Socially engaged art : from awareness to activism

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Socially engaged art : from awareness to activism
Null, Ursla
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
University of Colorado Denver
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Master's ( Master of humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Committee Chair:
Herring, Rodney
Committee Members:
Woodhull, Margaret
Buszek, Maria


Discourse is an integral piece of policy-making and democracies. Words and images shape reality. Language, as written into laws and policies, literally dictates who has rights and freedoms. Since the 2016 election we have seen an increasing emphasis on identity-based politics, binary choices in decision-making, and a lack of a willingness to argue about the needs and possible solutions to problems. These are threats to democracy. So how should we deal with these issues and who should be involved? I argue that socially engaged artists in this analysis use their work to challenge the current administration’s exclusive and divisive narrative of our country, to create space for dialogue, to increase awareness around social issues, and to empower the public to participate in the political process. In order to achieve these goals, these artists are strategically utilizing technology to disseminate their message en masse, fund their projects, and challenge the dominant discourse by arming the people with visual tools for resistance and through the representation of alternate viewpoints.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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Copyright Ursla Null. Permission granted to University of Colorado Denver to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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SOCIALLY ENGAGED ART: FROM AWARENESS TO ACTIVISM by URSLA NULL B.A., Western State Colorado University, 1998 M.S., Central Washington University, 2001 M.P.A., The University of Montana-Missoula, 2006 A thesis submitted to the! Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulÞllment of the requirements for the degree of! Master of Humanities! Humanities Program! 2018 !




" iii This thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Ursla Null! has been approved for the! Humanities Program! by Rodney Herring, Advisor Margaret Woodhull Maria Buszek Date: December 15, 2018


" iv Null, Ursla (MH, Humanities Program) Socially Engaged Art: From Awareness to Activism Thesis Directed by Assistant Professor Rodney Herring ABSTRACT Discourse is an integral piece of policy-making and democracies. Words and im ages shape reality. Language, as written into laws and policies, literally dictates who has rights and freedoms. Since the 2016 election we have seen an increasing emphasis on identity-based politics, binary choices in decision-making, and a lack of a willingness to argue about the needs and possible solutions to problems. These are threats to democracy. So how should we deal with these issues and who should be involved? I argue that socially engaged artists in this analysis use their work to challenge the current administration's exclusive and divisive narrative of our country, to create space for dialogue, to increase awareness around social issues, and to empower the public to participate in the political process. In order to achieve these goals, these artists are strategically utilizing technology to disseminate their message en masse, fund their projects, and challenge the dominant discourse by arming the people with visual tools for resistance and through the representation of alternate viewpoints. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Rodney Herring !


" v DEDICATION This work is dedicated to all the brave people who stand up for democracy and equality.


" vi ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank my thesis committee members Rodney Herring, Margaret Wood hull, and Maria Buszek for their sustained support during this writing process and for their guidance and mentorship during my entire graduate program journey. I would also like to thank the many friends and family who supported me on this endeavor while also raising my young child and running two businesses. There is no way this achievement could have happened without a community of women who created a village for our fami ly. I would be remiss to leave out my gratitude for my father-in-law, Ron Null, who read countless versions of this work improving its quality. Lastly, I would like to thank my life long partner, Matthew, for his consistent support of our family and of me as I chase down my dreams. He is the constant guidance in life and shares my belief in activism, ensuring there is democracy in the political process, and equality for all. #


" vii TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I.INTRODUCTION1 ..................................................................................................... Methodological and Theoretical Approach6 .............................................................. Thesis Statement10 ................................................................................................... II.REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE11 ........................................................................... III.DISCUSSION OF THE WORKS30 ........................................................................... Work #1: Shepard Fairey's We The People Poster Series30 .................................... Aria Watson's #SignedByTrump 48 ............................................................................ Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank's We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident 56 ..... Marilyn Minter's Trump Plaque and HALT Action Group Demonstration63 ............... IV. CONCLUSION72 ....................................................................................................... BIBLIOGRAPHY75 ..............................................................................................................


" 1 CHAPTER I Introduction In many ways, the 2016 U.S. Presidential election represented great progress toward equality in our country. Coming off the heels of our Þrst black president, we had our Þrst female candidate from a major party, a sign that, perhaps, gender was no longer a deÞning force in who was Þt to lead our country. Of course, there are many reasons Clinton didn't win the election, one of which is a level of gender-bias even at this late stage of the Þght for women's rights that many thought no longer existed. But there was also a change in the very way the opposing candidate, Donald Trump, led his campaign, harnessing a fascist style of rhetoric and crossing lines of public discourse that we have never seen to date from a leading candidate. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, led a campaign that was marked by a break from the traditional political rhetoric of platforms and policies, to include vulgar language attacking almost every sector of our society: from women to people with dis abilities to LGBTQ, Muslim, black, and Hispanic persons. Not only did he attack margin alized groups, he also picked on war heroes, gold star families, female journalists, and even people within his own party all in a blatant type of discourse that the public was not used to and something we've never seen from a political leader in this country. Civil dis course disappeared during this election, leaving nothing sacred and creating a space where crude, foul, and abusive language became the norm. Furthermore, this rhetoric has only intensiÞed since Trump has taken ofÞce, threatening the civil rights of various constituencies with the huge power he now wields, encouraging activists around the country to react and organize resistance.


" 2 SpeciÞcally, Trump's rhetoric focused on nationalism, isolationism, patriarchal dominance, racism, and fear-based language, celebrating ignorance, false narratives, a capitalist "pull yourself up by the boot straps" mentality, and a dismissal of science and education. As Banu Gškariksel and Sara Smith note, our president's "politics relied on a narrative of threat and fear that suggested that only he could protect America from what it must not be or become." Trump's narrative and language choices were purposeful 1 and strategic, using rhetorical strategies to galvanize a working and middle-class popu lace that feels threatened by job loss, homosexuality, religious tolerance, and immigra tion policies, to name a few. Furthermore, the rhetoric underscores the role Trump has been playing for yearsÑan entrepreneurial, decisive, white male who creates jobs and makes decisions (think: "You're Þred!")Ñand further underscores that only people who agree with him, with the assumption that those people are white, Christian AmericansÑ are the ones who can "Make America Great Again." As scholar and curator Nato Thompson suggests, "Politics cannot escape the tone and tenor of reality television and sensational entertainment news." The stage Trump willingly stepped upon (and ar 2 guably helped create) is exclusive, divisive, and does not allow for meaningful dialogue. Additionally, the rhetoric the Trump administration is using falls within a fascist style of politics. This is a style of leadership that draws on rhetorical techniques that promote in-group thinking through the creation of a Þctional narrative of a country that was once great and now is not due to an external threat. This is a narrative that centers Banu Gškariksel and Sara Smith, "Intersectional Feminism Beyond U.S. Flag Hijab and Pussy 1 Hats in Trump's America," Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography , no 24:5 (2017): 629. Nato Thompson, curator, "Exhausted? It Might Be Democracy in America," in Nato Thompson, 2 ed., A Guide to Democracy in America, ( New York, NY: Creative Time, 2008), 16.


" 3 around the idea that your society was once great, but has been destroyed by another group, such as feminists or immigrants. Scholar Jason Stanley notes that the majority of fascist governments have displayed this narrative. Fascist leaders also display a con 3 sistent effort to smash the truth, creating a Þctional reality that beneÞts the person in power. And we have proof that this style of politics is at play. One can simply review the 4 Washington Post fact checker's documentation of over 5000 untruths spoken by Trump for proof that lies are being told to create a Þctional reality. Some may argue that this 5 trend in political discourse has been happening for years, but the tenor and intensity of this election ratcheted up these tactics even higher with Trump displaying a clear em phasis on nationalism and a fascist style of rhetoric to promote his rise to power. This rhetorical style might also be termed demagoguery and it is a style of lead ership often displayed by fascist leaders. A demagogue is a leader who exploits the public to gain popularity by making false claims and drawing on prejudices. Scholar Pa 6 tricia Roberts-Miller argues that "We don't have demagoguery in our culture because a demagogue came to power; when demagoguery becomes the normal way of participat ing in public discourse, then it's just a question of time until a demagogue arises." This 7 Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them , (New York: Random House, 3 2018); Sean Illing, "How Fascism Works: A Yale Philosopher on Fascism, Truth, and Donald Trump," Vox , , (accessed October 3, 2018). Stanley, How Fascism Works . 4 Washington Post , made-more-than-false-or-misleading-claims/?utm_term=.be76cad43a40 , (accessed October 3, 2018). Merriam-Webster, , (accessed Octo 6 ber 3, 2018). Patricia Roberts-Miller, Demagoguery and Democracy , (New York:The Experiment, 2017), 2. 7


