser ventured into Washington, DC's stuttering subway still under renovation after two years (weekends are difficult for Metro travellers under the repair schedule) to find this art exhibition with political and humanitarian punch that reminded her of the October 11, 1987, display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The purpose of One Million Bones and The Quilt is to bring awareness to lives lost and to move ordinary and remarkable people to do something about it.
Calling the display of white and gray bones the art of revolution, the organizers led by Albuquerque artist Naomi Natale hope to bring attention to the genocides taking place in countries such as Sudan, Burma, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Natale, known as an installation artist, has done other projects like this, including one called The Cradle, which called attention to 48 million children orphaned and made vulnerable by disease and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Both OMB and The Cradle were initiated and are supported by an Albuquerque organization called The Art of Revolution, that Natale and poet Susan McAllister founded in 2011.
Students, educators, artists and activists sculpted the bones made of clay, papier-mâché and other materials over a period of three years in workshops held in over 2,000 schools and supported or facilitated by The Art of Revolution. The community involved includes over 100,000 participants in all 50 United States and more than 30 countries. The gray bones represent bones made in countries outside of the U.S. where the cost of shipping to them to the U.S. was prohibitive. FEDEX donated the shipping of the bones from Albuquerque to Washington, DC.
For three days, program offerings went under such titles as "Laying of the Bones" (opening invocation by Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation), "Students Rebuild: Young People Take Action and See Change on Global Issues," "The Conflict in Congo and What You Can Do to End the Violence," "Crisis in Syria: The Current Displacement, Devastation and Destruction," "Somalia: Empowering Youth to Create a Brighter Future," "Burma: The Road to Democracy," "Art and Activism," "Sudan Now and What You Can Do," "Take a Bone to Congress," "Act Against Atrocities Advocacy Day Orientation and Training," and "Reclaiming the Bones."
Besides taking bones to the United States Congress, the group plans to bury some of these million bones in gardens around the United States. The Dresser believes that Americans have trouble coming to terms with death and violence. Here is a country where gun violence against the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, has failed to move enough people to take action to prevent mass killings. This fact was pointed up in an essay published in The Washington Post June 10 regarding the Santa Monica rampage that hardly caused a blip on the news media though the perpetrator carried 1300 rounds of ammunition. The Dresser believes that Natale and McAllister have it right--that educating children about mass killings may be the only way to move people to act on such crimes of humanity but this sadly, like the Washington subway repair, will follow its own path for resolution.
In B. K. Fischer's poem "Week 11 (Trade Routes)," the narrator of the poem is the Boy of Teshik Tash. The world of archeology knows this boy from his skeletal fossil remains discovered in Uzbekistan in 1938. The original belief is that this was a Neanderthal child around the age of nine to ten years old. In the poem, the boy is speaking to a museumgoer. The poem is part of St. Rage's Vault, an award-winning book of poems charting the conception, development, and birth of a child. Week 11 is around the time bones form in the developing fetus. Fischer's poem provides an impressionistic vision compatible with the One Million Bones exhibition and "Week 11" was inspired by a diorama on exhibit at the Gardner Stout Hall of Asian Peoples in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Particularly poignant are the last lines "I am your brother./Bone spokes fasten a vise around my neck."
WEEK 11 (TRADE ROUTES)
Who gave you the right to click your heels
across museum tile, your notebook balanced
on your forearm like an expert waiter's tray,
while I sleep in my frozen cell, one more
display? Though years of glacial ice expand
and crack the marrow lodes, I'm well preserved,
unearthed fresh as an artichoke. They brought
me back. I felt the slosh of brine inside
the cargo bay, where blood and limbs began
.................... Like all the rest you jot and list:
turmeric, curry, camphor, nutmeg, myrrh, a dust
of pectin to prevent the rot of snuff or coriander
under glass. I'm yet another name you might
collect, a stenciled placard, Boy of Teshik Tash,
the region hatched in red, where minerals and
malachite are mined, the rhomboids fringed
with silver hairs like magnets drawing pins.
Come, caress my acorn skull, my tomb
of stag's horns crossed and tied to weave
a dome, a basket overturned. Reach through
the halo of my shivered sleep and stroke
this fur papoose, this crypt. I am your brother.
Bone spokes fasten a vise around my neck.
by B. K. Fischer
from St. Rage's Vault
Copyright © 2013 B. K. Fischer