Meeting with Ai Weiwei on a smog-choked, early January morning to discuss how “art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth” distilled for me what a site like Creative Time Reports can be. On the cusp of our one-year anniversary, we are constantly reminded of his observation; how artists—free from the disciplinary restrictions of journalism—can deepen, and also bring a sense of candor back to, public discourse.
This notion was cemented throughout the year with many of our pieces, including one from poet Ngwatilo Mawiyoo on the eve of her native Kenya’s elections. In her report from Marsabit County—a strip of land once rife with ethnic violence after the disputed elections of December 2007—she unveiled an intimate moment of torment felt while writing about what she saw. It was the kind of disclosure a mainstream news outlet might eschew, but Creative Time Reports embraces:
“After writing these words, I begin to wonder whether I shouldn’t simply discard them and keep quiet about the trouble brewing in Marsabit, as my contribution toward a peaceful election. But an artist friend tells me if things go well, people will need to understand what we overcame. So be it. Until everyday people create the peace, become it wherever they are, until they can’t be enticed away from it. Until then.”
Haitian poet Jean-Euphèle Milcé describes, in his penetrating voice, how a year and a half after the 2010 earthquake, the act of writing becomes an anchor as the world sputters around him: “Writing, in this chaos, in this misshapen and folded place, looks for a hold that might make sense in the nonsense of the earth, of the minds and days that are continuing to falter.”
Spotlighting artists from Haiti, Kenya, China and numerous other countries around the world has been part of the Creative Time Reports framework from the start. One of our very first commissions was from the artist Robert Whitman, who beautifully visualized this tenet. Whitman’s piece, Local Report, interweaved 90 people in 90 cities who used smartphones to transmit video and verbal descriptions of the scenes around them to create what the artist called “a cultural map of the world.” At the time, Creative Time Reports had only worked with a handful of artists. Now, one year on, we, too, are creating our own “cultural map,” having already featured 104 artists from 42 countries covering everything from student uprisings in Mexico City to decades of torturous solitary confinement in American supermax prisons.
Throughout the month of October, we will publish pieces from such artists as David Byrne, Pi San, Rebecca Solnit, Rick Lowe, Mariam Ghani, Shirin Neshat and many more, on subjects including the future of Afghanistan, sustainability for the “creative class” in New York City and state-sanctioned dreams for Chinese youth. As we climb over our one-year milestone, we are deeply proud to continue cultivating this kind of conversation—one that blends truth with audacity, and eloquence with vulnerability.
Marisa Mazria Katz