" 4 statement rings true in our current political environment highlighting the increasing vitri olic nature of rhetoric in politics. Our culture has become increasingly polarized, with in dividuals conÞrming their own points of view through selected sources and dismissing outside viewsÑand Trump capitalized on this norm. As noted previously, what we are seeing with the current administration is an in creasing emphasis on identity-based politics, binary choices in decision-making, and a lack of a willingness to argue about the needs and possible solutions to problems. How ever, we know that discourse is an integral piece of policy-making and in the creation, operation, and protection of democracies. Not only do words and images shape reality, but also language, as written into laws and policies, literally dictates who has rights and freedoms. Sharon M. Meager and Patrice DiQuinzio suggest "Épublic policy is not just shaped by what we do, but also by what we say and how we say it." Therefore, an ad 8 ministration that promotes binary choices through an "us versus them" narrative can in deed shape reality. Furthermore, Roberts-Miller says productive policy making involves arguing about needs, discussing possible solutions, obtaining accuracy in our description of problems, understanding speciÞc causes, and evaluating practicality and the potential negative side effects of solutions. In order to achieve this level of productivity, multiple 9 parties need to be involved in discussions, allowing for varied viewpoints and under standing. To not be engaged in thoughtful, purposeful conversations about problems Sharon Meagher and Patrice DiQuinzio, eds., Women and Children First: Feminism, Rhetoric, 8 and Public Policy, (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2005), 5. Roberts-Miller, Demagoguery and Democracy , 18-19. 9


" 5 and solutions is a threat to democracy. So how should we deal with these issues and who should be involved? Elected ofÞcials and candidates have always disagreed, but none stooped to the level of discourse that Trump made popular during his campaign. Regrettably, with tweets ßying across social media and news coverage moving at a pace that no one can keep up with, people are inundated and fatigued. Osier Bonsu notes, A 24-hour ßow of counter-narratives competes with a 24-hour news cycle of both legitimate and unworthy stories that leak into our col lective social consciousness. The emergence of the live-streamed feed is having a transformative impact on the continued Þght against the rising visibility of fascism, nationalism and protectionism that have emerged as a result of recent geopolitical conßicts. 10 Arguably, this inundation is a tactic being used by the current administration to confuse opponents or simply wear them out. For a signiÞcant portion of our population, there is a fear that basic decency is gone, with seemingly no accountability for Trump. Lines con tinued to be crossed in public discourse and public actions. Of course, many people in this country accept and support the Trump administration and Trump's actions. Yet there also remains signiÞcant portion of the populace who do not and for those people, fatigue and fear are no excuse, there must be a consistent effort to stand up for the ideals of democracy in order to protect it in the long term. To that point, Stanley suggests that the only way to challenge fascist politics and rhetoric is to harness the ideals of liberty and justice, speaking out against injustices and lies when people are being oppressed. 11 Osier Bonsu, "How Effective is Art as a Conduit of Change?" Frieze , 10 how-effective-art-conduit-change (accessed November 28, 2017). Illing, "How Fascism Works," donald-trump-jason-stanley , (accessed October 3, 2018).


" 6 In an effort to Þght against the authoritarianism that Trump promotes, several artists have begun to challenge Trump's divisive and hateful rhetoric and regain those ideals of democracy. In fact, many artists have made conscious efforts to take Trump's exact language and work it into public artworks, reclaiming those words and challenging the demeaning rhetoric that is shaping the public's view of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups. Activist artists are using language as a marker of our times, ques tioning our treatment of women and people of color, and challenging our very deÞnition of who we are as a people, a country. These artists, while challenging the normative rhetoric of this administration are also harnessing social media engagement as a strate gy to change culture and effect change. Challenging the narrative that Trump's authori tarian rhetoric encourages is important in order to question that language and reclaim agency for women, minority, and other marginalized groups, and these artists are lead ing that effort by employing rhetorical strategies in their work. More speciÞcally, these socially engaged artists use art objects as a catalyst for cultural change by creating a space for respectful discourse and an opportunity for new viewpoints to emerge in reac tion to the Trump narrative. Methodology and Theoretical Approach What follows is a discussion and analysis of several artifacts that artists have created to add to a broader conversation about democracy and civil rights, helping to inßuence cultural norms. Some of these pieces have been created to function in typical art spaces (classrooms, galleries, etc.), and some were created with the intent of a mass audience outside of institutional spaces, purposefully harnessing mass media and movements to engage their audience. All, I contend, are forms of socially engaged art,


" 7 intentionally meant to create a space to challenge Trump's normative language, arguing against cultural norms that are divisive and encouraging a broader dialogue about is sues affecting members of our society. SpeciÞcally, for this analysis I have chosen works that demonstrate the following criteria: 1) a focus on women and other minority issues, 2) the use of actual text and discursive strategies to subvert the dominant dis course, 3) the use of street level tactics to disseminate the art, 4) an explicit protest of the Trump administration, and 5) a viral media component, harnessing platforms like social media to engage a broad audience and further disseminate the message. Through an analysis of Shepard Fairey's (in collaboration with the AmpliÞer Foundation) We the People , Aria Watson's #signedbyTrump , Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank's We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident , and Marilyn Minter's (in collaboration with the Halt Action Group) Trump Plaque we see an attempt to make sure that Trump's rhetoric and attack on our populace remain in the collective societal consciousness, as well as a presentation and reclamation of the values and civil rhetoric we share in this country. These artists are helping these issues stay in the forefront of individuals' minds rather than get lost in the noise the administration is creating. Additionally, these works promote resistance to the current administration's divisive rhetoric and encourage dia logue around social issues. Furthermore, each of these artworks present examples of how words matter, of how language is shaping our society, and of how We the People need to challenge the divisive narrative of the current administration. As an interdisciplinary analysis, my research draws on several theoretical under pinnings from the feminist movement, communication and rhetorical theory, and art his tory, speciÞcally socially engaged art practices and activist art. Each of these Þelds has


" 8 inherent assumptions that guide analyses and problem-solving efforts. While each of these factors inßuences my analysis, it is in the intersections, the places where they overlap, that most shape my analysis. In doing so, the analysis becomes richer, more full, allowing me to demonstrate their purpose and power beyond a single critique. Feminist theorists hold that inequities inherent in our society are directly related to patriarchy and capitalism and are maintained in all aspects of our society through in stitutions (religion, family, political, and economic). Feminist scholars and activists be lieve that gender is a social construct, that societies are organized around this con struct, and that inequity is partially understood through these terms. Analyses in this arena value individual viewpoints, recognize the objectivity of women's experiences, and understand that all inquiries are politicized. As Estelle B. Freedman noted, feminism rejects patriarchal rule and seeks to spur social movements in order to inßuence culture, through changes to laws and customs. All of the artwork analyzed here is related to 12 inequality and a quest to change culture. SpeciÞcally, these works have been created by a person from an oppressed community and are meant to serve as activist pieces, cre ating personal agency and engaging communities in a larger conversation to impact so cial change. Rhetorical theory assumes that humans communicate through symbolic means to inßuence each other. Human communicatorsÑor rhetorsÑactively create and con tribute to meaning in their symbol system, capturing their motives and interests (per Estelle B. Freedman, ed., The Essential Feminist Reader (New York: The Modern Library, 12 2007) xii.


" 9 haps well or poorly) with each rhetorical act. Rhetorical choices depend, in part, upon 13 identity and culture, both of which ultimately shape individual understanding. Rhetori cians also believe that credibility and character inßuence the potential successfulness of a message, as do the receptivity and dispositions of audiences. These scholars thus believe that meaning is co-created, a social construction between individuals, and is in ßuenced by the interaction of a rhetor's purpose and an audience's expectations. Sev 14 eral rhetorical toolsÑor means of persuasionÑare available to rhetors (in this case artists) who hope to persuade or engage others, and these means correspond to each of the elements in a rhetorical act or performance: the rhetor's ethos, the pathetic ap peals that elicit audience response, and the logos of the text or artwork itself. Under standing the means of persuasion deployed in each of the artworks I am analyzing is critical. These are each pieces of visual rhetoric. Engaging with art is an act of commu nication. Artists are initiating discourse with an audience and, in this case, with a pur pose of creating change in our shared culture and institutions. Art historians actively analyze objects created by artists as texts, interpreting meaning, trying to understand artistic motivations, and evaluating their cultural signiÞ cance. For the purpose of this analysis, two art history terms are relevant: socially en gaged art practice and activist art. Socially engaged art practice is participatory and harnessing the interactions between human agents as part of the medium. Here, the 15 Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz, Everything's an Argument 7th ed. , (Boston: 13 Bedford/St. Martin's, 2016). L.F. Bitzer, "The Rhetorical Situation," in Rhetoric: Concepts, DeÞnitions, Boundaries, William 14 A. Covino ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon: 1995). Tate Modern. . 15


" 10 interaction between people becomes an important piece of the art and helps to achieve artistic goals. Activist art is focused on a purposeful act by an artist (and audience) to create a visual representation of a cultural problem, which is meant to address social and political issues. Both of these types of art practice are valuable in analyzing the 16 role artists, and their work, play in shaping meaning and inßuencing public policy. Combined, these ideas underpin my approach and analysis, helping to move be yond single issues of circulation, style, and so forth, to acknowledge the various ways in which these objects serve as political protests. These theoretical perspectives help me argue that socially engaged artists are humans, interacting, exchanging information, creating shared meaning, and challenging social constructs to create a world that is more inclusive and equitable. These artists purposefully use rhetorical strategies to dis rupt the dominant conversation, to interrupt oppressive tactics, and to engage the public in action. Further, by challenging the Trump administration, encouraging public dis course around justice and equality values, and creating a space for dialogue and partic ipation in the process, activist artists like the ones discussed here shape discourse and challenge oppressive narratives. Thesis Statement I argue that socially engaged artists in this analysis use their work to challenge the current administration's exclusive and divisive narrative of our country, to create space for dialogue, to increase awareness around social issues, and to empower the public to participate in the political process. # The Tate Modern deÞnes "activist art" as "art that is grounded in the act of Ôdoing' and ad16 dresses political or social issues." Tate Modern, (accessed May 4, 2018).


