The Art of Protest ♀️

"At least the art will be good."

It's a silver lining prediction I've heard from several folks about the next four years of pop culture in America. What started as a halfway-joking refrain is becoming a more serious forecast as we near the Trump Presidency.

Art that challenges the status quo, disrupts deeply entrenched institutions and shines a light on systematic injustice has always come hand-in-hand with social and political movements. As Nina Simone once said, "How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"

The moment to reflect the times is upon us.

With 3 days left to go until Inauguration Day - followed by the highly anticipated Women's March on Washington - here are some highlights of protest art (especially of the feminist strain).

Because: solidarity. 


Eight years ago, artist Shepard Fairey made the iconic "HOPE" image for Obama's presidential campaign. Now, he's working with artists like Jessica Sabogal and Ernesto Yerena to create new symbols of optimism with the "We The People" campaign on Kickstarter. The guerilla-style project now offers free downloads of hi-res prints from an open call for artwork. And it's also hacking the Inauguration by taking out full-page "ads" of the artwork in The Washington Post, so that people can carry them out onto the streets.

Poster by Shepard Fairey via Amplifier Foundation.

Poster by Shepard Fairey via Amplifier Foundation.


Some friends from creative agency 72andSunny started The Uproar, a website that offers free and downloadable designs to protest a variety of issues. 


Los Angeles-based artist Illma Gore is no stranger to controversy. Her "Make America Great Again" illustration shows a naked Donald Trump with a little penis, stating, "You can be a massive prick, despite what is in your pants." Her team-up with the West Coast artist-activist collective INDECLINE, called "The Emperor Has No Balls," involved a series of statues depicting a naked Donald Trump (again, with a micro-penis) in New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, Seattle and L.A. Her latest stunt was using human blood to paint an anti-Trump mural with an American flag theme, called "Rise Up Thy Young Blood."


Daily arts radio station KQED in the Bay Area is launching a new series, "First 100 Days: Art in the Age of Trump," to highlight the responses of artists and other creatives during the first hundred days of Trump’s administration. Coverage will take a variety of formats, including audio, video, photo and written pieces by the editorial team.

Illustration via KQED.

Illustration via KQED.


The "Nasty Women" group art show at the Knockdown Center in Queens, NY featured 700 artworks, priced at $100 or less. All $42,000 raised from their sales went to Planned Parenthood.

Photo via Hyperallergic.

Photo via Hyperallergic.


The message from this group of artist-activists is simple: shutdown cultural institutions on January 20 to “combat the normalization of Trumpism."

#J20 Art Strike
An Act of Noncompliance on Inauguration Day.
No Work, No School, No Business.
Museums. Galleries. Theaters. Concert Halls. Studios. Nonprofits. Art Schools.
Close For The Day.
Hit The Streets. Bring Your Friends. Fight Back.

Show Your Stripes: The Beauty of Imperfection

During my college days, instead of going out to bars and clubs, I mostly went to a lot of themed house parties. There was the very un-politically correct "White Trash Party." The juvenile "Awkward Middle School Dance Party." And, one of my favorites, the scandalous "Wear Anything But Clothes Party."

One girl showed up wearing nothing but her own skin. A bit more modest, I showed up in a paper bag shirt and plastic bag skirt. When I talked to the nudist, I told her I was shy about showing off my legs because my veins were so visible.

She told me: "Oh, but that's so cool! It's like you're an animal! It's your special pattern. Like a leopard. Or a zebra. Grrr!" Clearly, she was drunk. And a little crazy.

Weird as her comment was, it boosted my confidence, at least for the night. So I hiked up my plastic bag skirt a little higher, proud to show my stripes.

As a throwback to my college daze, this post is dedicated to our bodily imperfections. In particular, it's an homage to stretch marks. 

Gearing up for bikini season, Refinery29 recently published a slideshow, "5 Images That Will Make You Embrace Your Stretch Marks." The photos, originally shot by Chloe Newman for Polyester Zine, celebrate glittery stretch marks on bedazzled boobs, butts and hips. While the flaws are stylized and glamorized, they're not retouched or softened. "It's refreshing and reassuring when you see something a bit more real," Newman said.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

The #LoveYourLines account on Instagram shows black-and-white photos of women revealing their stretch marks and cellulite with empathy and acceptance. The images are accompanied by uplifting captions, that embrace the fullness of the female bodyraw, real and, quite literally, in the flesh. The account is curated by wives, mothers and photographers Alex Elle and Erika Layne, who encourage women around the world to submit their own images and stories.

Photo by oh so Van via Love Your Lines.

Photo by oh so Van via Love Your Lines.

This is my eighth blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.

Forgiveness: A Work in Progress

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately.

The pain of betrayal runs deep. It keeps you stuck in the past, unable to live in the present. You replay moments of hurt, over and over again, thinking that the more you feel it, the quicker you can get over it. The slightest wrongdoing and breach of trust easily compounds, with pain growing cumulatively over time. It can be hard to recover from such a slippery slope.

