Photograph courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Instagram
Hank Willis Thomas had a retrospective show of his artwork at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art from Feb 8th until April 20th, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Crystal Bridges Museum shut down for part of that time, so the show was held over until July.
The exhibition at Crystal Bridges included Mr. Thomas’s branded series, unbranded series, sculptures, and films.
There are many individual pieces of art that this artist has created that would fall into the category of Activist Art, including a piece titled, 14,719, from 2018. This piece of art is made of 28-foot dark blue fabric panels that are embroidered with 14,719 individual stars. Each star represents a person shot and killed in the united states in 2018. This is a powerful statement and a new way to visualize the epidemic and extreme health crisis of gun violence plaguing our country. I feel that is why the fabric color choice and stars are reminiscent of the stars used on the United States flag.
Mr. Thomas is quoted in the New York Times, stating that, “The most likely way for young African-American men to die is by gun violence.”
Sometimes when you hear a number, it is hard to wrap your brain around that concept. Seeing all the stars on such large fabric panels was a visual representation. Guests to the exhibit walked through and around the panels looking up to the tall ceiling to fully be immersed and overwhelmed in the created canyon of the iconic stars. The artwork is both very partonic in its symbolism but also can leave the viewer with an overwhelming aspect of a problem.
Photograph courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Instagram
Mr. Thomas has a personal history with gun violence, as his dear cousin was killed in a robbery and murder in 2000. Mr. Thomas discussed his work, his inspirations, heartbreaks that propelled him forward, and activism in an Opening Exhibition Lecture at Crystal Bridges Museum in the video linked below.
I cannot believe it has been a year since I last blogged on this site. My previous post on my dissertation was a massive clue as to why I haven’t been writing my blog. I am happy to report that I finished my dissertation and defended it on April 1st, or April Fool’s Day. I selected that date and I liked the irony of becoming a doctor on April Fool’s Day. They say, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. That is very true in my doctorate experience. I started the program feeling like an underdog with all these much smarter, better people, and fears and imposter syndrome ran rampant in my head. Now that I am finished I look at all the things I can still learn, still want to learn and try from that to hone in on my research agenda.
I am still interested in Activist Art or Protest Art, so stay tuned for more posts on those things, I also teach future art teachers so check out my other blog to see what is happening in my Art Education class each week.
Thanks for checking back on this page, and for keeping me accountable.
Much love, Dr. Woodard!
I am working on my dissertation. By this last sentence, what I mean to say is, my house is perfectly cleaned and sparkling. I am a master at procrastination and avoiding my computer is my new spiritual gift. I live alone, so the only mess I have in my house is my own, no one else to blame but me. At this moment, every bit of laundry has been washed, dried, folded, hung, or placed neatly in the drawers. All the dishes are clean, the floors mopped, and the mail sorted with all bills paid. I can usually live with some dust as long as things are picked up, but currently, a lover would not be able to write poetry to me on my wood surfaces because I have even cleaned the dust and their friends the dust bunnies away. All of this cleaning aside, when people ask how the writing is going I tell them what they want to hear, “Great!”
I’m about halfway through, and my chapters are in my chair’s hands, and then will go to my committee for feedback. I am currently in the waiting game they didn’t tell us about when trying to prepare us for dissertation season. I don’t think that my chair is sitting by the computer waiting for my drafts like I am waiting for his responses. I circle my computer waiting for his reply emails, and now that emails find us on every device we have sometimes I am caught off guard getting ice cream or teaching a class when I have to stop everything to hang on his every word.
Speaking of word choices, I have learned to let some of them go. I wrote a beautiful sentence, “Without art, the banality of everyday realities would be unbearable.” You probably guessed that the sentence was a little heavy-handed and got cut. I have tossed whole pages. Apparently, there is not a prize for the longest dissertation when you trattled on for four pages in what your chair calls, “confusing and unclear writing.” I’m working on that logical stream of thinking that seems to come so easily to others.
This process is not the time-oriented structure I have had in my academic career up to this point. Even in the classes I teach students have noted that they enjoy the quick pace of the class. This dissertation process means that weeks or even months can go by before having something new to show my chair. Why does every email I send begin with, “I am sorry I took so long.”? So far, I have not put off writing that email for fear that he would be upset with me, but as I said earlier, I have a long winter to go, and that might be coming. My chair does write back, a fact that I am so grateful. I don’t think he is up late at night with the same anxiety I am, but his replies give the illusion that he cares. A few friends haven’t heard back from their chairs in a while and are stewing. Hello Professors, just email us back!