" 11 CHAPTER II! Review of the Literature We are a nation built upon the foundations of discourse, in dialogue anchored in democratic principles to create a community free from foreign rule. From the meetings between the founding fathers to the present-day structure of the local, state, and federal tiers of government, our democracy is set-up to be representative and to involve multi ple viewpoints so that the best possible solutions to societal issues can be reached. Many rhetoric scholars have argued that policy and public spheres are interdependent, with the public inßuencing policy makers and shaping discourses through activism. 17 SpeciÞcally, Roberts-Miller, notes that "Democracy depends on rhetoricÑon people ar guing with one another and trying to persuade one another." Indeed, having spaces 18 where dialogue and outside viewpoints are encouraged matters in a democratic system, but this ideal is not always achieved, especially with the current administration actively discouraging thoughtful, inclusive discourse. And we know from history that when our government becomes exclusive and acts on xenophobic fears, we make poor policy de cisions. One striking example of this is Japanese internment camps that resulted from a similar narrative of fear and division during WWII. And, arguably, the breakdown in civil discourse at all levels of our political system and in day-to-day interactions between citi zens has become the norm. John M. Ackerman, "Rhetorical Engagement in the Cultural Economies of Cities," in The Pub 17 lic Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement . Eds. John M. Ackerman and David J. Coogan. (Columbia,South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2010), 80; W. Lance Bennett and Robert M. Entman, eds., Mediated Politics: Communication in the Future of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Roberts-Miller, Demagoguery and Democracy , 13. 18


" 12 As a potential solution, rhetorician Wayne C. Booth advocated for a "Listening Rhetoric," Ñan active, engaged listening to alternate viewpoints, with an intent of un derstanding. Engaging in a purposeful dialogue with an open mind improves political 19 decision-making and general conversations alike. Furthermore, acknowledging that rhetoric is a powerful tool is critical for this discussion. James Berlin argued that rhetoric is "part of political and social structures" deÞning "the nature and role of the individual within those structures, and the distribution of power in society." From this viewpoint, 20 discourse is extremely important in shaping and creating changes within communities and for gaining access to power. Yet, as noted previously, even though we know that arguments and dialogue are necessary features of a thriving democracy, helping to de Þne our very roles and rights within that society, we are seeing the opposite trend in pol itics now, with divisive, exclusionary, in-group thinking becoming the norm. And while rhetoricians like Booth proposed possible solutions to this issue, we are not seeing a clear picture of how to achieve this goal, which is why I argue that the space artists are creating for respectful discourse and alternative narratives become critical for social change. Recognizing the importance of discourse to democracy and the need to create space for respectful discourse are both important features of this discussion. Additional ly, understanding the rhetorical nature of objects adds to this analysis. Scholar Laurie E. Gries aptly notes that "Éthings acquire the power to shape reality as they become en Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of RHETORIC: The Quest for Effective Communication, 19 (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 149-151. James A. Berlin, Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985 20 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), 4.


" 13 tangled in complex relations with humans and other nonhuman entities. Too often, we miss the opportunity to acknowledge the force of things because we assume they are inert tools used by human agents whom we typically credit with full-blown agency." As 21 this thinking suggests, words and images can take on a rhetorical life of their own, con tinuing to shape and inßuence culture. Gries gives several relevant examples from Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa to works derived from Shepard Fairey's Barack Obama HOPE poster to demonstrate this point, noting that these objects spurred continued dia logue (thus further inßuencing culture) as they were morphed and adapted through in teractions between rhetors and their audiences. Acknowledging the power of an object to continue to inßuence the construction of meaning is vital to this conversation as we look at objects that were created with the intention of living beyond a single encounter, serving as representations of a message for equality. By viewing the object as contain ing rhetorical force in and of itself, we can apply an analysis that moves beyond a basic rhetorical analysis that reviews the intent of the creator of the message, the occasion for the work, the subject and purpose of the work, the audience, and the rhetorical strate gies implemented to achieve the rhetor's goals. More speciÞcally, when the object itself is analyzed we can add a deeper level of analysis that moves the conversation into the arena of impact, rather than just understanding of original intent. Furthermore, utilizing this rhetorical viewpoint in combination with other theoretical approaches to art analysis offers an opportunity to understand the impact of those objects more fully than the sin gle lens of communication or art history theory would alone. Laurie E Gries, Still Life With Rhetoric: A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetorics , 21 (Boulder, CO: The University Press of Colorado), 12.


" 14 Feminist and communication scholars alike have expounded on the ways in which culture is inßuenced by rhetorical elements, from mass media advertising to ser mons delivered in church. M. Lane Bruner suggests that "economic and state power can always be traced back to the ways we imagine our world, and the ways we are imag ined by others." As noted previously, it is the language rhetors use within these sys 22 tems and our interaction with that language, particularly our reactions to it and the ways we change it, that creates meaning in our society. Indeed, the language agents of the state, speciÞcally elected ofÞcials (and others in power), use to describe individuals, groups, and actions shape our very conceptualization of ourselves, as well as "others" and their experiences. So when a president suggests that a male can grab a female's genitalia without consent, he is using his position to shape culture and norms and creat ing a system where one human is less valuable than another. However, simply ac knowledging this rhetorical move is not enough to change it, rather, we need opportuni ties to challenge the dominant discourse and offer alternative interpretations, which is a role activist artists are playing. As discourse breaks down in public spheres, socially engaged artists are creating spaces for people to interact, exchange information, create shared meaning, and chal lenge social constructs in an effort to create a world that is more inclusive and equitable. Arguably, these artists are using artwork to encourage those conversations. Historian Grant Kester argues that, Art's role is to shock us out of this perceptual complacency, to force us to see the old anew. This shock has borne many names over the M. Lane Bruner, "The Public Work of Critical Political Communication," in The Public Work of 22 Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic Engagement . Eds. John M. Ackerman and David J. Coogan. (Columbia,South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2010), 59.


" 15 years: the sublime, alienation effect, l'amour fou , and so on. In each case the result is a kind of epiphany that lifts viewers outside the familiar boundaries of a common language, existing modes of rep resentation, and even their own sense of self. 23 Helping people see beyond their own worldview helps to encourage understanding and discourse. Moreover, utilizing feminist discursive methods to disrupt dominant dialogue and messaging helps people gain a new perspective, as well as the agency and voice that is needed in order to advocate for equality. Socially engaged artists are Þlling the gap between scholarship and action by creating space for respectful discourse; there fore, viewing their artwork from multiple theoretical lenses is warranted. Art historian Claudia Mesch suggests that political art tries to achieve two things: commentary on and reactions to issues so that they may inßuence the political decisionmaking process. Noting these underlying goals of political art is important for framing 24 this discussion. Activist artists like the ones explored in this analysis purposefully use their medium and platforms to shape conversations and inform public policy. Not only do these artists comment on issues, they also intentionally create space for discourse and for the public to share experiences and re-insert themselves into policy-making that of ten excludes their voices. Understanding that activist artworks both by creating space for public reaction and by incorporating that reaction into the creative process requires critics to analyze socially engaged art in multiple ways. Art historian Nina Felshin hints at how we might do so when she notes that "Ac tivist art, in both its forms and methods, is processrather than objector product-ori Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley. 23 CA: University of California Press, 2004), 12. Claudia Mesch, ed., Art and Politics: A Small History of Art for Social Change Since 1945 24 (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.), 12.