After my own recent heartbreak, I've been searching for ways to forgive not only the person who I thought did me wrong, but also myself: for being unforgiving, for being judgmental, for not accepting my own mistakes that contributed to any fear, rejection and isolation I felt.

I found a passage in "A Return to Love" by spiritual leader Marianne Williamson that helps me let go of the past, and stay focused on the present.

"Forgiveness is the choice to see people as they are now. When we are angry at people, we are angry because of something they said or did before this moment. But what people said or did is not who they are.... 

Only love is real. Nothing else actually exists....

If a person behaves unlovingly, then, that means that, regardless of their negativity–anger or whatever–their behavior was derived from fear and doesn’t actually exist. They’re hallucinating. You forgive them, then, because there’s nothing to forgive. Forgiveness is a discernment between what is real and what is not real."

What is real, then? My own suffering - a dramatic case of lovesickness - pales in comparison to trauma experienced by others, though. I remind myself to be gentle on myself, to not compare myself to others, to validate my own experience. But still. I'm human.

Storytelling, as an art form, can bring relief to all forms of suffering and be a vehicle for forgiveness. "Restorative Justice," as a principle and practice, is gaining ground in the criminal justice reform movement.

You can see lots of examples of storytelling as a way to create dialogue between victims, offenders, and their families and communities, as a path to reconciliation. For example:

I recently came across this other project, which gives me hope that I, too, will be able to fully let go of the past. Not to forget or excuse hurtful behavior, but to move on. And forgive myself for taking so long to do so.

The Forgiveness Project "collects and shares real stories of forgiveness to build understanding, encourage reflection and enable people to reconcile with the pain and move forward from the trauma in their own lives." The stories are rooted in many difficult subjects, like childhood sexual abuse, painful relationships with parents, kidnapping and murder, or racism. The founder, former journalist Marina Cantacuzino, believes that healing comes from understanding.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of her work:

"Victims can find healing in choosing to forgive rather than demanding retribution. Forgiveness is not weak. It takes courage to face and overcome powerful emotions. The depth of love is often revealed by the extent of anger. Through sharing the stories of people who are victims and perpetrators, and sometimes both, the Forgiveness Project shows that forgiveness is often difficult, painful and costly. But potentially transforming."

This is my seventh blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.

The Art and Grace of Battling Multiple Sclerosis

Twenty-five years ago, my aunt Marjorie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

In my extended family, we don't talk often. We don't know about each other's day-to-day. Reunions are few and far between. There is not a lot of drama, and we like to keep conversations comfortable. But the one thing I know for sure: when shit hits the fan, we are here for each other, and we are a witness to each other's lives.

This weekend, I'll be supporting Marjorie and other people diagnosed with MS in the annual "Walk MS" fundraising walk along the Chicago lakefront, where I spent my college years. $$$ PLEASE MAKE A DONATION, if you can. $$$

I am so proud to have my aunt Marj in my life, because despite any superficial interactions we've had over the years, there is a depth of love and appreciation. And a genuine feeling of being there. (Thanks, Marj.)

Over the years, she has endured impaired vision, chronic pain, limited mobility, imbalance, fatigue, physical weakness, broken bones and countless other symptoms, caused by damage to her nervous system. (Not to mention the chemotherapy treatments and experimental medicines.) But she has never displayed a shattered spirit. I am in awe of her optimism, positivity, perspective and humor.

Her story is one of many. And with setbacks come great successes: a loving husband, a beautiful son, a successful career, wonderful friends. 

Back in college, I used to house-sit for aunt Marj, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, while she was out of town. A memory that stands out: she has a magnet on her fridge that says "Never never never give up."

I am reminded of other people like her who have faced illness and never gave up. I know I take my health for granted, and I have to pause to remember that it can all be taken away, with one diagnosis.

In honor of my aunt Marj, who is a writer and singer and mother and sister and wife and general creator and nurturer of awesomeness, I wanted to showcase some creative ways of raising awareness about this life-altering disease.

Oh, and P.S.: Fuck you, multiple sclerosis.

Art by Kirsty Stevens.

Art by Kirsty Stevens.

UK-based artist Kirsty Stevens uses the shapes of harmful lesions that are visible on MRI scans of her brain to etch designs onto glass, paper, wood, fabric and other surfaces. (See more at Vanilla Ink Studios.

Art by Elizabeth Jameson.

Art by Elizabeth Jameson.

Similarly, Elizabeth Jameson uses her MRI scans to inspire work in etchings, multimedia and textiles. (See her portfolio.)

Photo via "Being".

Photo via "Being".

"Being" is a film about a young boy, named Buddy, who is a caretaker for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis. He is bullied at school and finds solace in music from the 1960s. (Learn more about the project.)

Photo by  Patricia Lay-Dorsey .  

After she was diagnosed with MS at age 45, Patricia Lay-Dorsey started taking self-portraits, to process her experience. "Art has always been my most effective therapy," she said. (See more of her photographer series, "Falling Into Place".)