I am discovering many things about myself in this process. I am discovering myself as a scholar, and discovering that I am more of a whiskey drinker than a wine drinker, but that is for another post.
Members of the feminist art movement remind us that the aim of activist artists is to create visual images to promote change. The Guerrilla Girls, a collective group of female artists, create artwork anonymously. According to the group, “Mainly, we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities or our work” (Tallman, 1991, p. 21). In making this comment, the Guerrilla Girls argue their mission is to create artwork to educate the public about gender and racial equality in the art world.
The Guerrilla Girls demonstrate their mission with the poster, Advantages of being a Woman Artist.
The poster features a reclining nude female model, an image originally found in a Neoclassical Ingres painting from 1814. However, the Guerrilla Girls poster features critical changes in contrast to the original. The female model wears a gorilla mask, with the words: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art Section are women, but 76% of the nudes are female.” Whereas the visual focus of the Ingres piece is the female form, Advantages places emphasis on the words by using a bold easily read font. In making this statement, the Guerrilla Girls remind the audience that their stated goal is to utilize their artwork to bring awareness to the issue and foster change in the art world’s acceptance of female artists in the male-dominated commerce system.
The Guerrilla Girls have just released a new poster to help museums deal with the sexual harassment issues facing many artists. The poster shows three ways to display the wall tag to ignore of inform the audience to the artist’s sinister and criminal behavior.
The Guerrilla Girls use artist Chuck Close in their case study and his portrait of President Bill Clinton. Chuck Close who is a celebrated for his oversized contemporary portraits apologized to the four+ women accusing him of sexual harassment in a story in the New York Times from December, 2017.
A person’s associations serve as important identifiers for growth and empowerment. By definition, socially marginalized communities have experienced exclusion and discrimination, often over multiple generations. Marginalized communities are on the edge of society. Therefore, artists identify with and represent all of these communities. Activist art is created to challenge values, ethics, social mores and speak to what the artist(s) considers unjust political and social realities.
Flags are often associated with cultural symbolism and are therefore the perfect piece of artifact and activism. Flags are created for the street, not for a gallery, and the images on flags can identify, or group individuals together. Flying a flag on a house or car is about more than cloth, it is taking action. The rainbow flag that represents the LGBTQIA asdefined by the American Psychological association as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual community, social movement was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. Baker who created the first iconic rainbow flag after becoming friends with Harvey Milk discussed “how action could create change.” Milk challenged Baker to create a symbol of pride for the gay community because at the time, the community was using the pink triangle that was imposed on homosexuals by the Nazis to identify and persecute them. In 2004, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) acquired the original hand dyed rainbow flag made by Gilbert Baker for their permanent collection. The MOMA’s curator stated that the flag was important to the archives as a design milestone as well as an iconic piece of activist art.
References and Resources for further investigation:
Antonelli, P. (2015). MOMA acquires the rainbow flag [Press release]. Retrieved from https://moma.org/inside_out/moma-acquires-the-rainbow-flag
Barrios, B. (2004). Of flags: Online queer identities, writing classrooms, and action horizons. Computers and Composition, 21(3), 341-361.
Cummins, J. (2015). Intercultural education and academic achievement: a framework for school-based policies in multilingual schools, Intercultural Education, 26:6, 455-468, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2015.1103539
Gallois, M. (2016). The aboriginal flag as art. Austrian Aboriginal Studies, 2(1), 46-60.
Ortega, A. (2014) Looking into the eye of the process intercultural art activism trans*/lations and intersex/tions in the global south. Agenda, 28(4), 86-93.
Pablo Picasso stated, "Art is an instrument in the war against the enemy." Picasso’s painting titled Guernica, done in 1937, is a powerful political statement that was painted as an artist’s immediate reaction to the Nazis’s devastating, but casual, bombing on the town of Guernica, a village in northern Spain. The black and white painting that was made from traditional materials of canvas and oil painting looks like a mural because of its sheer size. Picasso made a decision about the size of the canvas to engulf the viewer in the scene. The painting is eleven feet high, and twenty-five and a half feet wide and is visually dramatic due to the lack of color. The absence of color is meant to be reminiscent of a photograph. Picasso used the bull and the horse, which are important characters in Spanish culture, as symbols to represent the onslaught of fascism and the people of Guernica.
