Portland Opera The Marriage of Figaro Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

The cultural and hot wars of 2022

From Putin's invasion of Ukraine to vaccine wars to street protests and racial reckonings, the art world responds to the world at large.


“Triggers,” one of painter Henk Pander’s depictions of 2020’s downtown Portland clashes between protesters and armed local and national police and troopers. Oil on canvas, 2020. Photo: Aaron Wessling

From Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to vaccine wars to the fallout from street protests to racial reckonings to the near-fatal assault on Salman Rushdie, the world of arts and culture couldn’t escape the larger culture clashes that beset the world in 2022. In some cases, artists and writers looked for the roots of turmoil. In other cases, they met the challenges of politics and violence head on.


Feb. 1: Froelick, CAP, and the vaccine controversy. Early in the year, as Jennifer Rabin writes, calls went out to boycott Froelick Gallery after owner Charles Froelick pulled work by gallery artists from the annual Cascade AIDS Project fund-raising auction because CAP was requiring auction visitors to wear anti-Covid protective masks. Eventually the controversy spilled over to Froelick’s comments about the nearby Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, and half a dozen leading artists quit the gallery. The story continued with Rabin’s March 8 analysis of the controversy’s downward spiral, and finally with Froelick’s apology.

Feb. 10: On national anthems and land acknowledgements. Theater columnist Marty Hughley considered the rituals of singing the national anthem before the Super Bowl, and of theater companies giving acknowledgements of the Indigenous tribes that had lived on the land where the theaters now stood, and imagined what the effect might be if the rituals were switched: land acknowledgements at sporting events, the Star-Spangled Banner at the theater. Along the way he dug into the meanings of both rituals.

Feb. 10: Mandela: Tracing a hero’s life and times. Bobby Bermea visited the expansive exhibition at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on the travails and triumphs of the great South African leader’s fight for freedom, and considered what his legacy means today.

Feb. 26: Henk Pander: Witness to the standoff. Pander, the Dutch-born and -trained Portland artist, spent time sketching scenes from Portland’s street protests following the murder of George Floyd, and the local and national police response to the protests. He turned what he saw into a piercing suite of four large paintings, displayed at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, depicting the standoff as the city approached a civic breaking point.

"I'll Take You There" by Tatyana Ostapenko (2022) 4 x 6 feet
“I’ll Take You There,” by Tatyana Ostapenko (acrylic on canvas, 48 by 72 inches, 2022). An exhibition at the Corvallis Arts Center raised more than $60,000 for war relief in Ukraine.

March 7: Amid the roots of sunflowers and guns. How should the arts world respond to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine that shook the world? Bob Hicks remembers a time in Russia shortly before Putin’s rise, and suggestions that the roots of war were nurtured in fields of beauty and danger. On April 28, Tosca Ruotolo followed with the story of Tatyana Ostapenko, a Ukrainian artist living in Portland, and her exhibition in Corvallis that raised more than $60,000 for GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. And on Dec. 26, David Slader considered the effect of trauma on Ukrainian art and the nation’s legacy of modernism.

March 17: “The Central Park Five”: Art as a tool for justice. Anthony Davis’s shattering work at Portland Opera, Friderike Heuer wrote, opens deep and disturbing questions about race and policing in the United States. Four days later, Brett Campbell followed with Portland Opera’s “The Central Park Five” dramatizes two worlds in collision, a deep look at the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, the infamous 1989 false convictions of five Black teenagers in the beating and rape of a jogger in New York City’s Central Park, and the continuing implications of the racially motivated mob mentality that helped drive a rank injustice.

April 13: “Necessity” and the Zenith Energy oil train protests. Marc Mohan talks with Portland documentary filmmaker Jan Haaken about the Columbia Gorge, oil trains, civil disobedience, and her newest film.

May 17: Perpetual light shining on the saints: The long-awaited premiere of Damien Geter’s “Requiem.” The Portland composer’s An African American Requiem–in reviewer James Bash’s words, “a powerful, beautiful, and dramatic plea for justice, mercy, understanding, and a beam of light from the heavens”–had a resounding premiere performance from the Oregon Symphony and an 80-voice choir. It was broadcast live bicoastally and rang deep, musically, culturally, and historically. A later performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., drew national raves.

June 10: Bang bang, and other dramatic events. Prompted by the news of mass-murder shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, Bob Hicks reflected on the art of storytelling and the lure of the violent in the telling of the human tale; and on book-banning and the saving glories and bravery of libraries.

July 18: Calamity again: The fading persistence of memory. From the father of modern Ukrainian literature to the missing statues in Portland’s Park Blocks, Bob Hicks writes, a battle brews over history and the stories we tell.

Mariah Harris, “Scream for Justice,” in the Portland Art Museum exhibition “Perspectives”; 2020, pigment print, courtesy of the artist, © Mariah Harris

July 29: “Perspectives”: Remembering what matters. “It hurts.” Christopher Gonzalez reflects deeply on his journey through the Portland Art Museum’s fierce and piercing show of work by photographers of color about the city’s 2020 racial justice protests.

Aug. 2: Grafitti: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Street art abounds on the city’s walls – sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not; sometimes adding to the city’s beauty, sometimes destroying it. Is it time, artist David Slader asks, for Portland to join the “Free Walls” movement?

Chamber Music Northwest Orion Quartet The Old Church Portland Oregon

Aug. 12: Salman Rushdie and the dangerous world. The author, under a fatwah proclaimed in 1989 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran following the publication of Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, is attacked and nearly killed while giving a talk in Upstate New York. For Bob Hicks, the attempted killing sparked memories of listening to Rushdie speak one evening in Idaho, and the wit and sly erudition the author brought to bear: “It’s almost too easy to forget that at some basic level, Rushdie’s road show is an act of courage.”

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