Inauguration with Art
BY MARGARET CARRIGAN | JANUARY 13, 2017
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Detail of Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (1799). (Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration continues to near with alarming speed and increased absurdity, prompting numerous plans for protests, demonstrations, and exhibitions. Yet, despite the many calls to and opportunities for action, it’s hard not to feel powerless in the face of the escalating mischief and mayhem that surrounds the Trump administration’s takeover.
For instance, within the space of the last 48 hours of this article’s writing alone, we found ourselves back
in the Cold War era as a British spy went into hiding (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article- 4113576/Former-MI6-spy-hiding-Russians-Trump-dirty-dossier-1million-two-years-working-undercover- supplying-FBI-information-cracked-open-corruption-FIFA.html) after Russia cited him as the culprit of a dirty dossier on the President-elect; Trump held his first news conference (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2017/01/11/what-the-bleep-happened-at-the-trump- news-conference/?utm_term=.8b93a478aa9f) in which he essentially said he doesn’t mind if his business
dealings may prove conflicts of interest while he is president and steadfastly will not release his tax returns (despite the fact that he demanded a birth certificate (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-demanded- obamas-records-now-more-are-asking-where-are- trumps/2016/08/12/b536925a-5ff3-11e6-9d2f- b1a3564181a1_story.html?utm_term=.b4030f9da608) of Obama), all while humiliatingly shouting down members of the press while they tried to ask reasonable questions; and the Senate aggressively started dismantling the Affordable Care Act (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/politics/health- care-congress-vote-a-rama.html) by approving a budget blueprint that will strip millions of Americans of health care coverage and curtail free contraception for women.
This is just the start. The next four weeks, four months, four years will not be easy. Under our fearless and feckless new leader, Americans will continue to face a barrage of rhetoric and policy changes that may undermine our pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness. If we are to take up Obama’s charge he set us in
his farewell speech (http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/10/politics/president-obama-farewell-speech/) — to be our own agents of change — then our first order of business is to educate ourselves and visualize our resistance. This
is where art can play its role (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2016/12/what_can_artists_do_to_oppose_donald_trump.html) as a tool for expression and galvanization.
Unfortunately, we can’t all provide an inspiring response waxing poetic on the power of creativity (https://medium.com/@deborahcullinan/on-saturday-november-5th-2016-before-the-world-got-so-much- darker-several-hundred-people-9a080d1c3f2#.4nyzvxkbr) to overcome the palpable gloom of misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and hyperbolism we’re finding ourselves in currently. As Artnet’s Ben Davis pointed out (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-must-admit-trump-lesson-764063) after Trump’s election, we must consider the limits of cultural activism, especially if we want to have a hope of using it effectively. Even more important to note is that we’re all exhausted: overworked and underpaid, pushed to our limits mentally, emotionally, and financially by the dysfunction of late capitalism. The flaccidness of any failed movement against Trump will not be due to lack of interest or creativity, only a dearth of energy.
Pragmatism isn’t as sexy as optimism or even anger. But it’s necessary because we have a long road ahead of us as Trump takes the reins of our nation. Perhaps the most important question right now is not “how can I make a difference,” for the enormity of such a vague query can overwhelm and lead to inaction. Instead, perhaps we should ask, “what can I feasibly commit to for the next week/ month/ year/ Presidential term/ etc.” Know your own limits and act accordingly because Trumpism is not a problem that will be solved by one march on Washington — we need humble, sustainable actions for the duration.
We have one week until Trump takes the Presidential oath after which he will lunch in front of a painting that represents a dark moment in American history (https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/donald-trump-will-eat-his-inaugural-lunch-in- front-of-an-image-of-slavery/2017/01/13/961a31e0-d76e-11e6-b8b2-cb5164beba6b_story.html? postshare=3321484327372802&tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.2cac700f91da): George Caleb Bingham’s “The Verdict of the People” (1855), which depicts public reaction to a likely proslavery candidate’s election victory. Many art institutions, in solidarity with the DisruptJ20 movement (http://www.disruptj20.org/get-organized/call-to- action/), will close their doors for Inauguration Day (http://hyperallergic.com/350191/j20-art-strike-ny- closings/). Until then, consider finding solace, sagacity, or solidarity in the following events and exhibitions included in the modest list below.
Anti-Trump Free School (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/anti-trump-free-school-escuelita-libre- anti-trump-tickets-30508243979)
Free University-NYC (http://freeuniversitynyc.org/) and Mayday Space (https://maydayspace.org/) have collaborated to present a day of workshops, teach-ins, and skill-shares with the aim of instructing participants how to effectively resist the recent intensification of xenophobia, hate crimes, endangered reproductive rights, white supremacy, attacks on workers, and environmental destructions that Trump’s election has bolstered.
Sessions include “Artivism: How to Use Your Talents to Protest,” “Visioning for Black Lives Under Trump,” and workshops on self-defense and protest health and safety, among others. Childcare, Spanish interpretation, and food by the Mayday Kitchen will be provided. The event is free, although a donation of $10-20 is suggested if feasible for the participant.
New-York Historical Society’s Presidency Project (https://www.nyhistory.org/presidency- project)
Now through Presidents’ Day Week
A museum-wide educational initiative to explore the role, powers, and responsibilities of the presidency, “The Presidency Project” offers a series of installations and educational programs that examine the US presidency since the nation’s beginning.
Special installations include “Messages for the President-elect,” which was inspired but the highly Instagrammed “Subway Therapy” (http://www.subwaytherapy.com/) project in Union Square. Visitors are invited to leave messages for Trump on sticky notes in the museum’s entryway on Central Park West; the notes will become a part of the N-YHS’s permanent collection, along with thousands of “Subway Therapy” notes. Additionally, artist Nari Ward (http://www.nariwardstudio.com/) will be on site creating a new work that spells out the preamble of the Constitution in shoelaces.
Nasty Women Exhibition at The Knockdown Center (http://nastywomenexhibition.org/) January 12-15
Generated from a Facebook post by curators Roxanne Jackson and Jessamyn Fiore, the exhibition includes some 700 artists who identify with being a Nasty Woman in the face of threats to roll back women’s rights, individual rights, and abortion rights. All works in the exhibition cost less than $!00 and 100% of the profits will
go to Planned Parenthood (https://secure.ppaction.org/site/Donation2;jsessionid=F82FDAB0BE5D87C47A34CA77A1E47D75.app20110a? 23923.donation=form1&df_id=23923&mfc_pref=T).
Uprise/Angry Women at The Untitled Space (http://untitled-space.com/uprise-angry-women- group-show/)
“Uprise/Angry Women” features the work of 80 female contemporary artists who are responding to the current social and political climate in America in light of the recent presidential election. On view January 17-22, it opens the week of the presidential inauguration and closes on the 44th anniversary of landmark case Roe vs Wade. The exhibit is presented in partnership with the ERA Coalition (http://www.eracoalition.org/), a political organization working to support passage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a portion of proceeds will benefit their Fund for Women’s Equality.
Activist Artists Today at Galerie St. Etienne (http://www.gseart.com/)
Artists Mel Chin, Sue Coe, and Dread Scott, in conversation with moderator filmmaker Amei Wallach, will discuss the continuing tradition of activism pioneered by American artists in the 1930s, and how they use their work to inspire progressive political change. The panel discussion complements the current and timely exhibition on view at Galerie St. Etienne, “You Say You Want a Revolution: American Artists and the Communist Party,” (http://www.gseart.com/gse-pages/Current_Exhibition.php) on view through March 4.