Blind Man Achieves Immortality
(First of a Three-Part Series)
By Phillip Somozo
When British Renaissance poet John Milton wrote what is considered as the greatest poem in the English language, he was a frustrated political/religious writer and financially distraught. Worse, he had become blind. He retreated to a silent life and dictated Paradise Lost to a sympathetic acquaintance who wrote it down (Braille was not born yet) for him.
Milton’s epic poem about the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden then went through history as the classic, literary masterpiece of the meta-narrative from which three of the world’s foremost religious traditions originate: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The notion of Original Sin is, thus, consequently embedded, this time with a poetic twist, in the modern Judeo-Christian psyche. The world, as we now know it, evolved not without a tug-of-war between the God-fearing and the non-believers.
Milton, despite his surliness and heretical religious views, became an icon representing the poet stepping into divine realms, joining visual artist Michelangelo before him and ancient philosopher Socrates, also blind, who must have found himself in interesting if not temperamental company.
Starting September 27, present year, what could be the grandest celebration of Milton’s birthday is going to be held categorically neither by the God-fearing nor the non-believers. John Milton’s 400th birth anniversary celebration will be opened with a grand costume ball by international surreal artists, musicians/composers, poets, fashion models and other stage performers who, for more than a month, will showcase talent and work.
Consider these: over sixty visual artists from all over the globe will display works; a Miltonia historical exhibit; a stunning Polish female artist with her bevy of beautiful fashion models will materialize from dream to reality what surreal fashion is; a jazz band doing what they do best in some of the finest bars; and a cutting-edge dance troupe. Good food and drinks too are to be served. Even the possibility of traffic jams on the road going to the venue is foresighted. If you get caught in one, you would not mind taking a look at the show’s advertisement in full-color Passport magazine you had earlier received from a band of professional models who distributed the publication to train passengers for free!
That the event is going to happen in Brooklyn, New York City, should interest Filipino readers not because we are the first, and for long the only, Christian country in Asia, and also the first to be Westernized culturally (350 years inside the convent and 45 in Hollywood, remember?), but because one of the three main featured artists is a Filipino—a surrealist from Davao. Why? Because his presence among the world’s best known living surrealists to honor the immortalized blind poet is testament to the Filipino artist’s universality. But this means nothing if the event organizer, the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, along with the people behind it, is not credible enough.
The WAH Center
The Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, non-profit, has been described as the epicenter of Brooklyn’s largest artist community: Williamsburg. Its 3-storey, 19th century edifice used to play significant role in America’s financial success as a county savings bank during a time when hostility between the musket-firing US Army and insubordinate, tomahawk-wielding natives had ebbed. A touch of ingenuity from WAH Center founder Yuko Nii, from 1996 onwards, transformed it into a cultural dynamo and one of NYC’s landmark buildings as declared by the City Council in 2007, preserving it forever, hopefully, from the ravages of development.
Yuko Nii, acclaimed artist and philanthropist of Japanese descent, herself, is a beloved daughter of New York State, having been distinguished as one of 1997’s Women of the Year awardees. Her awards did not begin and end there: Betty Smith Arts Award, Outstanding Citizen Award, Asian Cultural Award…include the credentials she had accumulated, and this page would easily fill; it is, therefore, for the interested reader to surf in the web. Suffice it to say that she had once been described by NY Governor George Pataki as “Woman of Excellence with Vision and Courage.” She is presently WAH Center’s Artistic Director.
Official Brooklyn Historian John Manbeck said in an article: “Art in Williamsburg has made great strides. In fact, all Williamsburg has progressed, undoubtedly because of its attraction to artists. Much of the credit must be placed on the doorstep of the director of the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, Yuko Nii.” The City Council of New York believes in and trusts her enough that it infused the WAH Center a $500,000 capital funding grant.
Reciprocating Nii’s vision and courage is the brilliant and steady leadership of President and Executive Director Terrance Lindall, philosopher, poet, writer, events organizer, and artist. Lindall seems to excel in all his endeavors. As student of philosophy he graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College in 1970; as artist, his modern illustrations for Paradise Lost are today the best known, excepting those of William Blake and Gustave Dore. As leader, he organized in 2003 the largest-ever surrealist show in history. The Brave Destiny, as it was called, gathered almost 500 surrealists from all over the globe, converging in WAH Center, declaring to all dreamers, realists, and abstractionists that Surrealism is very much alive!
Now, WAH Center’s 400th birthday celebration of John Milton and Paradise Lost, with Lindall as Show Director, promises to join the annals of history as Milton’s grandest. The blind immortal has something to thank Lindall for. Surrealism founder Andre Breton, too, now has a successor who is perpetuating the movement beyond the 20th century. So felt is Lindall’s influence in the art world that he was included in the Marquis list of Who’s Who in America 2006. Information about him can also be found in the Smithsonian Institute Library. The original Lindall Paradise Lost illustrations are in the collection of the Yuko Nii Foundation and will also be displayed during the exhibit.
(To be continued, featuring Davao Surrealist Ben Banez…)