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Cynthia Karalla is an artist who works both in New York and Italy. Her piece "Baby Grand" is a multivalent commentary on our values, our assumptions, and our beliefs. At an individual level, Karalla problematizes such issues as circumcision. On a societal level, racism, homophobia, and the musical potential of piano itself are addressed. By presenting an assemblage labeled a piano, she problematizes the assumed uniformity of the keys, and the strong sense of cohesive forms. By creating an uneven distribution of keys, she brings attention to the social strife that exists between race and sexuality. Recent news issues such as 11 states approving constitutional amendments stating that marriage is exclusive to heterosexuals gives us insight into the climate of discrimination which is accepted by Americans everyday. By creating this assemblage of many different penises, she celebrates mankind’s diversity and shows that a resonant rhythm can be formed with so many different types joined together, unifying as a whole instrument.
In "Shock and Awe" named after the Bush administration's offensive against Iraq after the September 11th attacks, we are confronted by a gloriously erect penis, aggressively standing above the rest. Semen drips out of the penis below it, in an orgasmic celebration of the male aggressive instinct driven by testosterone. The American militaries concept behind "Shock and Awe" is a focus on psychological destruction of the enemy, a tactic of fear whose intent is to control. It is based on destroying the enemies will to fight, using the fear of loud explosions as its agent. Karalla uses this tactic to illustrate the fear we have of confronting this bodily organ which contemporary American society goes to great lengths to cover it. Karalla wants the viewer to see that we are afraid of what is natural and should be celebrated for its beauty, not feared.
The fear of the penis comes from this, the subconscious fear of the potential of impregnation. The penis’s ability to bring future generations into this world is a powerful force. Why is an element, an essential life-giving organ that is a part of the human body and the human experience, shunned? Why do we find such a lack of aesthetic qualities of the penis? The penis refusing to submit to conventions of uniformity this is why a climate of fear surrounds it. Karalla attempts to dissipate the fear we have which is not innate, but one that has been manufactured and put into us, a system of control. Just like this country, and its fears of homosexuality, and race, fear is an invaluable element to control and manufacture agendas based on hate and discrimination.
If one quote is to give us insight into the nature of circumcision, Karalla’s cousin remarked after a discussion of the piece why she chose to circumcise her son. "Well, I want him to look like his daddy." To maintain the status quo, systems of control are put into place, which utilize fear and manufacture a uniformity that becomes socially accepted. The uncircumcised penises stand out precisely for that reason. They do not submit to the ritualistic uniformity that we have grown accustomed to.
Karalla is a composer, who weaves these different notes, all producing an individual sound, by taken as a collective, producing a melody. The penises are erect and flaccid, circumcised and uncircumcised, black and white. Taking all of the diversity of men into account, Karalla weaves a sense of rhythm and fluid musical potential into an otherwise disjointed assortment of penises. Karalla shows us a world of possibilities, a world where the sole unifier is to celebrate our diversity not by engaging in ritualistic uniformity, such as a culture that circumcision produces, but to stand out as individuals who create a melody as telling of their own penile idiosyncrasies. Karalla describes the origins of this idea coming from a dream.