" 16 ented, and it usually takes place in public sites rather than within the context of art-world venues." Felshin's deÞnition suggests that the critic who wishes to analyze activist art 25 of the sort I consider here must focus not only on the artistic object but also on the in teractive process through which the object is made. The collaboration of artist and pub lic and the media used to disseminate the message are essential to the identity and meaning of the artistic work produced. In fact, the work's signiÞcance is so dependent upon the shared experiences of creation, according to Felshin, that activist art can serve to subvert dominant, top-down rhetorical strategies employed by political leaders. While this latter (and conventional) approach to political rhetoric is exclusionary, positioning the rhetor as expert and the audience as passive recipients, activist artists invite feed backÑand incorporate it into the creative processÑthus ßattening the traditional hierar chy of political messaging and opening a space for social change. Some notable feminist artists harnessing mass media and rhetoric in public spa ces include Suzanne Lacy, Jenny Holzer, and Barbara Kruger, engaging the public through words and visuals outside the conÞnes of the museum. Their work capitalized on the opportunity for discourse by creating space for it and by essentially advertising it through popular channels like the news. Much like the artworks created by their for bearers, the visual rhetoric inherent in many of the images in this analysis is powerful because it attempts a reclamation of the words that shape our individual experience of this presidency and create an opportunity to acknowledge shared experiences and communal desires for change. Nina Felshin, ed., But Is It Art? The Spirit of Art as Activism (Seattle, Washington: Bay Press, 25 1995), 10.; Mensch, Art and Politics, 10.


" 17 While we acknowledge that artists are Þling a gap between scholarship and ac tion, we also need to recognize that creating this work is difÞcult. Carl Swanson sug gests that, There is a larger conceptual problem for artists protesting Trump, which is how to actually go about effectively doing it. What can the artists themselves do to go up against the policies of a president who is, in many ways, a kind of performance artist himself? How do the discontented, visionary weirdos muck with our reality when cre ating alternative realities is now the purview of our say-anything postmodern mad king? What do clever artists do when the world itself has become so darkly clever? 26 The clever artists explored in this analysis are rising to the challenge by harnessing the power of rhetorical strategies employed by feminists, activist artists, and even politicians to help shape social issues. By facilitating public dialogue, the artists reclaim the process, inßuence democracy, and help create catalysts for change. Through this process, individuals can gain a "voice, visibility, and an awareness that they are part of a greater whole." In these ways, artists encourage individual agency in oppressed 27 communities, which is a necessary precursor to social change. Understanding how to promote that individual agency requires a discussion of feminist history and art tactics. Feminism has a long and diverse history. Importantly, Freedman wrote that "No one political theory or strategy delineates feminism." As this fact suggests, justice re 28 quires a multi-faceted approach, from activists of all genres. During feminism's First Carl Swanson, "Is Political Art the Only Art That Matters Now?" Vulture (April 20, 2017) , http:// 26 (accessed Nov 19, 2017). Felshin, But Is It Art? , 12. 27 Estelle B. Freedman, ed., The Essential Feminist Reader (New York: The Modern Library) 28 xviii.


" 18 Wave, strategies to tackle the issue of equality included a focus on education, citizen ship, and property and voting rights. Here privileged activists took to the streets, orga nizing protests and conferences to add their voice to the milieu. In the Second Wave, identity politics took center stage, with advocates focusing on reclamation of the body and the relationship between "racial, sexual, and gender justice." Freedman further 29 notes that "Feminist writers have also identiÞed the female body as a source of both op pression and power"Ñ a strategy Aria Watson employs in her series # SignedByTrump . Efforts were pushed further as the Third Wave feminists challenged 30 constructs and essentialist ideas about gender, creating a more inclusive discussion by bringing in more diverse voices and acknowledging intersectionality. Artists, employing discursive strategies such as reclaiming derogatory terms (bitch, slut, etc.) helped dis arm oppressors of verbal weaponsÑa discursive strategy all of these artists are draw ing upon to make their points and to challenge the current leadership. Throughout history, Feminist artists furthered these efforts by reinserting identity into the public eye, developing representations of women, gay, transgendered, black, Hispanic, and Muslim (among so many others) individuals. Mesch suggests that "In or der to render politics visible, or the relations and concerns of social groups at a particu lar moment, many artists make use of the quick legibility of illusionism or the traditional text-and-image combinations used in propaganda"Ñ a tactic employed by feminists and other activists throughout the course of history. Arguably, all of the artists explored in 31 Ibid., xiii 29 Ibid., xvii 30 Mesch, Art and Politics , 9. 31


" 19 this analysis harness this technique, further underscoring their intent to gain visibility and power in a divisive situation. The resulting visuals create an opportunity for dialogue and new perspectives, helping to advance gender equality by constructing and decon structing narratives and histories ascribed to us all. And now, perhaps, we are engaged in a Fourth Wave, utilizing technology to break down barriers and reach larger audiences, again a strategy each of these artists employed to raise funding for their projects, disseminate materials to support messag ing, and to shed light on the issue of equality they are promoting. Through body positive messaging, hashtag culture, and inclusive imagery, all of the artists discussed here ap pear to be engaged in modern day socially engaged activist art strategies. As Freedman said, "Éfeminism initiates social movements to alter laws and customs." The artists 32 included in this analysis all share an interest in the treatment and representation of marginalized groups and have committed to challenging these representations in order to initiate dialogue and change. Amelia Jones further adds that "Éeverything has changed in terms of feminism's relevance and visibility as a mode of thinking about power as it is enacted through bodies, institutions, and structures of representation." 33 Indeed it has and in this analysis we see artists inßuencing the Þght for equality by chal lenging the normalization of this administration and its policies through a strategic reclamation of rhetoric, helping the issues and concerns to remain in the public memory. Further effort to gain a voice and visibility characterizes many movements from civil rights to feminism and artists have been critical in helping to shape those conversa Ibid., xii. 32 Amelia Jones, ed. Introduction: Conceiving the Intersection of Feminism and Visual Culture, 33 Again," in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader (New York: Routledge, 2010), 1.


" 20 tions in support of equality and progress. Feminism's history, in particular, is diverse in that it embodies multiple theories, methods, voices, and waves of implementation as the people within this movement work toward a shared political endÑequality. Elizabeth Ann Dobie wrote, "If gender is deÞned by discourse, those who get to do the deÞning hold a powerful position." Feminists have been addressing this very issue by disrupt 34 ing discourse for years, attempting to point out the rhetorical elements of language that frame women as passive objects and re-shape this dialogue. In the 1960s and 70s we witnessed the rise of Feminism, an organized move ment to challenge the subjugation of females throughout Western cultures, building upon earlier suffragette movements and equal rights movements from the first part of the century. During this time challenges to the historical representations of women in art became a focus for many female artists. Feminism in the art world saw artists like Pauline Boty, Carolee Schneeman, Alice Neel, Judy Chicago, Martha Rosler, and Sylvia Sleigh, begin to create art that appropriated familiar imagery of women to propel the feminist agenda. Artists practicing in this way strove to challenge cultural norms, stereo types of beauty, and the canon of art history itself, by intervening in the subject matter and provoking conversation. And, by adding the female perspective, these artists suc cessfully intervened in the larger conversation of women's rights that was happening in the United States. One artist, Nancy Spero, instituted an approach that is foundational to other artists attempting to redefine women's position in our culture and exemplifies many of the tactics being employed by the artists in this analysis. Spero talks in multiple inter Elizabeth Ann Dobie, "Interweaving Feminist Frameworks," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art 34 Criticism 48:4, (Fall 1990) 387.


" 21 views about feeling silenced as an artist and as a woman. Her response to this silenc 35 ing was to scream even louder, co-founding and joining several women-led artist action groups. Most notably, beginning in the 70s, she participated in the Women Artists in Revolution (WAR), the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Artists, and helped form the Þrst all-female gallery called Artists in Residence (A.I.R.). Through these groups she formed an afÞnity with feminist contemporaries tackling a wide range of issues, such as women's representation in galleries and museums, parity, and a variety of other issues related to women's status in the art world and society at large. And, in doing so, she, along with other women artists of her time, "challenged what was considered acceptable in terms of content, form, technique, and purpose of artistic expression." Yet, while 36 many of her female colleagues were tackling issues of the body in feminism, Spero's work was broader, focusing at times on the female body, but often on the language of patriarchy, the discourse of subjugation, and the politics of power. She states that in her War Series she, "wanted to make images to express the obscenity of war, the collusion of sex, male power, and the power of the military." Thus, her work became a commen 37 tary on all things patriarchal and she served as a political witness and critic in this dia logue. Lyon notes that "Spero throughout her career analyzed the dominant position of men in art and the corresponding marginalization of women as subjects of art and pro Deborah Frizzell, "Nancy Spero's Museum Incursions: Isis on the Threshold," Women's Art 35 Journal , 27, no. 2 (2006): 25. Joanna Walker, "Nancy Spero. Dissidances," Art Monthly , (October, 2008): 321. 36 Nancy Spero and Deborah Frizzell, "Nancy Spero's War Maypole/Take No Prisoners," Cultur 37 al Politics , 5.1, (March 2009): 120.


