Saturday, September 19, 2009

The 21C Family of Man opening

The last few days have been a blur, but a pretty amazing whirlwind has swept through. My exhibit has cause a bit of controversy over my usage of "man." A gender and communications studies professor took umbrage at my gender insensitivity for using signage terminology like "Family of Man," "Faith of Man," etc. 21st Century Family of Persons really doesn't have the same ring to it. 'Tis okay, the exhibit last year on the border fence sparked its own controversy as critics complained that it exhibited "illegal aliens." I imagine that this controversy too shall pass.

My family arrived to LA, my mom, lil sister Ellen, grandfather and uncle, and "big sis" Kay. It was very special having family on hand to share this time with me, and I really enjoyed getting to show them my LA world.

The reception was a lavish affair and there was a large turnout for the event. There was an incredible spread of foods from all over the world, things like jerk chicken, curry pastry puffs and assorted cheeses. They even had Red Stripe beer from Jamaica- the Annenberg events people rock.

The affair began with remarks by Prof. Larry Gross, the Dean of the Communications School. He alluded to the controversy my signage caused, and spoke of the original controversy of the Family of Man exhibit. He was followed by Prof. Phil Seib, who is the director of the Center on Public Diplomacy. The avuncular Seib laughed about how many frequent flyer miles I must have racked up (sadly, no- I get no miles for long bus rides). Then Prof. Cull gave some wonderfully warm remarks about the program and my work.

Finally it was my turn to speak. I had been writing this speech in my head all summer (prob from the day I received the project- I am such a kosher ham). Here are my remarks, abbreviated without all the effusive thanks I offered. I titled the remarks "The Bridge":

As Khalil Gibran said of his magnum opus, “The Prophet”: ”Every word of it was the very best I had to offer.” This work that you see here is the very best I have to offer.

A more difficult task than traveling from Beijing to Cairo is putting together a photography exhibit in LA while not owning a car. It takes a lot of public diplomacy to put on a public diplomacy photo exhibit.

The best definition of public diplomacy I have seen has come from USC Professor Manuel Castells:
'Public Diplomacy is the…projection in the international arena of the values and ideas of the public… The aim of the practice of public diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen. Public diplomacy seeks to build a sphere in which diverse voices can be heard in spite of their various origins, distinct values, and often contradictory interests.'

That is exactly what I am trying to build with my photo exhibit; that is what all of us in the Public Diplomacy program are trying to build through the tremendous education we receive here. It is about constructing a space where all are one.

This exhibit is about showcasing those elements that, in the darkness, bind us. Things like friendship, like family, like faith. That ephemeral quality that is love.

Public Diplomacy is about messages. As Gandhi said, “My life is my message.” So then, what is my message to you tonight?

I considered the words of St. Augustine, that which grace all my emails, “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only a page.” I considered the words of the Prophet Micah, which sustained me in my long travels and travails “Do Justice, love Kindness and walk humbly with thy God.”

All lovely, but my message to you tonight is that of a Hebrew saying, “Kol hulam kulo, gesher tsar ma’od, v’ hayikar lo lifached klal,” The world is a narrow bridge, and you mustn’t be afraid to cross it.

While the world may indeed be a narrow bridge, it is the role of public diplomacy to widen that bridge. It is the task of public diplomacy to widen that bridge so that more and more people will not live in fear of the world that exists on the other side, and so that they will not be afraid to cross that bridge.

That was the brilliance of the Family of Man exhibit- it widened that bridge that connects humanity. That is what I have tried to do here.

I will conclude my remarks with the conclusion of the year, as this opening comes just before Rosh Hashanah- the Jewish new year. It is an especially auspicious end of the year as it falls on the Sabbath. There is an old belief that such an occasion marks the coming of a peaceful year. I pray this is so.

The year that has past has been a year marked with hope and change. Let us pray that the year to come will be a year of peace and understanding fostered through public diplomacy.


Jenna said...

Kay! Your mom didn't mention that she was there. How is she? Did you know she was coming?

Miles said...

Paul, any pictures of the exhibition itself for those of us not able to make it out to ASC in the near future??

Paul Rockower said...

Kay is great, I will send her your regards. I did know she was coming, I saw her in Seattle before I was off to Japan.

There is a website:
Or I will send the exhibit on a tour down south to you.