The Artist is Present, and in Love, Silently

Marina Abramovic & Ulay at MoMAMy friend David Shkolny shared this touching story from ZenGarage on Facebook today and I thought it was too good not to share:

The Artist is Present

Performance artist Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s. When they felt the relationship was ending, they walked the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

At her 2010 MoMa show Marina shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.

If I love you, I need not continually speak of my love

What did you think of Marina’s reaction when seeing Ulay for the first time in more than 30 years? It made me think of this beautiful quote we studied in our Ruhi 6 study circle:

“If I love you, I need not continually speak of my love—you will know without any words. On the other hand if I love you not, that also will you know—and you would not believe me, were I to tell you in a thousand words, that I loved you.”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 3)

Then I got curious about the whole talk from which the quote came — a talk which Abdu’l-Baha gave in October of 1911 in Paris, and was struck by its title:

The Duty of Kindness and Sympathy Towards Strangers and Foreigners

The Artist is PresentThe visitors to Marina Abramovic’s exhibition at MoMA were encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork. With the marked exception of Ulay and a few other artists, they were strangers to her… So, what were their expectations and their experiences? When she was looking at each one of them, what did she see? what did they see in her? When Marina Abramovic made them cry, did they all see their perfection in the imperfection of the mirror of her calm, peaceful look? Can we all learn to love by simply being present and listening compassionately?

“When a man turns his face to God he finds sunshine everywhere. All men are his brothers. Let not conventionality cause you to seem cold and unsympathetic when you meet strange people from other countries. Do not look at them as though you suspected them of being evil-doers, thieves and boors. You think it necessary to be very careful, not to expose yourselves to the risk of making acquaintance with such, possibly, undesirable people.

I ask you not to think only of yourselves. Be kind to the strangers, whether come they from Turkey, Japan, Persia, Russia, China or any other country in the world.

Help to make them feel at home; find out where they are staying, ask if you may render them any service; try to make their lives a little happier.

In this way, even if, sometimes, what you at first suspected should be true, still go out of your way to be kind to them—this kindness will help them to become better.

After all, why should any foreign people be treated as strangers?

Let those who meet you know, without your proclaiming the fact, that you are indeed a Bahá’í.

Put into practice the Teaching of Bahá’u’lláh, that of kindness to all nations. Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.

Oh, you of the Western nations, be kind to those who come from the Eastern world to sojourn among you. Forget your conventionality when you speak with them; they are not accustomed to it. To Eastern peoples this demeanour seems cold, unfriendly. Rather let your manner be sympathetic. Let it be seen that you are filled with universal love. When you meet a Persian or any other stranger, speak to him as to a friend; if he seems to be lonely try to help him, give him of your willing service; if he be sad console him, if poor succour him, if oppressed rescue him, if in misery comfort him. In so doing you will manifest that not in words only, but in deed and in truth, you think of all men as your brothers.

What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless.
The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort.

A man who does great good, and talks not of it, is on the way to perfection.

The man who has accomplished a small good and magnifies it in his speech is worth very little.

If I love you, I need not continually speak of my love—you will know without any words. On the other hand if I love you not, that also will you know—and you would not believe me, were I to tell you in a thousand words, that I loved you.

People make much profession of goodness, multiplying fine words because they wish to be thought greater and better than their fellows, seeking fame in the eyes of the world. Those who do most good use fewest words concerning their actions.

The children of God do the works without boasting, obeying His laws.

My hope for you is that you will ever avoid tyranny and oppression; that you will work without ceasing till justice reigns in every land, that you will keep your hearts pure and your hands free from unrighteousness.
This is what the near approach to God requires from you, and this is what I expect of you.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 3)

Photo credits:
Marina Abramovic and Ulay at MoMA – Photo by Scott Rudd
Day 72, Portrait 19 – Photo by Marco Anelli. © 2010 Marco Anelli

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