Sarah Mirk

2020 in review: At last, over & out

2020? Perish the thought. The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and occasional triumphs of Oregon's arts & culture in a tortuous year.

2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.

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Graphic voices of Guantanamo

Portland writer Sarah Mirk's new illustrated book delves deep to tell the tales of lives in limbo at the prison built on the War on Terror

Forty prisoners of the “War on Terror” are still held in the United States prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Out of the 779 prisoners who’ve entered the military prison following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., they are the last ones left. Most of the others were released or transferred to other countries. A few died, having never left the prison. Some of these men were picked up off battlefields, or captured by intelligence officials. But most were turned in for lucrative bounties offered by the United States.

The 40 who remain exist in a dystopian legal limbo, not charged with a crime but unable to return home. The George W. Bush Administration insisted the Geneva Convention did not apply to these men, and over the years a confusing bureaucracy has sprung up that keeps them in this limbo. While protests against police brutality erupt nightly in cities across the U.S., those men go to bed unsure if they will ever be released. Portland writer Sarah Mirk’s new graphic book Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts From the World’s Most Infamous Prison asks us to consider the lives of those men who were released after years of imprisonment, and those who still remain.

The dilemmas of observing. Illustrator: Hazel Newlevant

Mirk might be best known for her work as a former online editor for Bitch Media and her reporting for The Portland Mercury. She now spends most of her time in comics, as an editor on The Nib and through publishing comic zines daily on her Instagram. In Guantanamo Voices she’s stepped back into the role of journalist, employing an international lineup of artists to bring her reporting to life.

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