To politicians, war is an extension of diplomacy. It is a tool to wheel out when other avenues of negotiation do not provide acceptable results. To professional soldiers, war is the study and execution of tactics to complete a broader strategy. Both politicos and military planners define war through the economics of cost and benefit. To one artist, war is to a society what primal hatred is to the individual. It is an event that demands explorations into the darkest depths of the human experience.
For Huong, a Miami-based artist who was born and raised in Vietnam during the sweeping North Vietnamese victory, war is personal. The armies of the north had marched through Saigon. Her father was an officer in the South Vietnamese Army and was beginning a nine-year sentence in a POW camp. Her brother was killed. She boarded a boat with her infant son and fled to America.
Huong's artistic reaction to war, which took 20 years to contemplate and five years to complete, is a group of 8-by-12-foot paintings that are collectively titled War Pieces. A Picassoesque abstraction mixes with the hard lines and colors of the politically and emotionally charged work. It is hard to miss the central focus of death, pain, and displacement caused by the clashing of democratic versus communist ideologies. Huong uses skulls and flags of countries embroiled in the conflict to probe the idea of war. The paintings are her catharsis.
More than 120 individual pieces comprise War Pieces. All are on display from December 6 to May 31 at the Art, War and Peace Museum (2000 NE Jensen Beach Blvd., Stuart) as the major part of the new museum's first exhibition.
Along with Huong, who also unveils a peace mural for permanent display, three sculptors take part in the exhibition. Nicole Taillon and Gerald Taerilolt of Quebec, Canada, and Venezuela's Jorge Segui show a total of 42 sculptures confronting the effects and emotions of war.
The museum will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Call 772-225-3200. -- Mike Keller
A View from the Pop Art
What do you get when you mix a bit of pop culture and a love of comic books with the influence of Middle Eastern art? Why, that would be the art of Laylah Ali. The minimalism and repetitive use of colors in Ali's paintings strike one immediately as playful and even child-like. But this impression is quickly contradicted by her subtle depictions of scenes among individuals and groups in states of conflict. In two of her recent series -- "The Attack of the Blueheads" and "The Greenheads" -- Ali uses cartoonish characters to address issues of race, class, and gender. The figures in her paintings are usually masked and are often dressed identically, implying the struggle between the subverted class and those in power but begging a simple question: Are these figures villains or heroes? The Norton Museum of Art (1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach) offers a lecture by Ali at 6 p.m. Friday, where she discusses the urban influence on her work, and a student workshop with her at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, when high school artists explore the impact of comic-book and graphic-novel imagery. Call 561-832-5196. -- Audra Schroeder
It just wouldn't be Christmas without somebody doing The Nutcracker
It's that time of year again, when sugar plum fairies and candy canes dance across the stage to tunes that should be familiar to anyone who's ever seen one of those circa 1960s Claymation Christmas specials.
This year, the Miami City Ballet probably has the best nutcracking experience. With its production of George Balanchine's ballet, the troupe features great costumes, fantastic scenery, and everything from falling snowflakes to growing Christmas trees. Even without the hoopla, you'd want to check out Balanchine's version -- the man is generally accepted as the Shakespeare or Mozart of ballet choreography, after all.
The ballet comes to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts (701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with additional shows Saturday and Sunday. A trio of weekend shows then follows at Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach from December 12 to 14 and at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts from December 19 to 21. Tickets cost $19.50 to $59.50. Call 877-929-7010. -- Dan Sweeney
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We all know that here in South Florida, you can't really enjoy a true holiday experience involving cold weather, ice skating, or snowball fights. So you have to find an alternative. You've no doubt already seen the festive signs for holiday events with names like "Fantastical Holiday Light-o-Rama" or "Santa's Totally Psychedelic Hell-Flame Inferno" (which is now defunct) peppering the landscape. But through January 4, Tradewinds Park (3600 W. Sample Rd., Coconut Creek) offers an event that's a little less overwhelming and a little easier on the eyes. The park's annual "Holiday Fantasy of Lights" covers more than two miles with animated displays and Christmas lights. And the best part -- you don't even have to get out of your car. You can drive through it! It's fun for the whole family. The Holiday Fantasy of Lights happens every night from 6 to 10 p.m. and is open on Christmas. Admission is $6 per car Monday through Thursday and $9 on Friday and Sunday. Call 954-968-3880. -- Audra Schroeder