Marcia Cowles Bushnell began painting the plight of refugees and the effects of war on civilians in 1988 when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on the town of Halabja, Kurdistan. Survivors fled over the mountains. Her paintings have been used as witness to the pain of war and plight of refugees and are free to use by any group or organization working for Peace and Justice.
She is a mother, teacher, poet, painter, and activist who supports democratic ideals, mourns the corruption of our democratic institutions and their failure to support the common good. She has rallied with peace activists Howard Zinn, Cindy Sheehan, stood at the Vermont State House with Rev. William Sloane Coffin to protest the Invasion of Iraq, witnessed for Palestinian rights, and exhibits her paintings at conferences to support those seeking Peace. When teaching English as a Second Language, she met pupils who shared their often, traumatic stories of war and poverty. Now she has decided to post her paintings and a PowerPoint Program: Against Forgetting: The Human Condition, a one-hour art show, with commentary for the use of groups.
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Her favorite period in art is Romanesque of the 10th-11th century — especially the frescoes found in Catalonian churches. These teaching frescoes used symbols to tell their stories. Formalized images of characters, animals, real and imaginary; demons; angels; cosmic fire; celestial stars; flames of hell, were the artistic language of this period. The energy came in the use of rhythmic line, and evocative color. The grace and flow of stories across the walls depicted scenes of reverence, compassion, birth and rebirth, death and sacrifice as well as the reality of persecution and torture.
I have been committed to making images of victims of war out of my deep concern for social justice. Most of us wish to turn away from sad images. I believe that the artist must witness and interpret the issues of his time and engage with heart and mind.
I have felt compassion more than condemnation as I struggled to understand why we are such a warring, covetous species. The object of my paintings has been to identify with these dear peoples who inhabit my canvases, even those youths drawn into wars, to show their terrors and needs. Peoples I could not help or save.
I hope the paintings will work toward ceasing our endless wars by examining the truths we share that affirm life has meaning, can have dignity, allows for creative differences, declares freedom of religious expression.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has declared: “We live in a moral world.” But do we? We must cling to that belief, for our whole humanity is diminished if we become immune to the violence around us or burn out in resignation. It is hoped that by facing and sharing together, the pain of others, we may be rededicated to serving peace and the wellbeing of all.
Exhibitions: Juried and Regional Shows:
Andover Newton Theological School; Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston, MA
Boston University Art Gallery Group Show
Depot Square Gallery, Lexington, MA
Violence Transformed, Boston, MA
Vermont Law School, Royalton, VT
Old South Church Peace Conference, Boston, MA
Words of Sustenance
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.”
~ Howard Zinn
“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many –where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and how to live now as the thinking human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a mar-velous victory.”
~ From You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Time, Howard Zinn