Our Time in History

Writer: Masahito Ono

 “Good morning and evening.”

This is how we members of MiA start a new day in New York, Seoul and Beijing. The five of us met in New York last year, almost by coincidence. Now some members of MiA is separated in time and space, but our bonds remain strong because of our shared passion in art and of course the friendship.

When members of MiA discussed about our next topic for the articles, Grace brought up the story of silver plaque found in Central Park, and we agreed on the topic, “source of inspiration and idea,” I thought the story of silver plaque is inspirational and beautiful. I live in New York and often take a walk in the park, but never noticed before such voices and memories being held inside the park.

We have been writing about art and many other things since May, with aspiration to share our ideas and thoughts to the readers like you. We often emphasize between each other that what we write does not just end as an own-pleasure. Instead of sharing information, our aim is to reveal to the readers how we emerging artists view the world both in and out of art context. We therefore, agreed to write on the same topic/subject to bring in different perspectives from the members and to create a dialogue.

Last Friday,

there was an attack in Paris. I cannot help thinking why so many things are going wrong in this world. We know we must do something to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, we often don't know how - wars repeat, killing continues, people work long hours and spend less time with loved ones, the earth's environment is in crisis and we do very little to fix the problem, the message we receive on the streets is mostly about "buy this and buy that," we consume more, yet not fulfilled.

Are we improving our society? or have we transformed the world into a sadder place? Perhaps, there's never been a good time in history, but I feel there were better times before. One day, I wish to have a family and children. I want to hold them in my arms and smile with them from the bottom of my heart. I hope the world we pass onto my children and others is better than the one we have. Isn't that the very essence of human existence? To work for the better? Or am I too optimistic? I know some people does not want to have a child because they feel sorry that a child have to live in such a condition of the world. It is understandable, but the future generations are the 'hopes' that may achieve what our generation could not achieve. I feel I need to be optimistic, if I don't, it is a sad world that I see in front of me.

What function and role does 'art' play in this world in this time?

I sometimes get lost in this question, but I want to believe that it is a way of sharing important ideas and thoughts. I don't believe art can change the world. However, I believe art can influence an individual in a positive way - it is more than luxury, it is more than money, it is the art of fundamental thinking, and it is a matter of whether we can transform the ideas and thoughts into meaning, then to take an action for the better. It is no doubt that art have talked a lot about wars, capitalism, consumerism and all sorts of -isms, both social and political issues and problems. But... What have we learned from them?

A few days ago, after I came home from work, I was planning to watch a movie. I stood in front of my bookshelf and went through the titles. There are lots of books: art books, history books, philosophy books, poetry books, Japanese books both old and contemporary. Then the DVDs: Ghibli animations, lots of Ozu movies and many others. Among all, my favorite has always been La Jetee (1963), Hiroshima Mon Amore (1959) and Tokyo Story (1953). But that night, My hand reached to grab The Great Dictator (1940) by Charlie Chaplin.

The movie is now 75-year-old. As the title suggests, it is about the dictatorship that was growing in Germany at the time, and Chaplin was mimicking Adolf Hitler in an ironical way. Chaplin produced the film even though the major film studios did not want to distribute the film, but he went ahead and produced the film. As the World War 2 broke out in Europe. The film became a hit and also a propaganda.

There is a famous speech that Chaplin makes at the end of the film. I watched the film, because I wanted to see him give this speech and spend sometime thinking about it. My source of inspiration does not always come from museum or gallery. They come from different places and in our everyday lives. Inspiration to me is what moves me to think and to think more. The 75-year-old speech made me think about many things this week.

I was born in Japan, and I am aware of Japan's past aggression in Asia. I have to spend more time thinking and talking about this subject and one day I will. But if I may say one thing about this today, since childhood, I echo what my grand mother once told me, "don't repeat the war." I believe this is how many still feels in my country, and it is our generation's responsibility to make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes that our country had made in the past. 

- Transcript of the speech

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible- Jew, Gentile, black men, white…

We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.”

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder!

Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate!

Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

Let us all unite.

Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!

Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance!

Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

- End of the transcript