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. 

WE THE PEOPLE.

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.

THE UPROAR.

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

RISE UP THY YOUNG BLOOD.

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."

FIRST 100 DAYS.

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.

NASTY WOMEN EXHIBITION.

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.

#J20 ART STRIKE.

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.

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 Shift.ms, a web-based charity.

Thought Sort, another project by Shift.ms, 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.

 

With Love and Light: The Story Behind "New York Loves Boston"

As law enforcement officials intensify their investigation into Monday's bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, activist-artist Grayson Earle recounts a creative response to the tragedy.

3:44 PM Alexander: um 3:45 PM a bomb just exploded at the boston marathon me: what??

The news hit me in that familiar way. I was in the middle of making adjustments to some software we were using for the action we had planned for that Monday evening—a public projection of a subversive video game to celebrate Tax Day entitled "Tax Evaders." A malaise was getting the best of me as I Googled through a few headlines and sank into my chair. I couldn't care less about taxes at that point; the word "politics" left a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I just wanted to hug somebody.

I'm part of an art collective we call "The Illuminator" that spun off of the Occupy movement. Our history begins with Mark Read installing a projector in a residential building across from the Verizon highrise on November 17, 2011 and projecting a very visible “99%,” which came to be known as the "Bat Signal." Soon after that Mark and some fellow occupiers were given enough money to buy and modify a van, adding a swivel and vertical crank below a projector mount with the purpose of mobile projections around New York City and beyond. As a collective, we've joined underpaid workers on picket lines and promoted public festivals, among many other endeavors, literally and figuratively shining a light on issues that move us.

Something we care about deeply is the reclamation of public space, which we attempt to accomplish through public art installations. I view this is as being in contrast to things like Internet activism that take place in the comfort of our homes. While I appreciate the modes of sharing the Internet has enabled, I find that public art's value lies in the human connections it facilitates, offline. That said, we witnessed the power of social media in full effect on Monday night.

The Illuminator projecting messages of peace on the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Lucky Tran.

 

When I arrived at the rendezvous to meet fellow Illuminator Kyle Depew, I lamented our Tax Day mission and mulled over calling it off altogether. “What about doing a Brooklyn Loves Boston kind of thing?” I thought out loud. He agreed and we called up MarkLucky and Athena, and everyone was in agreement. The gravity weighing on my heart reversed directions like an ascending satellite and our entire outlook on the day changed. We realized that we had an amazing opportunity to brighten the day, if only by 12,000 lumens. Athena poured through her glow-letters to spell PEACE and LOVE (with a bit of black tape to correct the deficit of a "P.") Lucky and I created some images to project, and Kyle readied the van. It was a beautiful moment of teamwork that I'll never forget.

We parked illegally outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music and cranked up the generator. At one point, two BAM security guards came out to halt the operation, but when they saw what we were using their building for, they snapped a photo and let us be. A crowd quickly gathered and the atmosphere was that of a connected, mourning community. Peace signs, heart taps, and even nods from police officers driving by sustained the positivity. A custodian came outside to see what all the fuss was about and told us that he'd like to see “Togetherness is the Key” up alongside the "NY loves Boston" logo.

Though it won't bring back the lives we lost on Monday, I think that what we did meant something to those who saw it. It was our way of wrapping our arms around the folks that were too far away to touch. We may not know you, but we love you. I can't express enough gratitude to all the kind words we've received in the past 48 hours. You have all warmed our hearts and inspired us to continue our work as a collective with a renewed optimism.

The Illuminator is Mark Read, Lucky Tran, Annabelle Heckler, Susan Forste, Daniel Latorre, Kyle Depew, Athena Soules, and Grayson Earle.