" 22 ducers of and audience for it." And through this outsider position she was able to cre 38 ate a new discourse on history through a female lens creating a new narrative to the history being dominated by the male lens. When viewing the evolution of her work, one begins to see how she shaped this discourse, Þrst overcoming a sense of voiceless ness, then moving to a position of reinserting both her voice and the voice of all women as actor, as object, and as protagonist. Her discursive methods and approach to reclaim her own identity helped shaped the canon of feminist art practice. Building upon the work of these early Feminist artists, the Feminists of the 1980s and 90s took the conversation to the next level by questioning the familiar tropes of womanhood, appropriating mass media imagery into the dialogue, and a further explo ration of gender identity in Western society ensued. Here we see artists such as Bar bara Kruger, the collective known as the Guerrilla Girls, Betty Tompkins, Marilyn Minter, and again, Nancy Spero pushing the boundaries on the representation of women in art and media, and, once again, re-appropriating the myths of womanhood to further this conversation about equality. While there are many notable artists who helped shaped the dialogue around representation, identity, and equal rights, an excellent example of an artistic group which employs discursive strategies, participation in street level protest, and a strategic harnessing of media outlets to help bring attention to the issue of equal rights is the Guerrilla Girls. Starting in 1985, this group of female artists began collaborating, staging exhibits, having public postering campaigns that targeted institutional art spaces and members including museums, galleries, dealers, curators, critics, and even artists, as Ibid, 11. 38


" 23 well as distributing books that were meant to expose issues of inequality in the art world and point out the players whom they felt were complicit in perpetuating this disparity. 39 Dressing up in gorilla suits and masks, these artists hide their identity and create a pub lic spectacle as they work, encouraging media coverage to help spread their message. Their collaborative and witty approach has helped bring attention to parity in the art world, as well as sexism and racism in art, Þlm, politics, our culture at large. The group has successfully created hundreds of posters and other printed works, held multiple demonstrations, organized forums, as well as participated in and held workshops and presentations at area schools, museums, organizations, taking their protest beyond the streets and into direct action. Their artwork includes cutting criticism of the disparity in 40 the art world, employing visual techniques common to the advertising world, helping to make their message quickly relatable to the public they are trying to inßuence. FIGURE 1: Guerrilla Girls Poster, 1989. The Getty Research Institute. Elizabeth Manchester, "Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum?" Tate 39 Modern (accessed May 17, 2018); and Guerrilla Girls, "Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum?" in The Essential Feminist Reader, ed. Estelle B. Freedman. (New York: The Modern Library), 391-393. Ibid. 40


" 24 " Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum ?" is a relevant ex 41 ample of their work for this discussion. Originally intended as a publicly funded billboard, the work was rejected by the Public Art Fund and instead was self-funded and ran on buses, reaching a vast audience in NYC and gaining media attention. The artwork elicits the imagery from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' Odalisque ( a piece of visual rhetoric we will see employed again in Buckman and Frank's work) with a reclining naked fe male (guerrilla mask included) seated on a bright pink cloth and suggestively holding a phallic-shaped fan, and set against a bright yellow background. Paired with easy-toread text focused on the facts, the work reads like a magazine ad, again a purposeful tactic employed to quickly gain the viewer's attention and to highlight the issue at hand. This one example of their work becomes quickly relevant as a historical marker in the art world when you view both Watson and Buckman and Frank's works later in this dis cussion. Moreover, one can Google this piece of their work and see over 740,000 links, demonstrating the power of their strategy and showing how these rhetorical objects can be distributed, carrying the message to a broad audience. Anne Demo notes that, while the ensemble has received little scholarly attention, their humorous approach to grass roots activism has been valuable in bringing attention to issues of equality through "non traditional forms of feminist rhetoric." By using humor, these artists open the dialogue 42 around women in the art world in a non-threatening way, thus disrupting the dominant paradigm and helping to shift the dialogue. Furthermore, their visual approach to ac Guerrilla Girls Poster, 1989, The Getty Research Institute, 41 cial_collections/notable/guerrilla_girls.html (accessed October 21, 2018), Þgure 1. Anne Teresa Demo, "The Guerrilla Girls' Comic Politics of Subversion," Women's Studies in 42 Communication , 23:2 (2010): 135.


" 25 tivism has shaped multiple artists, and their street level tactics have brought widespread attention to issues of sexism and racism in society providing affected artists with a rep resentative voice and forum for action. Feminist and activist art practices are often overlapped, but activist art practices can be so much broader than the issues inherent in the feminist movement. A socially engaged art practice is a collaborative and participatory effort that involves people as the medium rather than focusing on traditional materials such as paint and canvas. 43 Nina Felshin also advances these hallmarks of activist art, which she posits are: collab oration, public participation, and a process-oriented approach. Socially engaged artists 44 have chosen to employ a variety of techniques to challenge oppressionÑ from protests in the street, to propaganda for messaging, to a reclamation of language reducing its negativity and amplifying its power for the positive. Therefore, socially engaged art prac tice informs technique and delivery, but the content varies across a range of social is sues. This discussion helps to demonstrate that artists are employing multiple tech niques to initiate respectful discourse and ultimately change culture, warranting the need for a multi-perspective analysis of their efforts. Viewing an object strictly through a feminist art lens or visual rhetoric perspective would limit the analysis. For example, a feminist analysis of these artworks might miss the continued rhetorical power of the ob ject and its further inßuence on the very discussion the artist was hoping to inßuence that a rhetorical lens can demonstrate. Or, a strict rhetorical analysis of the artwork Tate Modern, (accessed 43 March 2, 2018); Felshin, But Is It Art?; and Kester, Conversation Pieces. Felshin, But Is It Art? , 3. 44


" 26 could lose the richness of the social element at play in the creation of the work that an art historical analysis would capture. To be sure, feminist-rhetorical theory is a rich Þeld of analysis, as is feminist art history. What is important to my analysis is the explicit and self-conscious use of the strengths of all three disciplines. Furthermore, what these approaches have in common is an art practice that fo cuses on a social issue in an effort to create change in the culture. In his analysis of the cultural entities that are shaping society, Nato Thompson writes, "Culture is a vast dy namic imposing itself on everything from politics to media to advertising to warfare." 45 Many of the practices socially engaged artists are using involve utilizing mass media coverage, incorporating the public as co-creators, and working outside typical art institu tional spaces to reach broader audiences and inßuence change in the same ways capi talist cultural entities are trying to do. Thompson also points out that, Some compelling implications arise when we read power through its use of culture. For example, power has contributed to the strate gies and vulnerabilities of social movements by manipulating media and public perception. Media activism and social movements that cull from the techniques of advertising to make a larger point have a long history, but it is useful to appreciate the double-edged nature of deploying culture. Simple factsÑthat fear motivates faster than hope, that appeals to emotion do not rely on the truth, or that ratio nality need not drive enthusiasmÑ make the terrain of activism that uses culture more precarious. 46 To Thompson's point, harnessing rhetorical strategies, such as appeals to pathos, have often been incorporated into activist art practices, both feminist and otherwise. Employ ing the typeface of advertising, using its syntax and its familiarity, has been strategic for Nato Thompson, Culture as Weapon: the Art of Inßuence In Everyday Life (Brooklyn: Melville 45 House, 2017), 24. Thompson, Culture as Weapon , xi. 46


" 27 institutional artists such as Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Nancy Spero, but also for street artists (also arguably institutionalized now) such as Shepherd Fairey. It is only natural to employ the techniques of mass communication if one wishes to inßuence and engage the masses, and that is a commonality we see amongst the artists in this dis cussion. However, the scholarship is lacking in the analysis of artworks through the mul ti-dimensional lens of visual rhetoric and art history theories. Socially engaged artists are often working on issues of exclusionÑ on the issues of identity, personal rights, and equity, noting how the excluded groups are treated and giving voice to those groups. Thompson describes this as the "State of Exception," not ing that "This condition, whereby the basic principles of human rights are not applicable, became a phenomenon that shows how empire is anathema to the project of democra cy. In the space of this contradiction, artists Þnd a rich terrain to expose the political real ity for what it is, and in doing so, produce a new political consciousness." It is in this 47 arena where you see artists such as Susan Lacy or Theaster Gates operating, harness ing public space to create dialogue and reframe inclusion and democracy. Thompson also suggests that, The state of exception is not a recent phenomenon, but one that the project of democracy has depended on since its inception. Slavery, colonialism, and the Native American reservation are not minor exceptions to the rule of law, but are, in fact, part and parcel of what make government function as a mechanism of control. Finding these contradictions in the American tradition allows cultur al activists to highlight injustices. 48 Ibid, 21. Note that the concept of the "State of Exception" was Þrst developed legal and politi 47 cal theorist, Carl Schmidtt and that Thompson is drawing upon this foundation in his deÞnition. Ibid, 22. 48


" 28 Indeed, this effort for a truly democratic space has yet to be achieved, but activist artists are helping to engage the public in that dialogue and effort. Artists become change agents in this atmosphere of exception, re-inserting those excluded voices back into the dialogue and helping to create awareness both around issues and within individuals who can become agents of change. Thus, artists are doing more than simply creating objects, they are creating opportunities for dialogue that can be used to create aware ness and inßuence cultural change. They are creating new rhetorical spaces where meaning can be created. In their edited volume, Mediated Politics , W. Lance Bennett and Robert Entman declared that "Access to communication is one of the key measures of power and equality in modern democracies." I argue that the artists reviewed in this discussion 49 are creating access to communication in order to promote equality and help citizens gain power within their own democracy. By creating space for conversations and chal lenging the public to evaluate the discourse and narratives being espoused by elected ofÞcials, each of these artists is helping to ignite personal responsibility and activate agency in demoralized communities. However, acknowledging that change takes time and that awareness and a sense of agency are precursors to any change in society is important for this discussion. The following works did not necessarily yield immediate, or perhaps even measurable, results in undoing the work of the current administration. However, what these artists have done is create the space for discourse, awareness, and shared experiences that W. Lance Bennett and Robert M. Entman, "Mediated Politics: An Introduction," in Mediated 49 Politics: Communication in the Future of Democracy, editors W. Lance Bennett and Robert M. Entman . (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 2.


