By Claire Kalikman
On Wednesday, February 14th, the Beinecke Library hosted its first event in a three-part series about the year 1968, 50 years later. The series mainly focuses on art, especially art in reaction to politics. Because 1968 was such a transformational year in domestic and global politics and culture, several news outlets have also run stories commemorating the year.
In 1968, the United States was at war with Vietnam. Protests shook every continent, including the famous “I Am A Man” rally. Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated. But it was also a year of progress. The Civil Rights Act became law, and man landed on the moon.
The event on Wednesday consisted of talks by William Marotti, a professor at UCLA and author of the book Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan, and Yuriko Furuhata, a professor at McGill University and author of Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics. The lectures focused on the counterculture movement in Japan in the 1960s, similar to the mood of hippiedom and protest that swept the United States.
The events go in conjunction with a class called “1968@50: Art, Architecture, and Cultures of Protest” taught by Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen in the School of Architecture. The class uses many primary source documents from the Beinecke Library. The course aims to answer questions about the possibilities and limits of art and architecture as vehicles for social change. It also covers relations between “high” and “low” culture in ’68 and the contradictions inherent in the notion of an “avant-garde of the masses”, along with many other social factors.
I found the lectures difficult to understand and relate to, as I am not a member of the class. In my opinion, the speakers used overly academic jargon, alienating much of the audience and clouding any central message. That being said, the primary documents shown were engaging and stimulating. It was intriguing to see how images from the hippie movement in the United States translated into Japanese culture. There was a clear influence, from the haircuts to posters.
The second event of the series will take place on April 4th in the School of Architecture, and will discuss Italy in 1968. The third event is closer to home, covering events in New Haven in the same year.
Claire Kalikman ’21 is in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.