The Art World Responds to Trump

Imy Clarke - On behalf of Alchemy Recruitment, May 22, 2017

From the beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign, the art world has been vocal in its condemnation of his dividing and exclusionary policies. 

Whether using sculpture, caricature, photography or other forms and styles of art, artists around the world have displayed their disapproval of not only Trump’s policies, but the personal opinions and attitudes of the man himself. Now, having completed 100 days in office, the art world is responding once more. 

Most art exhibits that rose to mark those first 100 days in office marked themselves as acts of resistance. In fact, Matt Adams, the curator of the Houston-based “The First 100 Days: Artists Respond” exhibition, received no submissions in favour of the president, despite calling on artists from “both sides of the aisle.” Using this to spread a message, Adams chose to leave a 50ft blank wall to represent this lack of support that Trump received within the art world. 

Examples of artworks that were submitted to the exhibition included bracelets appropriately titled “Alternative Facts” and “Circular Logic” by jewelry artist Harriete Estel Berman, and some provocative collaborations between political activists and artist Shepard Fairey and Ai Weiwei and The Skateroom. These artworks, printed on skateboards, include a piece titled “Study of Perspective: The White House” which depict a middle finger being directed at the symbolic seat of US presidency. Not far away from the exhibition were also the No Ban Dance Party and even some anti-Trump aerobics. 

The travel ban that Trump imposed on several predominantly Muslim countries, denying their citizens entry to the US, is one executive decision that set the art world alight. Hank Green offered to donate $5 to the ACLU for every drawing he received on Twitter in response to the ban and was subsequently overwhelmed with images representing freedom, unity and peace. 

Similarly, Trump’s proposed wall has been endlessly replicated, satirized and distorted, particularly in political cartoons. Perhaps one of the most successful representations of this wall came in the form of “Open Border,” a sculpture submitted in the 2017 Winnipeg Warming Huts competition by Rotterdam-based Atelier ARI. The artists constructed a 120ft installation that consisted of a series of red-orange neon plastic strips that stood out dramatically against its snowy surroundings. Instead of keeping people out, however, this wall allows you to pass straight through, a forceful statement against many of Trump’s foreign and immigration policies. Atelier ARI stated that one of the most important features of the wall is that “Everybody becomes the same,” the same “dark-red silhouettes.” 

There is no doubt that the art world is not yet finished with Trump and his presidency. These artists consider their art to be a wonderfully successful and peaceful form of demonstration and resistance against policies that they believe incite hatred and bigotry. Through political art they will continue to protest and make political statements as a part of their right to the freedom of expression. In an interview with the New York Times, artist Richard Prince summed up the views of many of these artists in just a few sentences:

“It was just an honest way for me to protest. It was a way of deciding what’s right and wrong. And what’s right is art, and what’s wrong is not art. I decided the Trumps are not art.”

Posted in categories: Contemporary Art, Culture & Languages
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