" 29 can eventually lead to changes in laws and customs. Recognizing their role in the long trajectory of social change is important in this analysis. In summary, these theoretical perspectives help explain how discursive strate gies, socially engaged art practices, and activist artworks are meant to inßuence culture and shape public awareness. Individually, each area discussed provides a guidepost for the following discussion, but collectively, we can evaluate the intersection of these theo retical approaches to create a more holistic understanding of the role of artists, objects, and audience in creating meaning and inßuencing cultural change. The analytical lens being employed here involves an exploration of the rhetorical elements that led to the creation of each artwork (i.e., the speaker, occasion, subject, purpose, and audience), the creation of the work itself (the participatory process and dissemination method of the objects), the underlying effort to redeÞne a narrative that marginalizes communities, and the continued rhetorical power of the objects once distributed. Therefore, the following analysis explores the ways in which the aforementioned artworks are timely demonstra tions against the Trump administration. The works will be analyzed across the afore mentioned frameworks: feminism, socially engaged and activist art practices, and visual rhetorical communications elements. Through these lenses, I demonstrate how artists are utilizing their platform to shape discourse, challenge narratives, and create opportu nities for awareness and activism. #


" 30 CHAPTER III Discussion of the Works Work #1: Shepard Fairey's We The People Poster Series Figure 2: Women's March on Washington 2016. Source: AmpliÞer Foundation In coordination with the AmpliÞer Foundation, Shepard Fairey, along with Ernesto Yerena and Jessica Sabogal, created a Kickstarter campaign to print and distribute a series of posters called, We the People , which were made available for the Women's March in 2017, in protest of Trump's inauguration. The title, taken directly from the Unit ed States Constitution, evokes an immediate sense of union and inclusivity, amplifying the basic tenants of our democracy. The campaign stated, We believe art has the power to wake people up. Eight years ago, the artist Shepard Fairey made the iconic image that captured a pe riod of HOPE in America. Today we are in a very different moment, one that requires new images that reject the hate, fear, and open racism that were normalized during the 2016 presidential cam


" 31 paign. So on Inauguration Day, We the People will ßood Washing ton, DC with NEW symbols of hope. 50 While the series has multiple images featuring Native-American, African-American, Lati na, and Muslim women and men, the three developed by Fairey featured Latina and Muslim women, and a Black boy in a red, white, and blue scheme. In an interview with CNN, Fairey said, "We thought [they] were the three groups that had been maybe criti cized by Trump and maybe were going to be most, if not necessarily vulnerable in a lit eral sense, most feeling that their needs would be neglected in a Trump administration." By integrating women into two of the images and utilizing the 51 Women's March to circulate the posters, Fairey acknowledges the vulnerability of multi ple constituencies under attack by the Trump administration. The signiÞcance of Fairey's We the People posters cannot be overstated. The artist who gave us the iconic HOPE representation of President Barak Obama during 52 his campaign, suggesting a moment of change in U.S. History and invoking the possibil ity associated with that campaign is essentially undermining the not yet earned legitima cy of the Trump administration through these propagandistic images. As you'll see in the analysis, each image challenges Trump's narrative both visually and textually. In an in terview with the LA Times, Fairey said that both the HOPE poster and this series were "driven by the same impulse: to provide encouragement to those who feel powerless AmpliÞer Foundation, " We The People " Kickstarter campaign, 50 projects/ampliÞerfoundation/we-the-people-public-art-for-the-inauguration-and?token=43200cc2 (accessed November 30, 2017). Stephy Chung, "Ô Hope ' artist Shepard Fairey reveals new posters to protest Trump," CNN 51 (January 19, 2017) (accessed on November 30, 2017). Shepard Fairey, Hope poster 2008, Shepard Fairey website , hope/ (accessed October 18, 2018), Þgure 3.


" 32 and deßated." In the Obama era, this meant invoking hope for minorities, for those whose belief in the government had waned, and for those who believed equality, and healthcare, and peace were possible. Figure 3: Shepard Fairey HOPE poster. Source Shepard Fairey website. Of course, once in ofÞce, the Obama administration was far from perfect, almost immediately angering many liberals with his policies and actions. Fairey himself spoke out against Obama on multiple occasions, but notable in an interview with CNN in 2015 when he stated that he'd "run out of hope for Obama." So the fact that he chose to in 53 voke this reference and imagery for the We the People series is interesting, suggesting that the artist wanted to re-invigorate that same hope for change, and possibly hinting at Daniella Diaz, " Hope poster creator says he's Run Out of Hope for Obama," CNN (May 29, 53 2015) dex.html (accessed on October 16, 2018).


" 33 a personal position that the Democratic party represents those values better than the Republican party. The artist's own outspoken positions on politics could, in some ways, diminish his message for those who follow his work given his change in position on Obama and criticisms of that administration's policies. Yet, I contend that for the majority of people marching in the Women's March, the messaging was brilliant. Fairey created an image that resonated with all those voters who supported Obama and his administra tion. The images were easy to recognize, playing on a subtle narrative of better times for the people marching who may now feel oppressed or threatened. They were meant to unify the outraged, to give hope again, and to create a shared protest of the incoming administration, and by using his own iconic imagery and form present in his HOPE poster, he achieves these goals. Comprised of three main images, each featuring a line of text and awash in the red, white, and blue that signiÞes our nation's ßag and unity, these posters became emblematic of the Women's March, challenging the very deÞni tion of who we the people are, thus challenging the rhetoric of this administration and campaign. The Þrst poster, We the People Protect Each Other , features a side proÞle view 54 of a young, Black boy with long, dreaded hair wearing a red shirt and a stalwart look that borders on apprehension or fearfulness. The photo used for the poster was taken by Delphine Diallo, a Brooklyn-based contemporary artist, with the artwork then created by Fairey. The text placed at the bottom of the poster reads, "We the People Protect Each Other." Diallo's work itself celebrates diversity and heritage, combining both artistry and activism to achieve her goals of unmasking and stirring "an uninhibited in Shepard Fairey, We the People Protect Each Other , 2017, Source: AmpliÞer Foundation, 54 https://ampliÞ (accessed October 18, 2018), Þgure 4.


" 34 sight that allows her audience to see beyond the facade." This particular image comes 55 from her "Children of New York" series, about which the artist states "We are much more than the color of her skin, much more than a culture. we are humans and in their eyes, i can see the truth." While not digressing too much, it's signiÞcant to note that the 56 artist's own invocation of humanity is written in lower case, suggesting a bell hooks style of advocacy. The photo series itself is interesting, playing on multiple tropes of savagery and lost innocence, but this one particular photo stands out even in the original series, demonstrating a quiet resilience. Figure 4: Shepard Fairey, We the People Protect Each Other , 2017. Source: AmpliÞer Foundation. Delphine Diallo, Bio page on Delphine Diallo website, (ac 55 cessed October 16, 2018). Diallo, Children of New York artist statement, (accessed 56 October 16, 2018).


" 35 The child's gaze is off to the distance, suggesting deep thought and, perhaps, a hope for what is to come. The repetitive shading on the face could be read in multiple ways. At Þrst glance it is reminiscent of Fairey's earlier work on the Obama campaign posters and also suggests a repetition of history, the hope of a young boy who now knows that it is possible to be Black and be president. Indeed, Fairey may have wanted to install that hope again, to show the Black youth as gentle, thoughtful challenging the negative stereotypes of Black men perpetuated by Trump during his campaign. Howev er, one might also see this gaze as somewhat defeated or demoralized, a child unable to hold himself high and look straight at the viewer. This second interpretation would in voke empathy, a desire to protect this young child and Þght back against an administra tion that creates this kind of disenfranchisement. Both readings achieve a goal of en couraging people to rise up and challenge the attacks on marginalized groups, as well as the narrative of this administration. One might even suggest that the shading evokes the multiple races that represent America, a big message for a child to carry. The ac companying text reads "We the People, Protect Each Other," suggesting that we must all protect each other, not just those who Trump's actions, words, and now policies have suggested have more value in our country (i.e., those who are white, wealthy, or other wise privileged in our nation). Through this image Fairey is attempting to challenge the rhetoric of racism and hate that Trump's campaign and now his presidency comprise. He is creating a message of hope, protection, and calm and collected behavior that con ßicts with a narrative of hate and violence being encouraged by Trump. The second poster, We the People Defend Dignity , inspired by the photograph by Arlene Majorda, features a Latina woman, gazing straight at the viewer with a conÞdent


" 36 smile on her face and a red rose in her hair. This gaze is purposeful, suggesting that a 57 women should not back down in the face of fear and should be treated with dignity. Rather than averting her gaze, which women are taught to do in our culture as a sign of submission and deference, she stands proud, ready to engage the viewer, ready to en gage the people who diminish her worth as a female and Latina. Fairey is playing against multiple tropes here, giving this woman an assertive and powerful stance. With small moves such as the positioning of the woman, Fairey challenges Trump's deroga tion of woman espoused throughout his campaign. Figure 5: Shepard Fairey's, We the People Defend Dignity , 2017. Source: AmpliÞer Foundation. Further, the poster title itself, We the People Defend Dignity , plays on multiple meanings. Trump and his administration are actively promoting a narrative that dimin Shepard Fairey, We the People Defend Dignity , 2017, Source: AmpliÞer Foundation, https:// 57 ampliÞ (accessed October 18, 2018), Þgure 5.


