Two years ago I had the pleasure and honor to first hear and then meet the great visual artist Makoto Fujimura.
If you haven’t heard of him or seen his work I highly recommend a quick google search. His art, his writings, and his cultural advocacy is beautiful and poignant. He is involved with numerous artistic collaborations to promote artistic endeavors as culturally important and worthy of time and monetary investment.
Also, I highly recommend reading his book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture, which is a collection of essays that brings together people from a myriad of backgrounds in a conversation about culture and humanity.
Among my favorites is Refractions 9: Dances For Life in which he meditates upon the particular challenges of dance that yield a particular passion in dancers. Fujimura then proceeds to advocate the importance of dance in a culture that tends to restrict and neglect the importance of movement. He writes:
Art is inevitably driven to our physicality, and both the potential and limitation of all of our craft will remain hidden in our bodies. In this fast techno culture in which engagement with the movements of our own bodies is restricted, we may be tempted to ignore such an age-old principle of our being. But I suspect that all artists will eventually return to explore the direct connection with the physical and ethereal. I suspect that, in that moment, we will again celebrate the “mother of the arts,” and applaud those who so sacrificially gave their energies, sinews and bodies to the passion endowed to them. In that sense, dancers advocate for our whole humanity as they dance; we, by advocating for them, affirm the gift of physical grace, though limited by time and space, and witness for but a fleeting moment, gravity defied.
As I observe the cheap commercialization of dance and the numerous reports of dance programs being cut in the university, these words hold much hope. Even though current culture does not value dance and sees it primarily as something pretty or entertaining, something to be tossed out when the budget gets tight – despite all this dance still holds value. It is a problem not of the art form but of how our current culture approaches it that renders its voice mute.
This past year I conducted a sociological research project on “institutional carriers of modernity”. In this project I investigated how the core themes of modernity, such as individualism, rationalization, and equality, affected modern – and then postmodern – dance within the university. The multitude of my research centered around the failings of dance to be culturally vibrant in the 21st century despite the popularity of shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, a rather disheartening trend.
This trend is centered around a commodification of all facets of life. Everywhere our culture is hurting as a result of this perception of art as commodity, people as a commodity, thought as commodity. Dance is a particularly delicate art form that more quickly reflects this growing commodification. In a way that makes dance all the more important to hold on to, because it very accurately depicts the heartbeat of society. The famous Modern Dance pioneer Martha Graham echoes this sentiment in her autobiography Blood Memory she writes, “Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it” (4) . More than any other art form dance reflects the cultural landscape, when this landscape is dry dance is the first to falter.
Fujimura very eloquently recognizes this and speaks about it, his work in cultural advocacy is to avoid this stagnation of culture, this commodification of art that so hinders it from being the vibrant expression of humanity.