For weeks now, I continue to watch the shift in landscape. While the rising sun bathes the Bighorns in luminous light, my email Inbox and Facebook feed bring an increasing display of images from artists worldwide. This landscape is obviously a political one, fueled by the recent shift in administration. The responses and images are varied in creative expression and intensity of voice.
A link from a friend in the rural wilds of the Adirondacks of upstate New York brings me to a series of cartoons from the international media. The major figure portrayed has an exaggerated hair style, reduced hand size, compromised postures and any feature that the artist may pull for a typical caricature, on its own merits meant to poke fun or demean. The messages are clear, embarrassingly so.
Never one to sink much time or friendship into Facebook, I am a periodic voyeur. A North Carolina friend supplied an article from huffington.com that featured the art work of a Cuban refugee now an American citizen. Edel Rodriguez’s bold iconic images appear on the covers of American and European journals. The latest image on the front of a German magazine features the severed head of Lady Liberty and a bloodied sword in the upraised hands of the senior officer of our land.
A sidebar quotation from an interview indicates the artist’s surprise that a drawing causes so much controversy. Has he forgotten about the Danish, Swedish and French artists over the last decade whose political cartoons riled the world of Islam ending in death threats, assassination attempts and even murderous attacks on their offices? The point is that the artists were brave enough to express an opinion. They would not be silenced. While they may not have realized the repercussion from their action as the ink was flowing from their pens, they did pay dearly with their freedom, their security and in some cases their lives. In the closing line of an interview, Rodriguez warns us to be aware and vigilant. Growing up in a dictatorship, he witnessed the fear that silenced people. Offended? Then perhaps be aware and thoughtful.
In a guerrilla style art action, staff at Hater, a dating app based on shared dislikes, mounted a large scale projection on the side of a building in New York. This no permit approach is long familiar to artists who put up posters with wheat paste to bring an issue to the public’s attention. Again the content and images have little to do with beauty and generating warm huggy feelings. As with the cartoons, a certain Russian official and his American buddy play prominent roles in the projection that was several stories high.
One of the jurors for Jentel artists who works for Creative Capital, a foundation that awards funding to artists for innovative projects, recently sent out an email request. With many artists being politically active, he is soliciting information or examples of artwork and projects that are responses to the political climate. Yes, the whole world is watching.
Not all the links, feeds, twitters and tweets on social media are so dynamic and confrontational. A Jentel resident alum from Ohio creates an entry on Facebook every three to four days that is equally challenging, provocative and sensitive in raising awareness in the current political landscape. A closeup photograph of a woman fills the frame. Superimposed over the image in large red block letters spaced in two lines are the words, THIS IS POWER. What follows is a paragraph that eloquently outlines where and when he met the woman and other anecdotal information about the relationship to fill in the impression. The final sentences describe what impact the woman has had on his life.
The women vary in age, occupations, relationships and age when he met them. A director at a children’s cancer unit, a colleague at his university, an organic farmer, a former student, a mother-in-law and a cook at a base camp in Greenland are a few of the women he has chosen to celebrate. Each entry is a quiet testimony to a woman, an American woman, living her life to the fullest and making a personal contribution without fanfare, media attention, spotlights, body guards, advisors, etc. Each may give pause and inspire thoughtful consideration of someone, whom you appreciate and who has changed your life. Random testimonies of kindness to offset the negativity in the media.
Last week I was chatting with a friend, who had worked in Russia for our government. Unlike the Arab Spring, which was launched via the Internet, resistance to the Soviet Union grew over time and was strengthened by communication via fax machines. People will use any means available to communicate. While you may choose not to view all the political art zooming around on the Internet, artist voices are present. Their impact on the political landscape is real and concrete. How they will contribute to this shifting landscape is yet to be seen. Will we have an American Spring? Watch as we write a new chapter in our history.
Mary Jane Edwards