Picasso knew that the relationship between art and activism was a long one and that artists have to make decisions about what to represent and how the viewer might interrupt the message. Picasso made bold statements regarding the war and his feeling against the bombing of this quiet village. The painting Guernica, which is at the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection has a tapestry version which hangs in the United Nation’s (U.N.) building in New York City. The tapestry is situated on a large wall and provides the backdrop for diplomats as they make statements to the press. The tapestry was controversially covered with a blue tarp when Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2003, made a statement regarding the Iraq war. This was not the first time the painting has experienced intense political activism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the original painting was the focus of a petition and an act of vandalism. Four hundred artists signed a petition urging Picasso to take the painting out of the United States until after the Vietnam War, and in 1974, Tony Shafrazi spray-painted the words "Kill Lies All" onto the painting to protest the United States’ actions in My Lai.
References and Resources
Cousen, B. (2009). Memory, power and place: where is Guernica? Journal of Romance Studies, 9(2), 47-64.
Simonton, D. K. (2007). The creative process in Picasso's Guernica sketches: Monotonic improvements versus nonmonotonic variants. Creativity Research Journal, 19(4), 329-344.
Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said, "You're much too small,"
But that didn't bother Melinda at all.
She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should...
...And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!
Even though I grew up with the Shel Silverstein’s poetry books, and even own Where the Sidewalk Ends, I have not read this poem in a long, long time. As I go into dissertation season, I was reintroduced to this poem by a dear friend, and it had a profound impact on my work.
The dissertation process seems like a huge enormous task, much like little Melinda Mae eating an entire whale. I’ve been stressing over the page count, the references, the APA format, when to send it to the editor, and... and... and.
The importance of taking small consistent steps and writing every day is to try to get a handle on this large and massive amount of work. I need to get a giant heap o’ work done, so I am following my mentors words of, "If you don't know what to do next, do the next thing." She knows that there is always something to do, and I can break down the steps into smaller bites, I just hope it doesn't take me the 89 years that it took Melinda Mae!
One bite at a time.
Hooray We are all Broken by Jim Carrey
“so-called reality is energy and color creating forms that rise out of nothing. Broken figures are dancing for each other filled with pain and polka dots, sharing one frequency, yet believing they are separate.”
Jim Carrey is an actor turned artist turned activist. His current drawings tackle gun violence, immigration, North Korea, and the day to day state of politics in America.
According to the Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com), Jim Carrey is a Canadian-born comedian but has been a US Citizen since 2004. He began as a regular on a sketch comedy show, In Living Color (1990) but became a household name with lead roles in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), The Mask (1994), Liar Liar (1997), The Truman Show (1998), and Man on the Moon (1999) in which he won a Golden Globe.
Jim Carrey explains his passion for art to Jerry Seinfeld in the Netflix series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, C1, E1: Jim Carrey: We love breathing what you’re burning baby. On the recent tour of his art studio, Jim Carrey spoke to Jerry Seinfeld about his passion and that everything that you do, including artwork, should have a “childlike fun to it.” The comedian went on to explain, “That is why I paint. I’m in control. I do it, it’s a release, something that wasn’t previously there, and I’m done.”
Jan 30, 2018 “it’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to!” #stateoftheunion
March 27, 2018 #teamelephant
May 21, 2018 "New Pledge for a Generation Betrayed."
June 11, 2018 "Let’s Make A Deal: You’ll be a real world leader. I’ll sway the midterm elections. And together we will save the world from the bloodthirsty Canadians."
June 21, 2018 "Nothing comforts a federally-abducted refugee child like a photo op with a Slovenian model wearing a coat that says she doesn’t give two craps about your misery."
According to the actor/artist’s website, he has been drawing and painting since he was a child and he uses his artwork to express his emotions much as he would as an actor. He has a New York based art studio and is represented by Wyland Galleries Beach walk, Waikiki, Hawaii and Wyland Galleries, Lake Tahoe, California.
Rossi, R. (June 24, 2018). Jim Carrey depicts refugee crisis and 30 more of his politically charged artworks, The Wrap. Retrieved from: https://www.thewrap.com/jim-carrey-depicts-refugee-crisis-politically-charged-artworks-photos/
jimcarreyonline.com (The personal website for the actor and artist, showcasing his artwork and upcoming exhibits)
Plastic pollution in the ocean is a very complicated issue that had lead activist artists and scientist to team up hoping to make consumers aware of the trash, especially plastic floating in the oceans.
The above video showed two divers swimming off the coast of Bali and finding themselves surrounded by trash.
This is an image by artist Jorge Gamboa, titled, Tip of the Iceberg.
