This has been a memorable month leading into election day. Americans have been dealing with the pandemic, racism, voting rights, and healthcare, but the real fly on the vice president's head is this grey area of uncertainty many feel throughout this contentious year in a country divided.
This week’s What We Don’t Know discussion is about activism through creativity.
Yosi Sergant opened our eyes to art’s influence in a digitally dominated society when he commissioned the Hope image of Barack Obama in 2008. However, before Shepard Fairey, the creator of the image, joined the ranks of famous street artists, there were revolutions decades prior, ushering in the fusion of art and politics that help us absorb societal issues through variable platforms.
Art; To Protest, To Educate, To Inspire
Artists were protesting throughout the 1920s during World War I. The Dadaists were an anti-war art movement in Zurich composed of poets, intellectuals, and artists meeting at cabarets. In America, Mexican Muralists produced art protesting for workers rights during the industrialization throughout the late 1920s to 1945
Many artists who are well known today took the abstract route in mixing social awareness and creativity by hitting the streets and city galleries such as Jean Michel Basquiat. Known as Basquiat, this artist emerged from New York City's 80s art scene. He sold his first work, Cadillac Moon, to Debbie Harry, in 1981. Long before Black Lives Matter and online petitions, artists like Basquiat spread awareness of police brutality through his paintbrush. His piece, Defacement, tells the story of the death of Michael Stewart, beaten to death by police in 1983.
Click the image below for more of Basquiat's work
Another famous artist going by a single name is the anonymous Banksy. Banksy has become a household name for his political and satirical street art protesting police, war, and capitalism since the 90s and for the seemingly sudden appearance of his art popping up on public buildings and walls. Banksy has never been shy about his anti-establishment-centered creations. His first large piece, an image of a teddy bear throwing a molotov bottle at riot police, is known as, The Mild Mild West, was in Bristo in 1997. Throughout the 2000s, the artist's work appears in various cities worldwide such as Boston, New York, Ontario, Melbourne, and West Bank in Israel.
Watch this video of Banksy’s art
From canvas to film, politically charged art is conveyed through photos and moving pictures calling advocates into action by realistically capturing life. Some famous photography exposing racism and inequality came from Gordon Parks, who took stunning images of poor Americans since the 1940s. His American Gothic photo, a black woman, standing with a mop and broom in front of the American flag, is among his most famous. His work gained him a position at Life Magazine, where he documented segregation and took portraits of people like Malcolm X and Mohammad Ali.
It wasn't until 2016 that the dramatic, caught-on-film-photos and videos of police brutality and arrests of black protestors like Danny Lyon came to light with an exhibition called, Message To The Future. Lyon released 175 pieces he took throughout the 1960s civil rights movement, which he was motivated to join after hearing a John Lewis speech.
While pictures can stir emotions, nothing takes you on a journey more than film, especially documentary film, which has become an essential creative medium for spreading messages today. Once considered a brutal forced hour of viewing in class is now a popular genre on streaming sites, notably Netflix and HBO, reaching box office highs and being produced more commonly each year. Sheila Nevins, HBO documentary producer, told NPR last year, "It was a real hot year for films making money — when I say films, I mean docus — docus making real money. And docus got very hot."
Michael Moore is a big name in documentary films as well, and he won many awards for his 2002 film, Bowling For Columbine, which is about school shootings. Later, he made waves with Fahrenheit 9/11, a look at George W Bush's presidency's missteps.
The reawakening of civil rights in response to police violence has made documentaries in more demand. Networks are streaming docs like I am Not Your Negro about James Baldwin, The 13th about prisons becoming the new Jim Crow, and Say Her Name; The Life and Death Of Sandra Bland.
Let My People Vote
Earlier this month, we explored Desmond Meade's tireless work to restore voting rights to millions in Florida. His journey was documented by director Gilda Brasch in 2016 in the documentary Let My People Vote. We talked to Brasch about this process and her passion for making films to inspire change.