" 37 ishes both women and Hispanics, by encouraging the division between Mexico and America through the border wall, by actively discussing his own extra-marital conquests and literal abuse of women, and most recently by appointing a conservative, pro-life Supreme Court justice. Yet, Fairey's title suggests that both women and Hispanics have value, are digniÞed, and are worth defending. Additionally, here we have a woman standing up for herself, defending her own dignity, with pride and authority. Even her position, with her head held high, is a digniÞed stance. Again, these choices are subtle, but purposeful on the artist's part, creating a message that challenges the Trump narra tive of "Make America Great Again" through exclusion, through division, and through xenophobia. The subject's t-shirt can be interpreted in a multiple ways, something possible intentional on the artist's part. She is wearing a red t-shirt with an image of an eagle, po tentially referencing the United States' coat of arms, but showing the eagle facing its left, indicating a time of strife and war. However, it is also possible this image is meant to represent the Mexican ßag, which also features and eagle and a snake. With this inter pretation Fairey may be suggesting a subtle weaving of the Mexican culture into the fold of American ideology. Both interpretations are clear examples of how this art functions as a protest to the Trump administration values and an alternative to the divisive, binary narrative he promotes. Lastly, the woman's image appears wind swept, giving the illusion of wind blow ingÑa clear reference to changing times which have long been noted in protest imagery and music. Fairey's imagery is drawing on the conßicts in our country, between races, classes, genders, and more. These divides are indicative of a nation at war with itself,


" 38 struggling to create a shared identity and goals. Therefore, both the reference to chang ing times and the implicit understanding that our country is currently at war are strategic visuals meant to unite a populace against tyranny, in defense of dignityÑfor all. Figure 6: Shepard Fairey's, We the People Are Greater Than Fear , 2017. Source: Am pliÞer Foundation. The last poster in the series, We the People Are Greater than Fear , features a woman wrapped in a US ßag hijab, looking head-on at the viewer, with a steadfast, per haps even challenging, gaze. The inspirational photo, originally titled I Am America 58 was taken by Ridwan Adhami, who advocates for social justice and equality through his medium. Adhami has a long career focused on capturing stories that bring a voice to the Shepard Fairey, We the People Are Greater Than Fear , 2017, Source: AmpliÞer Foundation, 58 https://ampliÞ (accessed October 18, 2018), Þgure 6.


" 39 voiceless, attempting to inspire individuals to challenge their own biases. His original 59 photo was created for the six year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and was explicitly meant as a response to the rhetoric attacking Muslims and the claim that this group is not American enough. He also shot the photo at the World Trade Center site, bringing 60 the issue back to its rootsÑ fear. It's interesting to note that the original photo was itself a protest of the divisive rhetoric that has perpetuated our country since these attacks, creating a fear-based response to terrorist acts and dividing the population around val ues of nationalism, faith, and identity. This history of the image and the original artist helps to unpack its imagery and meaning as portrayed by Fairey in this new context. As we unwrap the imagery present in this image, we see the woman's gaze is directed at the viewer, steadfast and unwavering, but also with a sense of calm resolu tion. Additionally, the woman has used a U.S. ßag as a hijab, invoking symbolism of na tionalism and patriotism. The hijab has deep religious signiÞcance suggesting a ques 61 tion of both the religious and nationalist binaries present in Trump's narrative. The as 62 sociation of the two makes the viewer pause and question what it means to be Ameri can, to reference this symbol, and acknowledge the value this country places on rel Ridwan Adhami, Bio page on Ridwan Adhami website, 59 (accessed October 18, 2018). Pavani Yalamachili, "On the Powerful ÔI Am America' photo in the ÔWe the People' Art Cam 60 paign," The Aerogram , (accessed October 18, 2018). Gškariksel and Smith, "Intersectional Feminism," 633-635. 61 Ibid. 62


" 40 gious freedoms. Additionally, by combining these images Fairey offers up an alterna 63 tive narrative, suggesting that one can be both a citizen of this nation and hold different religious beliefs. Furthermore, Fairey's work recollects the founding tenant of religious freedom in our country. The image text purposefully refers to Trump's menacing com ments about foreigners, and Muslims in particular, throughout the campaign with state ments such as "We have a problem in this country; it's called Muslims. We know our current president is one." Furthermore, Trump and his administration have consistently 64 issued travel bans on people coming from Muslim countries, hinted at the need for addi tional surveillance of mosques, and literally declared war against an indistinct group that he terms "radical Islam." The President consistently lumps all Muslims into a single 65 categoryÑterroristÑmeant to invoke fear and incite racism in Americans, creating an "us versus them" narrative that these images are meant to protest. Fairey's purposeful text and imagery is meant to counter this fear-mongering rhetoric and encourage the viewer to both recognize and accept the diversity of faith and identities that exist in the United States. By creating and distributing these images, Fairey was able to make three key moves. First, he gives representation to multiple targets of Trump's vitriol, preventing their erasure from our Nation's fold. Further, he purposeful disrupts the hateful rhetoric Edward Helmore, "Interview with Munira Ahmed: The Woman Who Became the Face of the 63 Trump Resistance," The Guardian (January 23, 2017), 2017/jan/23/womens-march-poster-munira-ahmed-shepard-fairey-interview (accessed October 18, 2018). Jenna Johnson and Abigail Hauslohner, "ÔI Think Islam Hates Us': A Timeline of Trump's 64 Comments About Islam and Muslims," The Washington Post (May 20, 2017), https://www.wash (accessed October 16, 2018). Ibid. 65


" 41 of the Trump campaign, reclaiming signiÞers of America to include the representation of all Americans, not just the white, upper-class males Trump consistently appeals to in his actions, his speeches, and at his rallies. And lastly, he empowers these disenfranchised communities by giving them a platform to protest and re-insert themselves into the polit ical dialogue in a positive way, reclaiming their own nationalist narrative and agency. Combined, these achievements highlight the importance of socially engaged art practice in the larger political milieu, demonstrating how images can counter negative narratives, give agency and voice to disenfranchised groups, and offer alternatives to hateful dia logue. Yet, while many people celebrated Fairey's latest objection to political leadership, some scholars criticized Fairey's approach to disrupting the discourse. SpeciÞcally, Gškariksel and Smith note the problematic nature of several of the symbols used in the Women's March, including these posters, suggesting that, Fairey imbues all with the colors and symbols of U.S. nationalism to ostensibly serve as signs of inclusion and acceptance. However, the images of minority women awashed in red, white, and blue are multivalent and complex signiÞers. While some who share the iden tities that Fairey strives to represent may embrace these images as representations of an inclusive America, the series is also fraught in its folding of diverse Ôothers' into a national narrativeÉHolding up the composite images of Ôdiverse women' as symbols of dignity and strength in an essentializing manner, the series evades the ways that the national colors that they now bask in are the colors of the nation that forced them to have to be strong, to have to be digniÞed to survive. The Muslim woman wearing the U.S. ßag as a headscarf most poignantly embodies the folding of minorities into a national narrative but also points to its dangers. 66 Yet, while the white-and-blue-washed features of all the Þgures' skin color and identity are concerning, and Gškariksel and Smith's points about imperial feminism are justiÞ Gškariksel and Smith, "Intersectional Feminism," 633. 66


