My “day job” is working for one of the world’s leading artistic centres and concert halls – I work in the marketing and PR department. I’ve been working there since 2008, and have seen experienced a lot of art in various media. This year as part of the visual arts exhibit that complements the music festival that is currently underway, we have some paintings that I walk past every day. These paintings make me uncomfortable.
The subject of these works is the last meal of various prisoners on death row before their execution in the USA. It is an extremely intimate glimpse into the person behind the prisoner. It shows their humanity, their desires, their need for nourishment and what makes them happy in that context. The fact that it is on public display, however, and for sale, makes me uncomfortable. Why?
On the one hand, if it wasn’t on public display I would never have seen them. On the other hand, I didn’t need to see them in order to have compassion for these human beings. I am completely against capital punishment. The fact that it might make people think about what is happening in so-called First World countries regarding life and death is probably a good thing. And I realise that artists need to eat to, hence the fact that they are for sale. But for every person that doesn’t “get it”, that laughs at the absurd combinations these people have chosen without knowing why: does this trivialise, as well as capitalise the suffering and deaths of human beings? Does it de-sensitise us even further? Or does it raise an awareness of the de-sensitisation that we are experiencing in modern society?
I don’t have any answers. All I know is that every time I walk past them, I feel an ache in my heart and an unease, as well as a wellspring of compassion for all humanity who are in this together.