"Gallop," a film directed by BAFTA-nominated film director Michael Pearce, shows the life-changing impact of a diagnosis with MS, as told through a love story between two young adults. The film was launched by, a web-based charity.

Thought Sort, another project by, is an online tool that helps people recognize, manage and adapt negative emotions caused by negative thoughts, using methods of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Advertising agency Grey Australia created a campaign, "This Bike Has MS," to demonstrate the unpredictable symptoms of multiple sclerosis, using the metaphor of a misaligned bicycle.

This is my sixth blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.


Snaps for Social Impact

I've been pretty obsessed with Snapchat lately, as you can see here and here.

Clearly, the augmented reality video messaging app isn't just for kids anymore. I started digging around and found some clever ways that nonprofit and social impact marketers are using the platform to connect audiences to their mission in meaningful ways.

Laurie Keith, director of National Media Accounts at The Ad Council, launched a partnership on the platform, called "I am a witness," to combat cyber bullying. Snapchat influencers and fans told their stories and pledged their support to stop bullying, using custom filters. 

Photo via Laurie Keith.

Photo via Laurie Keith.

Disease-fighting organization (RED) offered three special photo filters on World AIDS Day. Every time a user snapped with a (RED) filter, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $3 to the organization’s crusade against AIDS.

Image via re/code.

Image via re/code.

WWF in Denmark brought attention to crisis of animal extinction with its “Don’t let this be my #lastselfie” filter on close-up photos of endangered species. The disappearing nature of the photos on Snapchat mirrors the urgency of real life.

Similarly, nonprofit OndAzul of Brazil shared snaps to educate viewers about environmental disasters.

For its #BringBackOurChildhood campaign, UNICEF teamed up with Snapchat artists and influencers, like Shaun McBride, a.k.a. Shonduras, to send out snaps based on drawings done by children displaced by the violence of terrorist group Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria.

On a lighter note, as a fun and ridiculous way to engage their young community, used a combination of Snapchat and text messaging to get followers to sign up for the Would You Rather financial literacy campaign.

Photo via Mashable.

Photo via Mashable.

Outside of the nonprofit world, Snapchat is used to raise awareness about important global affairs. Panorama, BBC's flagship current affairs program, was a Shorty Award finalist for its Snapchat "day-by-day digital documentary," covering the refugee crisis and migrant journey from the Greek islands into Western Europe.

Another news organization, National Geographic, didn't quite get the memo about how Snapchat works...and created a series of print ads showcasing Snapchat's Face Swap feature, in hopes of delivering the message to "swap prejudice for knowledge." The campaign was supposed to inspire compassion and empathy. I don't know about you, but the creep factor was high for me on this one.

Image via PSFK.

Image via PSFK.

This is my fifth blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.

The Healing Power of Poetry

When life gives you lemons, release a high-profile HBO special with celebrity cameos and a "visual album" to stream exclusively on Tidal.

Beyonce's "Lemonade" had the Beyhive buzzing all weekend, with people speculating about infidelity and marital strife, applauding #blackgirlmagic and #blacklivesmatter, and dissecting the personal and political implications of an unfolding pop culture saga.

No doubt, "Lemonade" is a statement on being a black woman in America. It includes an audio clip of late civil rights leader Malcolm X, who is heard saying: 'The most disrespected person in America is the black woman." Later, the mothers of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner appear, holding framed photos of their deceased sons.

The stylized music videos are interspersed with spoken word poetry by Kenyan-born, Somali-British poet laureate Warsan Shire. The interludes are adapted from some of her poems, including "For Women Who Are Difficult To Love" and "The unbearable weight of staying (the end of the relationship)."

What gives "Lemonade" emotional depth is the use of Warsan's poetry as the voice of the protagonist, both a truthseeker and nurturer.

ANGER // "I don't know when love became elusive. What I know is, no one I know has it. My father's arms around my mother's neck, fruit too ripe to eat. I think of lovers as trees... growing to and from one another. Searching for the same light."

ACCOUNTABILITY // "Your mother is a woman and women like her can not be contained. Mother dearest, let me inherent the earth. Teach me how to make him beg. Let me make up for the years he made you wait. Did he bend your reflection? Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a god? Did you get on your knees daily? Do his eyes close like doors? Are you a slave to the back of his head? Am I talking about your husband or your father?"

FORGIVENESS // "Baptize me... now that reconciliation is possible. If we're gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken."

Warsan regularly teaches poetry workshops to uncover and heal trauma. She has written on painful subjects, from her struggles with bulimia to her experience as an undocumented refugee.

"I know that poetry has saved my life," she has said. "It helps me make sense, articulate, heal, revisit, rewrite, reimagine, celebrate, curse, ask, feel and understand."

In an interview, Warsan said "apathy is making the world rot." If apathy is the root of destruction, then feeling is the perfect antidote, the first step towards creation.

For the sake of black women, faithful lovers, growing girls, grieving mothers, yes, let's hope.

Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, who died August 2014.

Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, who died August 2014.

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, who died February 2012.

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, who died February 2012.

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who died July 2014.

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who died July 2014.

This is my fourth blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.