This is a profound image that first looks like an iceberg in the ocean, but with further investigation, it is a plastic bag that you would get at any deli or supermarket. The hidden iceberg is masking the more significant issue of marine garbage.
Image from Justin Hofman on Instagram (follow @justinhofman) shared with Monterey Bay Aquarium.
These video/images shocked me because here in the United States we have the infrastructure so that waste disappears almost immediately. I roll my trash cans to the curb, and in the wee hours of the morning, all trash gets whisked away. Not every country can afford the space to handle their accumulating trash like we are fortunate to do. I did some research on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a floating island of trash estimated to be the size of the state of Texas.
According to Sky Ocean Rescue, this giant whale was made from the same amount of plastic that enters the ocean every second. The whale is 33-foot-long and has been on display in London before touring around the country. It is made of bags, bottles, and straws and its goal is to encourage people to think about the amount of plastic they use.
This visual representation was a great idea because Greenpeace Philippines created a second beached whale, this time life-sized made of plastic pollution. This 50-foot art installation was on display at the Sea Side Resort in Naic, Cavite until May 14, 2017.
Here are a few more images:
What is the good news about plastic pollution?
Photo from the Kindness Rocks Project website.
The Kindness Rock Project
Have you ever been on a lovely walk only to look down and see a brightly painted rock? If you have, you are one of the estimated 66 thousand worldwide that has stumbled on a kindness rock. The Kindness Rock Project was started by Megan Murphy. She explains on the website and in the Kindness Podcast that she was feeling down after both of her parents died in her 20s, and she sold her business. She would go for walks on the beach picking up bits of sea glass or heart-shaped rocks as signs and affirmations from the universe. She wanted to give this same feeling to others, so she picked up five rocks and wrote joyful words on them and then scattered them along with her path. That evening one of her friends sent her a picture of the rock that she had found that day, not knowing that Megan had placed it, stating how great it made her feel. From that The Kindness Rocks Project was born and anyone can participate. All you need to is get some rocks and paint them with affirmations (words to offer emotional support or encouragement) and leave them around your town, parks, trails, and neighborhoods for other people to find. It’s that easy!
Photo from Kindness Rock Club, Golborne-Cheshine
There are rock painting clubs forming in towns where crafters get together and paint rocks, and some local 4H or Scout troops are getting into the act as well. When searching my local area, I found a group painting rocks at the public library and a Facebook group in my area.
If you find a rock, what do you do?
You should take a picture of it, and you can post it on your social media sites like Instagram with the hashtag, #kindnessrocks or #kindnessrocksproject. You can keep the rock you found as a daily reminder of support, or you can hide it again to pass along to someone else. On the Kindness Rock Project Official Facebook page, you can upload your rock’s photo and add your location to the worldwide map.
Comment below if you have painted kindness rocks or ever found a kindness rock. If you found a rock did you kept it or hide it back for someone else?
M. Giovanni Valderas is a Guatemalan/Mexican visual artist that is concerned about the gentrification in North Texas. Dictionary.com defines gentrification as “the process of renovating and improving a house or a district so that it conforms to the middle-class taste.” The issue with gentrification was highlighted in a story for the New York Times, April 13, 2014, titled, New Yorkers Need to Take Back their City. The author, Jeremiah Moss, states that gentrification drives out working-class from poor neighborhoods. “New York was implemented via strategically planned mass rezoning, eminent domain and billions in tax breaks to corporations. This led to the eviction of countless residents and small businesses, destroying the fabric of our streets.”
Sad Little Houses or (Casita Triste) is a new guerrilla outdoor art project just a few months in the making. The houses, which look like piñatas made with the same crepe paper look cute and inviting, but also out of place in the dusty colorless construction zones that they are placed.
According to M. Giovanni Valderas’s website, “Casita Triste blurs the boundaries between craft, art object, advocacy, and sentimental offering.” Each piñata style house is around 20”x 28” x 20” and is brightly colored to represent the neighborhood he grew up in and the community he wants to help, but also the artists stated on NPR’s Art + Seek the bright colors represent hope.
Photos from M. Giovanni Valderas' Instagram page. You can hear his NPR interview on Art + Seek, Sad Little Houses, Big Bad Problems.
There is evil in the world, what can you do about it? Turns out a lot. You can use your art powers for good and spread the messages that you want to see in the world. Artists react the only way they know how, and that is through their art. They dance, sing, or create to find meaning in the meaningless, or make sense out of the senseless situations.
They are many activist artists that use their voice to stick up for others, to share ideas, or to make the world more peaceful. Here is a collection of graffiti artists that covered swastikas and messages of hate and instead turned them into beautiful works of art.
