Progressive art forms have long been noted for their affinity with radical, leftist and liberal causes. From music to literature and onwards, arts have played a leading role in helping foment the revolutions (especially the sexual) so inimical to life and family values.

One can look at the 1960s and the cultural changes wrought by events such as the 1969 Woodstock rock music festival, or the on-TV abortion struggle of Maude in the early 1970s, to illustrate how the arts have been used to shape the values and views of a new generation.

But a Hamilton-area artist is seeking to change all that. Since October, 26-year-old Bruno Capolongo has had an encaustic, mixed-media art piece on prominent display in a major exhibition at Hamilton’s Eaton Centre, a shopping concourse located in the heart of the downtown core.

The Scream, a four- by three-foot piece on panel, melds images of a fetus with radical pro-abortion slogans and reproductions of some of the most disturbing pictures in abortion history — including the infamous shot of late-term babies piled into a garbage bag.
Concerns become art

“I’ve been concerned about social issues for a very long time, right back to my teens,” said Capolongo, a resident of the Hamilton suburb of Stoney Creek. “But none of it was ever translated into my artwork. I decided it was time that the things that concern me so much find their way into my artwork.”

Capolongo is currently studying towards a masters degree in arts at the Vermont College of Norwich University in Montpelier, Vt. He has a long history of exhibitions and awards dating back to 1988, including several people’s choice awards, an excellence-in-art award from the Levi Strauss Co. of Canada and a Stoney Creek Men’s Club award for art.

The germ of the idea for The Scream came when Capolongo decided to move past popular and media coverage of the abortion issue and educate himself instead. Up until then, he had not been active in pro-life work on any front. “I went to the library and Hamilton Right to Life … I began to realize (pro-life supporters) are not exaggerating. The Scream was a reaction to what I was reading and to the media.”

He completed the work intermittently over two months and then brought it with him for submission as part of his studies at Vermont College. The reaction he received when he presented the work was somewhat akin to what would have happened if he had brought a hand grenade in and pulled the pin.

“The school program I’m in attracts many feminists and people living ‘alternative lifestyles.’ This piece just set them on fire … It was the centre of attention. It upset some people, but then it pleased some people. But the people who were pleased spoke to me only in private. Nobody wanted to stick their neck out publicly and say, ‘I like the piece.'”

Publicly, Capolongo’s piece was savaged as being “biased” and “unintellectual.” He said it was “almost crazy” to bring the piece to school because it was like “walking into a lions’ den … I did it anyway because I wanted to get people reacting. And boy, did I ever.”

On the other hand, one woman — a visiting artist and instructor at the college — commended him on the work. “Her daughters had both had abortions. You would have thought she would have been defensive, but not at all.”

Capolongo managed to get the piece included in the Hamilton exhibition, called Public Hanging ‘97, at the last minute. One of his goals was to influence people on the pro-life issue.

“It’s also to fill an artistic void,” he added. “Art that’s ‘on the edge’ is usually very liberal and left-wing. Very rarely do you see progressive right-wing, or conservative, art. That’s where I’m coming from. I wanted this to be a progressive, unique work, from a conservative perspective.”

Some of Capolongo’s past artistic themes have addressed the general decline and decay of Western civilization. So far, The Scream has fulfilled Capolongo’s goal of drawing people’s attention and sparking discussion.

The Hamilton Spectator newspaper referred to the piece as “competent but controversial,” while the local Arts Beat newspaper referred to the piece as being one that “broke the rules and said things we consider forbidden or dangerous for the sterile walls of a shopping centre.”

Mixed reaction

Capolongo said members of the public who have seen the work have been shocked and, to some extent, educated. He has found it particularly heartening that many young people have stopped by to examine the piece and discuss it. Other people have looked at it uncomfortably, then walked away.

While the piece has so far escaped major vandalism (a small plaque containing the title of the piece and Capolongo’s name was removed), Capolongo said he almost expects the piece to be destroyed some day. If that happens, Capolongo will consider it almost poetic, in that the pro-abortion movement’s destruction of the art work will parallel its destruction of unborn human lives.

But the threats posed by vandalism and destruction of his art pieces don’t faze Capolongo. He has plans for other pro-life works in the future, including one tentatively entitled Massacre of the Innocents. In the meantime, he wants to exhibit The Scream far and wide.

“I definitely want to exhibit this more. But I don’t want recognition for it. I don’t care if people know who did this or not. I just want them to walk away and say, ‘I never realized that about abortion.'”