Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To: A Complete Stranger

Dear 6 billion other people in this world,

I have many personal life stories, ideas and morals to share, ranging from someone’s dream to another’s worst nightmare. I am too self-conscious to share them with you. However, I know, after experiencing the “6 Milliards d’Autres” exhibit in the Palais Royal, that you would be able to relate to, disagree with, cry about, and appreciate at least one thing that I have to say. The exhibit was the most moving, life-changing artwork of my life.

The exhibition, film compilations of interviews with 5000 everyday people from 75 different countries and 45 different languages, is creative and original. Six interviewers traveled around the world and asked people the same questions about love, family, forgiveness, happiness, memories, pain, etc. The genius behind the idea, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, produces works that are immensely beautiful and that have enough emotional power to make me cry (even while writing this and simply reflecting on the exhibit). I left the palace with a greater appreciation of mankind—diversity, cultures, differences and similarities—and I became more grateful for my life, health, friends, and family.

The exhibit layout itself contributes greatly to how I feel about the exhibit. It spans a colossal space of a courtyard with a clear rooftop and in the shape of a cross, so it seems almost divine. When I enter, hundreds of people on film stare at me and talk to me from under a tent. The large tent that greets me is full of all sorts of faces: wrinkly, young, white, tanner, bearded, pierced, jeweled, black, blue-haired, Japanese, shawled, bald, etc. They talk in many different languages, and they answer the same questions posed by the interviewer. The tent is circular, so although all of the faces are so different, they are still unified. There is a heater in the middle—the tent is not enclosed so as to invite everyone immediately to the circle of diversity and unity— that you can use to keep your warm body consistent with your warm thoughts you feel while watching the film clips.

Spread out around this big circular tent are smaller, enclosed, circular tents. The circles catalyze the sense of unity I feel with everyone at the exhibit. Like the people shown on film in the exhibit, the tents are a diversity of colors—red, maroon, yellow, blue—and each tent shows film clips on people’s opinions on one specific topic: happiness, love, relationships, anger, etc. The tent themes are written in many different languages on the outside of the tent, and the shape of the words together resembles, again, a cross. Unlike the main tent that you see when you walk in, these tents are enclosed, warmer, and they are set up like a movie theater, with the screen on one side and benches or seats set up in front of it. I prefer the tents with bench seats. It emphasizes one of the main messages of the exhibit by making me feel less separated from the stranger next to me. The tents are small enough so you feel like you’re intimately connected to the person shown on screen (one person is shown at a time). You also are able to practically cuddle with all of the others crowded in the tent, excited to learn about the same people are you. I know that the people watching the film around me are from all over, because I cannot understand many of their languages. The film clips have subtitles in English and in French. It is amazing that with all of the different languages in the world, so many people can still understand the same language.

The range of emotions that this art exhibition creates is astonishing, and the film clips are deliberately stitched together to create coherent messages about individuality and universality.

First tent, memories. A woman from Pakistan says with a stoic face that her first childhood memory is being slapped by her dad, and minutes later a woman from Russia smiles while describing her memory of wearing her favorite daisy dress when her dad carried her on his shoulders and she thought she ruled the world. I watch these clips shocked and wide-eyed. My first childhood memories include images of my dad dancing to the song “Shout” while spraying the stains out of my dirty laundry. The black white-haired woman with a cane next to me starts to cry.

Next tent, next film, gender roles. This tent has two video screens next to each other, angled a bit as if the people in the films were facing each other and having a conversation. A man from Iran claims that since Eve came after Adam, men are more important and we just have to accept that. I become so upset at this remark that I want to find that man and criticize him. I realize that finding him will not be enough. There are many people that share his views. A British woman speaks out for me in the next video clip, however, saying, “I ask for all of us to stand up and say enough,” alluding to the fact that women still have a ways to go before receiving equal rights to men.

Next tent, next film, love. I spend over an hour sitting here, watching love story after love story. An Ethiopian man says that love to him means 3 wives (one for each house), a New Zealand woman explains that she fell in love last year after 25 years of marriage, and a Russian woman claims that she never loved anyone but instead married to get out of poverty. I start crying. Love (understanding, laughter, friendship, and trust) is the best feeling I have ever experienced, and I am upset that everyone does not experience it too. The couples around me kiss constantly in this tent, and an old man in his 80s observes them with worn-out bags under his eyes.

Next tent, next film, family. An Ethiopian father says that likes his family because he had many girls that he sold for goats, which give him food to have a “good life.” A Texan exclaims that she was too involved in a career to have a family, and that is common in the US: “everyone fends for himself.” It is ironic when individuals make generalized statements about their country such as the one above. I wish the interviewees could see how different each opinion is. A New Orleans man follows the Texan, explaining that when he became a dad, he became so happy, because he realized that he was joining the “history of the world.”

Next tent, next film, happiness. To one woman from Madagascar, happiness means clean water. Clean water. I think about the Cristaline bottled water that I bought this morning and then filled up in the sink.

Next tent, next film, dreams. A woman from Italy says in a serious voice that she always wanted to be a pilot. A man from Burkina laughs and explains that he dreamed of becoming a pilot. In the following clips, people from France, the US, Kenya, Japan, and Thailand all admit that their childhood dream was to be able to fly.

So many people want to fly. Perhaps they want to reach the sky for the fun of it, perhaps they want to rise high above everyone else, perhaps they want to fly to be relieved from the tough realities of their everyday lives, perhaps they want to understand the rest of the world better and mix with more people, languages, ideas. Each reason behind the stated dream may be different, but the combined film clips deliver a powerful message: so many people dream of flying.

The inequalities illuminated by the exhibit send me a sad message that not everyone is able to fly as easily as others. Some people are more fortunate than others and see the world through a more optimistic perspective. This art exhibition reinforced my dream to help others realize and appreciate how similar and yet wonderfully different we all are and to help more people actualize their dreams.

Promising to someday share my stories with the world,

Ps. Go to this website and learn from others: http://www.6billionothers.org/index_en.php

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