Saturday, October 14, 2017

ART OF THE PROTEST - To See and To Be Heard

 works by WCAGA ART+ACTIVISM – Sept. 1-3, 2017 – Decatur, GA

By Flora Rosefsky   
Art of The Protest, the 3 day thought provoking art show held over Labor Day Weekend at the Sycamore Place Gallery & Studios in Decatur, put together by The Women’s Caucus of Art – Georgia Chapter (WCAGA) with its  growing ART+ACTIVISM core of artists, continues to resonate within the minds of those who created the ephemeral work as well as for those who attended the show.  One may ask, can art really change a mindset? Perhaps not reverse it per se, but highly message driven art definitely makes people  talk, discuss, and share their viewpoints with anyone who is willing to listen. Like any art show, each work has more than one interpretation, depending upon if one were hearing what the artist has to say in a conversation, or where the viewer’s experience and philosophy takes them to reflect, to figure out what the protest art means to them personally.  As stated in the show’s prospectus, all the work could be in any type of media, but had to use a piece of poster board, cardboard, foam core or other ephemeral materials.  The show was to “celebrate your first amendment right and let your voice be heard.”
Bouquets for Heather by Callahan McDonough

In some ways, the demographics of age plays a part in the sensibility one has for protest art. Artists like Callahan McDonough, who was and still is a big voice in the Feminist Movement which began in earnest in the 1970s with the likes of Gloria Steinham, Bella Abzug and others brings an activist core to her work. In McDonough’s “ Bouquets for Heather”,  those who saw this oversize work were able to touch the fresh bouquets of flowers, saw the lit candles that memorialized the life of Heather Heyer ,killed in Charlottesville 2017.  Unlike the 1970s, it was the conservative post WWII 1950s and optimistic  early 1960s that defined my young adult life. Busy raising young children, yet surrounded by news of  the JFK, MLK Jr., and RFK assassinations, Vietnam War opposition marches, flower children defying anything traditional -  that world of protest escaped me. Today – a protective cocoon has broken apart – where I no longer can ignore the political landscape, or I simply ask, “what legacy am I , and we as a country, leaving the next generation? ” WCAGA Art+Activism has become a conduit to express ways that I, and other artists, can raise consciousness on issues that can no longer be ignored – inclusive human rights to name just one.  
It took me several weeks to come up with which of many topics I had in mind for my protest art. I wanted it to be somewhat optimistic, more of a hope than regurgitating something disdainful and miserable. I found a quote online when I was searching for words supporting acceptance of others, crossing religious or gender lines. “There is one race…the human race.” That quote sometimes attributed to educator Thomas Dewey or other times, Ghandi - became the basis for my work, on a flattened  painted “priority” box.  From my faith and tradition, “Tikkum Olam” – “to Repair the World”, are words that resonate for people to take action, not to be a bystander. Today artists can be of any age to be activists – from children, teenagers, adults, and seniors . What art can do is to start a conversation, and find mutual respect.

Visitors with several of the works

Opening sign with "Trump Fan" by Pat Borow
 The words liberal, progressive, Democrat may not have been written all over this show with actual words, but there was no hiding the fact that the pendulum in the Sycamore Place Gallery & Studios from September 1-3 supported that agenda. Some work stayed on a specific protest topic – which ranged from rows of automatic assault military style rifles printed  against traditional red wallpaper  in Maxine Hess’s work “New America”  about gun violence  to Roxane Hollosi’s carboard female figure cutout piece titled “choice, conscience, consequence” that  used a metal hanger as part of the collage. Others mirrored the deep political divide in the United States, such as Jenny Bell’s “Two Sides of the Same Coin”,  where lines drawn polarize what used to sustain a more moderate temperament where the word compromise was hailed as success, not failure. A few of the works made some feel more anger such as Sandrine Andros’s “ Enough is Enough” while others evoked some sense of frustration as in “No Refuge” by Helen DeRamus or “Love is a Battlefield” by Vivian Liddell.  “Trump Fan” by Pat Borow elicited lots of discussion with her using a traditional white paper funeral fan for the support of a frowning president’s portrait. Several works were mini-history lessons such as Vickie Martin Conison’s collage “Complicit”, with a quote by Albert Einstein glued onto the actual United States Constitution. 
Vickie Martin-Conison with "Complicit"
"Choice, Conscience, Consequence" by Roxanne Hollosi with Maxine Hess and Callahan McDonough

