I know I’m guilty of stereotyping but when I think of Houston, the first thing that comes to mind is not arts, history or culture, not by a mile. This stopover in Houston was already proving to be more surprising than I expected – space stations, some of the most lively parks in the whole United States, quilts all in one of the most forward looking cities in the nation, the fact that Houston had whole districts to museums and theatres was a welcome surprise.
(Yes, that’s how theatre is spelt, ‘theater’? no, just no. 😉 )
And to be fair, these aren’t exactly small districts either. They are probably even bigger than some found in the European cities I described. Located south of downtown Houston, the Museum District counts 19 museums in its list, and includes an eclectic mix: there is the psychology-centric Jung Center, the more ‘normal’ Museum of Fine Arts, a Czech Cultural Centre, a Holocaust Musuem, its quite the collection – including a series of socially-conscious pieces at the contemporary arts museum of the prison crisis especially among African American men.
It was the Jung Center that caught my eye though, you don’t hear of something like this everyday.
The Jung Center is in fact more than a half century old, and the founders aimed to help people discover the deeper meaning in their lives through the methods developed by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Born in Zurich, Carl Jung’s method, called the analytical method and focused on looking at the individuals psyche as part of the personal quest for wholeness.
I’ll let these documentaries do more of the talking.
What fascinated me about the centre were the art pieces on show, there were social-cultural-political messages wrapped in these. Religious imagery and present day political events juxtaposed side by side. Donald Trump positioned within the last super, his face facing the audience and not Jesus, hand in the table, dressed more darkly, is he supposed to be Judas? A false prophet that will sell out truth for money? Or is this commentary about Trump seen as an apostle to the political right, but having none of the religious convictions.
A picture of Mary, painted in the form of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but her face and location is that of migrants and people suffering. The picture seems to be asking, whether she is giving succour to her children or is standing idly by while her children suffer, suffering is a part of growth but how much suffering do people need?
Another picture reimagines the scene of the colonialist arriving in America. At the centre is a Jesus, whose middle eastern features are covered with a mask of whiteness, carry a gospel with the logo of Shell Petroleum, Jesus’ left the helpless natives cowering in fear as the masked Jesus points the way forward. Backing Jesus up was lady liberty and Christopher Columbus who came with swords of peace, following them were religious people there to bring salvation to the backward natives. And tourism, a lot of tourism. His fingers point to a background where the American Bald Headed Eagles hovers menacingly with a rope on its talen as its eyes a helpless dove – freedom would come by force if it had too, seemed to be the message. A bulldozer, was in the process of de-treeing it, this was a sign of progress, as the wonderful rainbow indicated. It was a very very ‘woke’ picture of social criticism for sure.
Most of these pictures though perhaps said more about the person making the art piece and their worldview then the piece itself.
I think I just engaged in some Jungian analysis there 😉
The foundations of these districts however was uniquely American. Unlike Europe, where such things are planned by city planners, the Musuem District was developed as a community project, by the museums to find a way to bring more people to their galleries. It was only after a decade or so, as the organisation developed that the district was recognised by the city. It was then that the government got to action, Restaurants were encouraged to set up, beautiful broadwalks were commissioned, metro lines stopped all over. Essentially, a private group initiated something and government added to it later. Even more fascinating is that these museums cost somewhere in the range of USD 80 million to run and are all run on private donations.
It certainly was a successful effort, since as of 2017, 8.7 million people visited the district that year.
Count me a very happy addition to that number.
ON THE MAP (Museum District)
ON THE MAP (Jung Center)