Yoko Ono is these days most recognised for her work as a conceptual and avant garde artist – a far cry from the misunderstood and maligned woman she was in her youth due to her relationship with Beatles’ John Lennon and reputation as the woman who broke up the most loved band in the world. The couple were extremely passionate about peace and freedom , using their wedding day on March 20th,1969 as a means to stage a two day bed-in for world peace ,inviting media into their bedroom for interviews that were broadcasted around the world and renting public billboards in 12 major cities across the globe to display their WAR IS OVER artwork. The War is Over exhibition at Sydney’s MCA is in practice a five decade long extension of that idea presenting some of the artist’s best works.
Even though some of my snobby art critic friends turned their noses up at this show ( citing Yoko Ono‘s fame as being the only reason people rate her art ) I still wanted to see this exhibition, since peace is an idea close to my heart too and I have been thinking a lot about it lately. As someone who partially grew up during the 1990-2001 war in the Balkans, I witnessed first hand the devastation and utter stupidity of armed hostility and it’s implications on future generations, hence I have always felt curious in finding out if wars were truly necessary. Did you know for example that Jeffrey Sachs estimated it would cost $175 billion to end world poverty in 20 years in his book “The End Of Poverty” , however the USA’s military defence spent about $718 billion on defence in the year 2011 ? These kind of numbers put in perspective just how much war is a choice not a necessity and how we as a human race must evolve past a conflict mindset if we are going to survive and thrive or self implode and destroy ourselves and Earth in our wake.
For this reason I took with me one of the harshest art critics that I know, my 6 year old daughter Coco ! The verdict? We loved it! Seemingly naive and simple, this exhibit did everything it was intended to do – it made the viewer experience the possibility of peace, the futility of war, humility in the face of suffering and the need for change. It made the visitor feel like a participant not a bystander , not just by engaging them in playing a game of chess where all the pieces are white and there cannot be a winner, mending broken pottery into something new, stamping world maps with peace messages, writing love notes to your mother or picking up pieces of the peace puzzle from a soldier’s helmet but by making the participants of these activities feel like they were investing their own energy to a greater cause , a greater vibration that is the selfless and utopic idea of peace. In a way the straight forwardness of Yoko Ono‘s art only serves to highlight that the concept of peace is not a complicated , highly strung or impossible feat but one that is easily gained ,understood and executed , if only we can accept in our minds that this is not just wholly possible but completely within our reach. In the words of John Lennon : “Declare it. Just the same way we declare war. That is how we will have peace… we just need to declare it.”
If you too feel like peace is attainable in this lifetime , check out the campaign for peace and the interview with David Swanson on his WAR IS A CRIME network here