The absolute authentic  creativity of each of the approximate thirty artists illuminated the gallery. This was definitely not decorator art to add the right color to one’s d├ęcor, although many of the works could find an important place in a home where the artistic qualities of composition, color, shape, or texture were strong.   Besides more traditional 2-D work hung with wires or nails, was a box filled with game pieces to give-away called “Anti Trump Dust” created by Dharma S. Lunar, and who could forget the various artistic postcards to send to government elected officials -  hung on strings below a metal construction piece made out of former Hillary sign posts. This most creative mobile was the brainchild of Claire Lewis Evans.  

"Untitled" by Claire Lewis Evans; hanging mobile using cards to send to politicians using steel from Hillary yard signs
In talking to a few of those attending the opening, a mother with a 13 year old daughter was particularly drawn to the work  by Lucy Julia Hale, “Margaret Sanger – Social Justice – Not to Hate”. She said she “almost burst into tears” when seeing it.  For Barbara Robinson, an artist who has been doing political satire thematic  work for over 30 plus years,  felt the entire show, to see “everyone’s interpretations was very inspirational.” Her own illustrations in the show echoed thought provoking political cartoon drawings.  Journalist writer, Kevin Madigan felt “we need more of this” kind of art as this is “not a normal time in our country.” He continued, “ we have to stand up and complain… and care about history.”

"MESSAGES OF HOPE" (described below)
"On Many Sides" by Jenny Bell
During the show, a tall 3-sided kiosk held pasted pages from Margaret Atwood’s book, ”The Handmaid’s Tale”,  where artists and those attending wrote their own protest messages in red or black pens in this collaborative effort called “Messages of Hope”.  Presenting original protest theme poetry during the opening on September 1st were George Hess, an educator from Woodstock, Georgia whose poem, “I am white” recounted the issue of race in our country today. Artist, teacher, poet and owner of Sycamore Place Gallery & Studios, Sylvia Cross read her poem "Melania is Dreaming" while a weightlifter, fitness coach, and artist Rachael Bommacino lifted barbells while Cross gave her reading.
 Well known art critic, poet and philosopher Jerry Cullum read his original poetry, making those present appreciate both the spoken word as much as the art surrounding the circle of listeners.  The visual art exhibition along with the spoken word presentations  offered another source of inspiration during the popular annual Decatur Book Festival that was ongoing during  the same weekend. 
Artist Jody Doughty with her work "Social Justice/Human Rights"
Because there were no artist statement text accompanying this show, I asked participating artists to send me insights about their work; a few artists complied. With their permission, I will post their writings in future blog articles. The protest show was the third Art+Activism topic, conceived by Jenny Bell. Other topics have 
included the 2016  show, “46/21  46 million slaves/21st Century - Modern Day Slavery  (about Sex and Human Trafficking) held at the Mammal Gallery in Atlanta, and in 2013, WCAGA hosted “Dolls in the City” with a similar theme co-sponsored with the  2Rules Gallery in Marietta, GA.  In 2016, the topic of Trees  Speak for Atlanta, was addressed with a Drawing Marathon event and a show, “Art & Nature: TreeSpeak”  held at The Blue Heron Nature Preserve in Atlanta.  Art+Activism , within WCAGA,  will continue building initiatives by sponsoring more exhibitions, programs,  and other educational  opportunities, insuring that the visual arts can be an instrument for positive change and dialogue in our communities and world. To see work from the Art of The Protest show, visit WCAGA Facebook pages, and the WCAGA website, –and be sure to  check out the Art+Activism artist directory.
Rachael Bommacino weightlifting while Sylvia Cross reads her poem "Melania is Dreaming".

AND - A BIG SHOUT OUT and Thanks to Jenny Bell for all her hard work organizing this event. She is pictured below flanked by Leah Medley and Kevin Madigan.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks much,Vicki Martin Conison for post this well written post authored by:Flora Rosefsky. I appreciate the histortic perspective that Flora Rosefsky introduced this article and the history artists have with activism. The diversity of issues covered and the reactions some had of being deeply touched was something I heard and saw as well. In my view a dynamic group of artists and impactful show.