Where are we headed?

An art piece from the past sheds light on the future

I was cleaning out my closet early this morning, sorting through some of the artwork I’ve created over the course of the past decade. Some of the more interesting stuff includes the works I made in high school. Because, let’s be real: High school kids go through all the feels. And art is all about "them feels."

Kneeling beneath my hanging clothes, I pulled from the bottom of my closet a huge paper portfolio containing paint-smeared linoleum blocks and their corresponding prints. Inside another portfolio I found fine-lined etchings on scratchboards and quick sketches of people and animals done on lined notebook paper, which may be considered doodles by some, but are classified as art in my book.

And then, beneath the last portfolio, I found something that gave me pause. It was a stark white canvas spattered in black India ink, overlaid by a black-and-white collage of society in a state of chaos. On the back of it, were my initials: ELC, the date: 4/2010, and the title of the piece: “Where Are We Headed?”

"Where Are We Headed?" by Erica Cirino, April 2010

"Where Are We Headed?" by Erica Cirino, April 2010

There’s President Obama and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waving on Former Pope Benedict XVI in his pope-mobile! There are two large Americans wolfing down fried food at a state fair! There’s a terrorist pantomiming a gun with his hand! There are people fighting over bread at a stall in Syria! There are Mexican immigrants watching the scene unfold in the bed of a Ford pickup!

The background, which I had painted with ink, depicts unspoiled—yet creepy—woodland, which gives way to primitive dwellings, then farms, then small homes, then larger homes, then factories and power plants spewing smoke, then hulking city buildings. This background is slanted to the right in an oddly disorienting way. It’s as if time is moving really quickly toward the future, making one’s sense of the present moment seem fraught and fleeting.

In the middle and foreground, I had pasted photocopied images of people pulled from magazines and newspapers—all from events that were current in 2010. 

What took me aback looking at the canvas this morning was its uncanny resemblance to the state of life on Earth today. I created that piece six years ago as a high school senior, yet given the events that have transpired in New York and New Jersey over the past few days, it seemed so relevant today.

Was my high-school senior self super-attuned to the trajectory of human civilization or was it all a coincidence I had created it?

Looking back, this piece probably was no coincidence. Some quick Googling of “terrorist events” this morning lead me to Wikipedia pages listing the hundreds that transpired in my senior year alone, 2009 to 2010. Some horrifically memorable events that transpired in the six months before I created this piece include the Little Rock and Holocaust Museum shootings in June 2009; the Fort Hood Shooting and Russian Train Bombing in November 2009; the Somalia Hotel Bomb, Bagdad Bombings, CIA Base Attack and Underwear Bomber in December 2009.

Police in France prepare to confront a suspected terrorist. 11/2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

Police in France prepare to confront a suspected terrorist. 11/2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

Since, there have been countless more terror attacks: the April 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, the December 2014 Police Station Stabbing in France, the November 2015 Hotel Attack in Mali, the June 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Miami—and now, the events that unfolded this weekend.

Besides these events, other horrendous acts not classified as “terrorism,” but terrifying nonetheless, have unfolded across the world: dozens of mass shootings, myriad police brutality events, murders and more.

Many people I know admit they navigate their days in a constant state of fear—on the commute to work, in their college dorms, at the grocery store, even in their own homes. Some say they tense up when they hear loud noises, they feel anxious in public places.

I don’t blame them. But in the face of terrorism, I personally try to take my feelings of fear and replace them with resilience. Because how else can we move forward? Paralysis will only lead to more pain.

I want to be able to answer the question, “Where are we headed?” in a positive way. I want the future to look different than the one depicted in my piece. I want people to realize we are creating this reality, and as a result we are the only ones who can change it.