Note- On my blog I have chosen not to show the a side by side comparison of the original hate graffiti, but rather just the re-envisioned artwork.
Forgotten News, Forgotten Names
Forgotten News, Forgotten Names is an art exhibition billed as an evening of art, advocacy and activation that took place in Charlottesville on March 3, 2017. The artists hosting and performing in the exhibition were Joseph Webb, who served as the emcee and is a tap performer, Denzel Boyd, who is a designer and past Adobe Design Achievement Award Winner, and filmmaker Tyler Rabinowitz, a current Sundance Ignite Fellow.
These three highly prestigious young artists set out to use art to engage the conversation in the community. The exhibition was used as a tool to encourage a conversation about police brutality featured the names of people killed by the police in 2015 and 2016.
The bulk of the performance was a call and response set to tap dancing where Joseph would encourage the crowd to “say his name.” During the spoken-word tap performance and screen printing session the artists wanted the crowd to
Say their names,
See their names,
Feel their names.
News organizations sometimes choose not to use violent criminal’s names because they do not want to glorify these individuals or promote their name in the same way that this exhibit did not want to satisfy people’s curiosity with every detail of a criminal’s story. This exhibition focused solely on the victims, the survivors, the heroes, and the resilience that leads to community recovery.
Video clip and photos from the movie and song, “Hell You Talmbout.”
A new exhibit on the campus of the University of Kansas brings into light a visual representation of what women and men wore at the time they were raped or sexually assaulted. This display demonstrates one of the fundamental flaws in rape culture where a victim’s attire becomes a reason for their attack. Whenever a young woman is raped or sexually assaulted, people are still quick to question if she did something to put herself in that situation, instead of questioning the person who raped or sexually assaulted her. Our culture has made some progress in understanding that the rapist, not the victim, is to blame for the rape, but far too many adults still haven’t caught to this thought and still blame the victim.
In the Kansas Union Gallery on the campus of the University of Kansas, women displayed outfits they were wearing at the time of their assault. The easy to understand and visually appealing display puts into question the myth of the little revealing mini skirt. The outfits are hung on the wall as if the woman was standing before you telling her story. The display helps the viewer reflect themselves in the outfits, and the narratives accompanying each outfit recalls the excitement about purchasing or receiving the selected clothing and the rape or assault. This reflection in each other fits is very powerful and thought-provoking for the viewer.
Many viewers were mentioning the type of outfits displayed were everyday clothing, something they were currently wearing or had worn earlier in the week. The most eye-catching outfits are a small pink dress in size 2T obviously worn by a toddler, and pants and a sweater decorated with hummingbirds that reveal an outfit of a woman typically older. These outfits worn by small children to the elderly show the range and scope of rape and sexual assault on all sections of the population and puts the blame back where it belongs, with the one who caused the harm.
Installations like this on college campuses originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013. This exhibit will be moving to an online forum beginning October 1, 2017.
Photo by: Sara Shepard, Lawrence Journal World
I have been reading “Social Justice Art: A Framework for Activist Art Pedagogy” by Dr.
Marit Dewhurst. In this fascinating book, she writes about art’s power to engage students in thinking about their role in addressing social injustice. Dr. Dewhurst identifies three key moments in the creation of art that impact the artist’s intention to change social
injustice: connecting, questioning, and translating.
Connecting to the audience is very important. In the song Breathe written by
India Arie, she is connecting to the television viewer as they are home watching the news. Empathizing with the audience as they see news coverage of Eric Garner’s death and his last words, “I can’t breathe.” According to the New York Post, Eric Garner died on July 14, 2014, in Staten Island, New York after police put him in what was described in the article as a chokehold.
The words of Ms. Arie’s song begin, “Sometimes you just can't believe the things your eyes see, So much injustice in this life, If it's happenin' right on your TV screen, So
you drop to your knees and you're prayin', 'Cause you can hear him sayin' he can't breathe.” Ms. Arie spoke to Essence magazine about how she feels her mission with her
music is to spread hope and healing through her words and music. This song is on the album, Worthy.
Sullivan, C. (2014, November 04). Man dies after suffering heart attack during arrest. Retrieved August 27, 2017, from http://nypost.com/2014/07/18/man-dies-after-suffering-heart-attack-during-arrest/
Dewhurst, M. (2014). Social justice art: a framework for activist art pedagogy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
This blog chronicles my research in activist art and my life as a woman in academia.