ARTISTS IN EXILE: American Odyssey by Jane Katz

ARTISTS IN EXILE: American Odyssey

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Certainly there's a second wave of artists-in-exile among us, parallel to (if also unlike) the refugees of the 1930s: from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, from Latin America, South Africa, and East Asia. But these 24 interviews, though of some individual interest, do little to put their situation into perspective. Katz came to the subject, she explains, from the study of native American art-makers, ""uprooted from tribal lands and culture""; was the ÉmigrÉ artist similarly impelled to perpetuate ""a meaningful cultural tradition""? As regards world-class writers and performers, this is naivetÉ--oblivious, moreover, to both the push of politics and the pull of art. Most of those represented here--as well as their celebrated, absent peers (Baryshnikov, Rostropovich, Serban, et al.)--are in America to freely express themselves, to escape artistic emasculation or physical confinement. Katz is closer to the mark, if not quite on target, when she refers to them as mavericks. Her approach, however, hobbles the testimony. The writers, naturally articulate, naturally come off best. Isaac Bashevis Singer (who, as a first-wave immigrant, doesn't really belong here) waxes charming as usual, and pertinently observes that he ""wasn't alienated"" because he brought his culture with him. Chinese ÉmigrÉ novelist Yuan-tsung Chen (The Dragon's Village) speaks of trying to find ""a point in between"" Chinese literary didacticism (""too involved with history and social problems, too little with the individual"") and American literary narcissism (""They suffer, but they don't really seem to care about the sufferings of others""). Argentinian expatriate journalist and novelist Luisa Valenzuela (Clara, Strange Things Happen Here) finds New York-as others do, less tellingly--""the center of nowhere and everywhere."" Also present, to somewhat lesser effect, are South African exile poet Dennis Brutus and Vietnamese ÉmigrÉ writer Mai Thao, as well as two perennial interviewees better met elsewhere, Joseph Brodsky and Elie Wiesel. Of the remainder--dancers, musicians, visual artists, actors, a film director--two emerge with both something to say and an individual voice. Christo, of the evanescent monuments, recalls helping Bulgarian farmers ""clean up"" the countryside that the Orient Express passed through; here, he uses his art ""to challenge the American social structure."" Stanislaw Skrowczewski, Polish-born composer and conductor, ranges informally from the ""destruction"" of Shostakovich to musical-Minneapolis (""Do you think the German farmer listens to chamber music?""). Among the better-known others are dancer Natalia Makarova, pianist Nine Lelchuk, actress/singer Martha Schlamme, actor Jan Triska. A surface skim, largely, of a prodigious subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1983
Publisher: Stein & Day