Art as a form of comfort, solidarity in troubled times

Posted on Mar 23 2016 - 7:29am by McKenna Wierman

Art is an emotional thing. We’ve all been there before— sitting in front of a blank piece of paper, an empty canvas or a vacant space, just wondering what could fill the void. Sometimes, inspiration can strike out of nowhere; but, more often than not, an event or experience creates that first spark of inspiration.

But in the wake of tragedy, art does more than just allow one person to express their innermost feelings. Thanks to social media outlets like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook, art can be passed around and shared. And in its travels, it acts as a binding mechanism that allows us to become, for a moment, global citizens, united in our emotions.

Illustration by: Jake Thrasher

Illustration by: Jake Thrasher

Yesterday, the terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium sparked yet another explosion of creative and artistic reaction. In response to the attack, French cartoonist Plantu created an image which now stands as a symbol of solidarity for the Brussels attacks. The cartoon, titled “Les Attentats de ce 22 Mars ‘a Brussels,” or “The attacks of March 22 in Brussels,” features a cartoon personification of France comforting a weeping Belgium, with the dates of each country’s terrorist attacks written along the bottom of the illustration.

Illustrator Matt Blease drew a group of hands arranged like a globe, with the words “Be Together” surrounding the hands, in response to the attacks. Other illustrators around the world have drawn depictions of Belgium flags, historic landmarks and cultural icons, like the famous cartoon hero Tintin, all responding in different ways to the attacks. Some are full of anger and outrage, condemning terrorism and its attempts to inspire fear by harming innocent people. Others are full of sorrow and uncertainty, begging the question, “How did this happen and what could we have done differently to stop it?”

In Brussels, after authorities put the city on lockdown, closing public institutions and transport, people gathered in the Bourse de Bruxelles, or Brussels Stock Exchange. There, with chalk in hand, the people took to the floor of the public square, drawing and writing messages of love, of sorrow for those lost and injured, and, most importantly, of hope. Their tributes include phrases like “spread hope, not fear” and “no words.”

When we are hurt or threatened, it’s easy to turn to violence, to raise our hands to strike, to thirst for vengeance. Some may even argue to fight back is hardwired in our very nature; it is part of what makes man dominant and powerful and it is part of who we are as humans. But I am here to remind you, before you lift up your hands in anger, take a look at the feelings that moved you. Take a look at the people of Brussels, and their chalk messages on the public square, their heartfelt messages, their sorrows and their fears, beautifully arranged and destined to wash away by next rainfall.

Perhaps the best way to show the people of Brussels and Belgium that we, too, are hurting for them — that we too are afraid, and that we too want to join their fight against terror, hate, and death — is to join them in their expression.

Art won’t stop a bullet. Art won’t smother an explosion, or shield us from the evil that we are constantly reminded exists in the world. But art can help us to heal. It can help us to cope with our pain, to share our hope, and to reach across oceans, mountains, and valleys, and connect with our fellow man.

So pick up a pen, a pencil, or a camera. Look at the empty space these terrorist attacks have left in our hearts, in our world, and create something to fill it up.

Share what others have shared, feel what others are feeling. We now live in a globally connected world, where art has the power to create solidarity, and that power is not taken lightly. When fear and hate cast their shadow over the world, our best defense is to stand together, unified, against it. And the solidarity art gives us is the first step to fighting back.

Send all art honoring Brussels to for a chance to be published in The Daily Mississippian.

– McKenna Wierman