Gilda Brasch worked on the Oprah Angeles network as a producer, and she was overjoyed when they offered her a chance to help produce in South Africa. "It was an amazing eye-opening experience. We made several trips there, and basically, that resulted in the documentary when she (Oprah) opened the Leadership Academy, which I was the director and one of the producers of," Brasch explains, it wasn't until she had the privilege to see inside of Nelson Mandela's cell during her visit that she was truly moved into activism. "He spent 27 years looking out of this window...and I just thought, '...and then he got all this change', So it really means to be an activist that you're in it for the long haul."
Her work as a producer on the show Love And Hip Hop gave her the experience to move further into documentary filming. She was translating people's real-life stories and condensing it on film in what she describes as “giving a voice to people” who were struggling to make it in hip hop.
That need to give a voice to people became more vital for her in 2016, an election year that, in many people's opinion, changed the next four years of American life drastically. Brasch began to research ways to get involved. "I discovered the case that everybody is talking about, Shelby v. Holder. The destruction of the Voting Rights Act that the honorable John Lewis and so many others fought and died for." Brasch says, "That happened in 2013, and Justice Ginsburg was the dissenting opinion."
Through her Rolodex of contacts, Gilda found Desmond Meade. Meade and Brasch's crews met up in Tampa two days before the election. Desmond was "Go Go Go" Brash describes, which fit her “ride-along” style of filming. Let My People Vote is a real and genuine rollercoaster that catches voter suppression in the act as Desomde Meade goes door to door, helping people poll and educate people on their voter rights.
Some people in states that allow mail-in ballots don't understand the urgency in fighting suppression, which is why films like this are so important. People can wait five hours or more in polling lines in Texas and Georgia, and with the pandemic comes a shortage of poll workers. Brasch plans to continue to expose various suppression. Her next project will focus on Alabama, where voting rules are complicated, requiring notarization, which is why they hope to set up in public spaces to help voters get their ballots notarized on the spot.
Gilda's next upcoming film, Stronger Than The Bullet, documents the recent George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, violence endured by police, and the future of our country through the grassroots fight on the ground. For more information on this film and how to help, go to https://www.strongerthanthebullet.com and to set up a virtual screening of Let My People Vote, visit https://www.letmypeoplevotemovie.com/events.
I do it out of not only love for this country but also admiration from all the generations and all the diversity that's come before me.", Brasch says, "I think that John Lewis and RBG were called home because their energy can be multiplied to inspire us. What they've taught us here we'll just now resonate in their passing, and I'm hoping that from somewhere up there they're supporting us." -Gilda Ann Brasch
Social media today has become the best medium for art, movements and news made more digestible and shareable with memes, catchy captions, and videos with carefully selected hooks from popular songs.
With the right amount of likes, one can become a famous crusader for their cause, such as a dad in Brooklyn, ranting about politics. Majid M. Padellan's, known as @dad_defiant, rose to social media influencer status with 700k followers, which led him to author a political satire book, The Liddle'est President, released in March 2020.
Kelly Ann Conway may have made her meme debut in 2017 with her famous ‘legless’ shot sitting awkwardly in the oval office, but her daughter has become TikTok famous for sharing her liberal views.
Click the image below to learn more about the Kelly Ann Conway Meme
Claudia Conway, 15, is an excellent example of today's youth in a world divorced by political parties as a child of a republican parent and the other, an anti-trump advocate. Claudia has expressed her desire for emancipation publicly as well as her pro-BLM views and other liberal agendas while she promotes “Gen-Z For Biden”. In August, Claudia tweeted "I'm devastated that my mother is actually speaking at the RNC. Like DEVASTATED beyond compare." Later, Claudia made headlines for stating to her 1.4 million TikTok followers that Trump's health was faltering and that her mother lied about test results.
Can't Stop Won't Stop.
Despite the Trump administration continuing budget cuts to the arts, creativity finds its way. Imagination will hit the streets as with The Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group established in 1985, who anonymously place art publicly to humorously expose sexism in arts and entertainment. Comics like Dave Chappell, find a way around the live stage as he did to discuss George Floyd in his special, 8:46.
No matter where one stands on the political line, it's clear that our culture relies on artists to bring color into the black and white of politics past, present and into the future. Art moves people emotionally and therefore moves many into action.
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