Struggle has always been an integral part of human experience. It defines how we see ourselves and how we see the world around us; therefore, struggle is an inseparable part of our identity. The artistic works of this exhibit reflect the connection between identity and struggle in a range of cultural contexts across time in order to show that struggle is a vicious circle in the lives of all beings, human or not.

Still Life with Hunting Trophies brings us back to the mid-seventeenth century. Under Jan Weenix’s brush, the vivid illustration of the hunting scene with dead game and hunting hounds symbolizes the ever-present struggle for survival in nature. On a deeper level, the painting is also a reflection of social hierarchical competition, as the hunters are allowed to hunt, despite the restriction, simply because they are part of elite nobility. The attempt of improving their image as the elite nobility contributes to the portrait’s overall representation of struggle in the social pyramid.

Next The Call to Arms and Fort Pillow Massacre transport us to the mid-nineteenth century into the middle of chaotic battlefields. In the former, the sculpted figure of a strong, overpowering Genius of War towers over the wounded warrior, symbolizing not only the heroism of the French patriots against a powerful enemy, but also the fragility of the human spirit in the face of violent struggle. In the latter, the vivid depiction of the brutal slaughtering of black soldiers in a battle between the Union and Confederates epitomizes a fight against a shadowy world of denial and discrimination. These two art pieces help remind us of the pain and bloodshed that often comes with peace and justice.

Finally, ending up in the middle of twentieth century, Slow Down Freight Train and Deportation to Death, show a world of struggle for economic equality and individual freedom. The longing look of the freight train passenger, as illustrated in Slow Down Freight Train, captures the pain of separation from loved ones and familiarity in a search for a better life.  Similarly, with resignation and hopelessness regarding their inevitable death, the Holocaust victims in Deportation to Death shines light on the inner darkness of human nature and a gruesome history of despotic oppression. Through them, one gains a better understanding of the preciousness of the life we live right now.

Ultimately, this exhibition shows inner human strength in a struggle for a better life, whether in war or in peace. These works help us understand that as painful as struggles in life can be, they give us a moment to make a critical reflection of ourselves and our identity in the past and present.

Jan Weenix’s Still Life with Hunting Trophies, 1680s-1690s
Auguste Rodin’s Project for a Monument to the Defense of Paris (The Call to Arms), 1879
Kurz and Allison’s Fort Pillow Massacre, 1880s-1890s
Rose Piper’s Slow Down Freight Train, 1946-7
Leopoldo Méndez, Deportation to Death (Death Train), 1942