Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On art and politics: "We the People ... "

We the People of the United States ...

In just four days, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. With a lot of division surfacing throughout the country, many Americans are looking to art as a means of connecting us as human beings.

We the People ...
 are greater than fear.
"We the People are greater than fear," reads the message of a new poster created by Shepard Fairey, the graphic arts, muralist, illustrator and activist behind the iconic 2008 Hope posters he created for Barack Obama. Another new poster reads "We the People protect each other" and the third one says "We the People defend dignity."

There is a lot of division right now. Trump is not a healer," says Fairey. "Art, on the other hand, is healing and inclusive, whether topically it celebrates humanity, or whether it's just compelling visuals to make a human connection."

Interviewed recently by the PBS NewsHour, Fairey said "it was the right time to make a campaign that's about diversity and inclusion, about people seeing the common bonds we have, and our connections as human beings. The idea was to take back a lot of this patriotic language in a way that we see is positive and progressive, and not let it be hijacked by people who want to say that the American flag or American concepts only represent one narrow way of thinking."

Shepard has created three portraits for the "We the People" campaign. One depicts a Muslim woman wrapped in a hijab resembling an American flag. Another shows a young African-American girl and the third features a Latina female.

We the People ...
protect each other.
Two other artists, the Colombian American muralist Jessica Sabogal and the Chicano graphic artist Ernesto Yerena, each contributed to the project in collaboration with the Amplifier Foundation, a nonprofit that works to amplify grassroots movements and which commissioned the project. Together, the artists hope the faces of "We the People" – standing in for traditionally marginalized groups or those specifically targeted during Trump's presidential campaign – will flood Washington, D.C., on Friday during Inauguration Day.

According to Fairey, "All the subjects (in 'We the People') were photographed by people who relate to them somehow. The Muslim woman was shot by a Muslim photographer, the Latina woman shot by a Latino photographer, and the African-American kid shot by a French African-American woman photographer. We realized that this has got to be a diverse coalition of artists for us to do this, and that while it's good for us to be allies, this campaign really has to be authentically diverse."

Fairey went on to say in the PBS NewsHour interview, "We came to a conclusion as a group that in the language (for these posters) we want to say, 'We reject fear-mongering and exclusion.' But we also wanted to do it in a way that doesn't leave the door open for the Fox News type to say, 'This is reverse racism' ..."

We the People ...
defend dignity.
Adds Fairey: "It's hard to encapsulate the complexity of what we're facing, going into this Trump presidency, in three images. But we chose three groups that are vulnerable. In the history of the U.S., there are a lot of people who fled persecution from Europe on the basis of religious identities. The idea of championing the ideals of our forefathers and then limiting the movement of Muslims – it so confounding that this is not riling more people up. And so it's really time to do some (work) that I think is a counterargument to that, and that's not based on division but based on inclusion. We've seen where division has got us."

A Kickstarter campaign has begun that according to Fairey is "getting great traction." He said a goal of his group is funding an ongoing and expanding range of creative projects, with the next wave of people from all different communities. "We want to allow people to express all their social/political views around a number of issues – LGBT rights, women's rights – because a number of those things are going to be under attack under Trump."

Photos: We the People images by Shepard Fairey; U.S. Constitution courtesy of Google Images.

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