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In the 1970s creative anti-war musicians turned guns into guitars. And after World War II the U.S. government converted tanks into tractors.

But how do you transform hate -- particularly 4,000 books spewing it -- into something positive?

If you’re an artist, you cut it, shape it and paint it -- creating beauty from evil.

Many of the artworks in Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate do just that.

The exhibit, which launched at the Holter a decade ago, returns home with an opening reception 5-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5.

The seed for the show was thousands of volumes of hate literature given to the Montana Human Rights Network in 2003 by a defecting member of Church of the Creator.

It has toured across the country to 27 venues and been exhibited nonstop since early 2014, said artist and exhibit curator Katie Knight.

“This is a really big deal for a medium-sized museum to present this show,” Knight said. “This is its last booked show” for a while.

When MHRN first approached Knight, who was curator of education at the Holter then, she was intrigued.

“I loved the idea. I’ve been doing art as part of human rights education for a long, long time.”

Knight worked on it, beginning in 2005, which included invitations to national and Montana artists to submit works.

A few of the acclaimed artists submitting pieces were Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Nick Cave, Faith Ringgold, Richard Notkin, Clarissa Sligh, Sara Steele and Enrique Chagoya.

Some works bear witness to the pain of hate, such as a sampler by Scott Schuldt depicting the 1911 lynching of Laura Nelson in Okemah, Oklahoma.

Another artist Kristin Casaletto transformed her books into striking tributes to the 11 victims of hate crimes in Montana in 1992.

“The exhibit has been 14 years of my life,” Knight said. “I’ve gone a lot of places with it and had incredible, inspiring experiences.”

“Tulsa, Oklahoma, had this show in 2015. Tulsa was very powerful, just really inspirational.”

In 1921 there was a huge assault on a thriving, black community, Greenwood, in Tulsa, she said. “It was known as Black Wall Street.”

Whites killed hundreds of black people and burned the neighborhood to the ground, she said.

“This show was on the site of that massacre.”

It had a huge impact in Utah, as well.

“The people in Ogden told me there has never been a show like this,” said Knight.

“A lot of it has been the artists themselves and how its influenced the trajectory of their art work.”

Dillon-based artist Cathy Weber’s piece, Racial Holy War, shows a hate book, RAHOWA, spilling its guts, which she’s transformed into a “cascading narrative” of colorful paper dolls, and tears, and drops of blood that are the cost of hatred.

“I was thinking of the consequences of our words and our actions and what we say and what we do.”

“It was a vile thing with vile intention,” Weber said of the book. “I transformed it into something with a hopeful narrative.”

North Carolina artist Sligh was also deeply influenced by the piece she created for the exhibit.

Red-Crown Crane, is the dominant image often used to publicize the exhibit.

It’s a photographic triptych showing Sligh transform Church of the Creator books into origami peace cranes. Its central image is her wearing a beaded red crown and sitting within a cascade of hundreds of peace cranes.

“Just in general, the experiences of my life are why I made this piece,” said Sligh in a phone interview.

This year’s exhibit also features her stunning artist book about making Red-Crown Crane, which viewers can read.

“It takes the viewer on a journey,” she said.

Not only is it the journey of her life, but also how she forced herself to open the box of hate literature that sat untouched for months in the corner of her studio.

Her artist’s book is an arresting photographic and poetic account of bearing witness to white supremacy’s violence and hatred throughout her life.

“My uncle was lynched in South Carolina before I was born. Rope around his neck. His broken body was tossed from the wagon to the yard in front of my mother,” she writes.

Sligh was about the same age as Emmett Till, when he died. He was 14 years old when he was brutally murdered for talking to a white woman.

When Sligh was 16, “I became lead plaintiff in a Virginia school integration suit,” she writes.

Sligh was 24 when four little black girls were murdered in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I will not meet the hate with hate,” she writes.

“My grandmother said hate hardens the heart and destroys those who carry it.”

“Do we have the courage to live differently?” she asks us.

“I am interested in healing,” she said in her interview, all kinds of healing from the body to the spirit to society.

What’s happening today is things are coming up that need to be healed, she said.

“You have to bring things up and out in the open for things to change. It’s always been there, but it’s not been discussed. People haven’t been forced to look at it, but now we are.”

– Marga Lincoln

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