"It takes effort to hate other people," says Helena artist Tim Holmes, whose new exhibit "Poisonous Books" explores the complexities of hate, fear and intolerance.
The exhibit, now on display in Carroll's St. Charles Hall gallery, is a series of sculptures made from hate books written by white supremacists.
One book is called "The White Man's Bible," and details the beliefs of the former World Church of the Creator — the group was forced to change its name for copyright reasons — who identifies its mission as "the survival, expansion and advancement of the white race exclusively."
The group believes the white race is nature's highest creation and advocates the elimination of the lesser "mud-races."
Holmes says he can't disagree with their right to think that way.
While the group has threatened Holmes with letters and phone calls, and even discussed online what they were going to "do about him," he says he has more compassion for them than anything else.
"It makes me really sad," Holmes said, adding, "These people are human beings."
They might hate him, but Holmes refuses to hate them back.
For him, that would mean stooping to their level.
"We know what intolerance produces," Holmes said.
Instead, Holmes chooses to use his art to get at the root of the problem by asking some tough questions.
With "Poisonous Books," the most important question Holmes would like to ask is: "How do we live together in an increasingly shrinking world with those who disagree with us?"
He says that working with the books, which he says contain "unadulterated hatred," was fascinating. His sculptures explore the power of ideas, and he has literally turned several of the books into weapons, such as an ax, a mace and a torch.
One interactive piece utilizes passages from the books to make refrigerator magnets, and Holmes invites people to "make your own hate poetry."
Strange as it may sound, Holmes says he tried to find the beauty and the human element in the books, hoping to shed some light on the human capacity to hate, and how intolerance can turn to violence.
"Nobody is totally good or totally bad," Homes said.
Although Holmes believes his responsibility as an artist is to pose questions, he hopes his audience will look to themselves for the answers.
"It's not the artist's responsibility to preach, but to illuminate issues that already exist," said Holmes.
For Holmes, receiving death threats and hate mail has brought the problem close to home. He does not claim to be fearless, but says his choice becomes "whether to live out of fear or hope."
Holmes admits to getting disheartened at times, but is comforted by the idea that he's not responsible for the result.
That's a little thing he was reminded of by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who came to Helena in 1990 to appear during a benefit with Holmes' musical satire group, The Montana Logging and Ballet Company.
"He was so cheerful," Holmes recalls of Tutu.
Holmes couldn't understand Tutu's attitude in the face of such injustice in the world, and asked Tutu how he could remain so optimistic.
"Because I know who's in charge," Tutu said, "and it's not me."
Several upcoming events will provide the Helena community with a chance to discuss "Poisonus Books" and the questions it raises about hate and intolerance.
- At 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14, an artist reception will be held at the gallery, followed at 7 p.m. by a panel discussion, "When Multiculturalism Becomes Hate," at 7 p.m. in the Carroll Campus Center. Free and open to the public. Speakers will include Dr. Ahrar Ahmad, professor of political science at Black Hills State University and veteran of the Bangladesh war with Pakistan; Holmes; and Carroll Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Elizabeth Chute.
- A second event will be held from 7-9 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the Holter Museum. Holmes will give an overview of the project, and hopes to show part of a documentary being made about the work. Afterwards, there will be a community discussion, and attendees will have the opportunity to make their own art from the hate books.