" 42 able, it may be possible to also read these images as a color-blind approach to advoca cy, suggesting that, despite our race and gender, we are all one under the Constitution, the symbols of our country, and the colors of our ßag. Gškariksel and Smith also note that "Implicit in the rhetoric of making America great again is a sleight of hand, through which vulnerable groups (refugees, undocu mented immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people of color) are portrayed as threat, the nation as in need of rescue." Trump uses imagery to reinforce this implicit rhetoric 67 harnessing classic pro-American signiÞers such as the eagle, the American ßag, and the military. With this in mind, it would seem Fairey is purposefully criticizing Trump by destabilizing his signiÞers and undermining the President's attempt to create fear in the populace that American values are under attack. By re-signifying these images, Fairey shows that they are simply tools of the rhetor, used to evoke fear for the fascist rhetori cian or to encourage empathy by the democratic rhetorician. Furthermore, the use of scare tactics and appeals to emotion are rhetorical tac tics that are often seen in demagoguery and are meant to reduce arguments to group identity, because once an argument becomes about identity, then it can be easily dis missed by the Ôin group'. The administration consistently blames the victim to justify 68 behaviors, and Fairey attempts to question that rhetoric. On the other hand, maybe this nation does need rescue, from our divisions and from our nationalism, and reclaiming this rhetoric with these powerful images may just be the start of that effort, because, to Ibid., 630. 67 Roberts-Miller, Demagoguery and Democracy , 103. 68


" 43 gether, these images suggest that our nation is stronger when we protect each other, defend dignity, and Þght back against fear. As a street artist, famous for distributing propaganda messaging in a guerrilla ac tivist approach, Fairey uses the power of visual rhetoric to challenge authority, reclaim space, unite people, and inßame a portion of the population to stand up for equity and freedom for all. In this case, Fairey is reclaiming our own U.S. Constitution, reminding protestors and spectators alike that we in fact are in charge and it is our duty to question our government. In an interview with the LA Times he said, "We felt the phrase ÔWe the People' is pretty important. It means everyone," adding that they wanted the posters to convey Ôthe idea of the melting pot and inclusion.'" Using these words, words that in 69 voke a sense of freedom and of democracy, is a purposeful gesture meant as a retort to Trump's divisive narrative that excludes a vast amount of the populace. By having the posters widely available, through newspapers, downloads online, and printed copies handed out by volunteers at major locations around the world for the Women's March on Washington, Fairey not only created easy-to-produce and easy-to-distribute posters, he also armed protestors with a tool to unite voices and challenge the normalization of the rhetoric espoused by this president. Fairey's distribution of his work is especially important because it empowers many of the communities under attack by the current administration, communities that have limited access to communication and representation. By using a kickstarter cam paign to fund production of printed posters and then handing them out to the public in Jessica Gelt, "Shepard Fairey explains his ' We the People ' inauguration protest 69 posters," (January 20, 2017) (accessed November 20, 2017).


" 44 various cities, as well as making downloadable images free on the internet and printing images in newspapers around the country, Fairey attempted to eliminate access issues for these communities and encourage their participation in the political processes that may greatly effect their freedom. Through this distribution strategy, Fairey (and the Am pliÞer Foundation) created a space for a larger conversation and encouraged both a reclamation of voice, personal power, and activism within the realm of politics by com munities under attack by the current administration. Self-advocacy is a starting point for political change, and so by arming communities with these posters Fairey helped to en courage participation in a system that is marginalizing them constantly. Fairey also employed discursive strategies often seen in identity politics by in serting the voices of people of color into the mainstream media, even if done so subtly through posters being shown at the Women's March. Historically, women, Muslim, His panic, and Black communities have been left out of the conversations happening in Washington and to reinsert these voices into the dialogue and disrupting the hateful popular rhetoric that the administration represents and perpetuates is an important step in creating awareness and a sense of empowerment among the public. Furthermore, these portraits reminded viewers of America's diversity, suggesting that our country has many different faces, and representation in our government must include all of us. They served as a powerful visual tool to disrupt the dominant discourse of Nationalism, anti-immigrant, and hate rhetoric perpetuated by the Trump campaign and were meant to be a tool for protestors to use to counter the narrative Trump is pro moting. Moreover, they gave voice and agency to members of our communities that feel ostracized and attacked. Millions of people around the world marched on Inauguration


" 45 Day, with many holding these posters as their statement of inclusion and protest against the incoming administration. Public displays of political dissent, such as this march, help to create an opportunity for public deliberation and for recognizing alternative view points. Creating the space for recognition, for personal agency, and for community sup port is one crucial step in helping change public policy. These socially engaged artworks served to fulÞll those goals and mobilize the populace to gain the strength and agency to keep advocating for social change beyond the march. Figure 7: WMW Berlin, Germany Protests 2016. Credit: StefÞ Loos. Source: Getty Im ages. One might argue that this work does not fall neatly into the traditional presenta tion of socially engaged art, yet it relies heavily on those practices including collaborat ing with other artists, utilizing the public to bring the art to life, and engaging on a process level. For example, these posters have no life without the audience and were created within the context of the Women's March. The work itself is only transformative through the interaction with the audience and through this media event. In this case,


" 46 these posters became rhetorical agents, as Gries might suggest, acting and inßuencing the audience and shaping the context. Gries further notes that rhetorical agents are moving in and out of "physical and digital ecosystems," and the impact of these images intensiÞes within these spaces, increasing their circulation and reiterating their rhetorical force. Fairey harnessed both the public and digital spaces in order to address issues 70 of inequality, utilizing the vast public attention on this moment to spread his message of an alternative narrative and encourage both participants and viewers to think about and challenge the rhetoric of hate and division in our country. This effort is subtle, but effective. Felshin notes that "The degree to which these formal strategiesÑ collaboration among artists, public participation, and the employment of media technology in information deliveryÑ successfully embody and serve the work's activist goals is an important factor in the work's impact. Whether the form these activities take is permanent or impermanent, the process of their creation is as important as its visual or physical manifestation." 71 Arguably, Fairey was quite successful in leveraging both public participation and media technology to achieve his goals and create a lasting rhetorical life for the images. Fur ther, it was the presentation of the images by thousands of people around the globe and the subsequent photos and news coverage of the event that spread across social media and other distribution channels that helped deliver the message to a broad audience. Grant Kester suggests that, While it is common for a work of art to provoke dialogue among viewers, this typically occurs in response to a Þnished object. In these projects, on the other hand, conversation becomes an inte gral part of the work itself. It is reframed as an active, generative Gries, Still Life With Rhetoric , 17. 70 Nina Felshin, ed., But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism ( Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1994), 71 11.


" 47 process that can help us speak and imagine beyond the limits of Þxed identities, ofÞcial discourse, and the perceived inevitability of partisan political conßict. 72 Fairey's effort to create a lasting impact through his images by harnessing social media and mass distribution channels, reiterate his activist goals and are key reasons for their contribution to the communal discourse happening around the country. When you Google these works nearly 3 million results are found, many of which are articles that discuss the work or images that were spread across social media, citing the ongoing rhetorical life of the images and their continued impact in the discourse. What's interest ing is that rather than simply reacting to Fairey's Þnished product in a typical art-histori an fashion, the discussion around these works has been interdisciplinary and focused more on their political and social effect than the artistic merit of the work itself. Fairey transcended the role of artist to the role of activist, achieving his goal of Þghting back against the divisive and harmful rhetoric espoused by President Trump. And, through his activist approach, he spread his message of an alternative narrative far and wideÑ that the American people do have agency, a voice, and that diversity strengthens our coun try. Activist artists partially create change by infusing the idea of alternatives into the discussion. They stir the political imagination of an audience, raising awareness, and eventually translating that awareness into social change through voting practices, sup port of policies, and challenging the everyday rhetoric of oppression. Using the political movement inherent in the Women's March, Fairey activates the conversation and ampli Þes the visual signiÞers of democracy, challenging the language of inclusion in this at Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley. 72 CA: University of California Press, 2004), 8.


" 48 mosphere of division. The audience may stop and ask themselves critical questions such as, Who belongs in this country? What does it mean to defend dignity, rise above fear, and protect each other? But, ultimately, this audience will also vote, register voters, write their legislators, and, potentially, insist on laws that reßect their vision of an inclu sive America where these values are upheld. This is the stage that Fairey and the Am pliÞer Foundation have set in this international, socially engaged art effort. Work #2: Aria Watson's #SignedByTrump Figure 8: Aria Watson, #SignedbyTrump (2016). Source: Buzzfeed "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Remem ber the old English idiom we were taught to recite as children when someone was being mean to us on the playground? Well, it seems we were wrong, and words can hurt. Aria Watson's #SignedbyTrump shows just how much rhetoric can shape perceptions. Out 73 raged by Trump's campaign tactics, yet too young to vote in the 2016 election, Watson Aria Watson, #SignedbyTrump, 2016, Buzzfeed by-trump?utm_term=.umB3Bzb1o#.dmZpy9Ae8 (accessed October 18, 2018), Þgure 8.


" 49 turned to her art practice to voice her concerns. As part of her senior photography class thesis project, she took remarks Trump made publicly during the presidential campaign and wrote them on women's bodies, which she then photographed. The results were 74 powerful. Pairing words such as "no longer a ten" with a typical female body, stretch marks and all, made visible the reality and impact of such remarks, bringing the rhetoric to life by inhabiting the ordinary, familiar bodies and spaces it was meant to diminish. Figure 9: Aria Watson, #SignedbyTrump , (2016). Source: Buzzfeed. The representation of the female body has long been a tactic of feminist artists, and Watson draws on this history to create a larger conversation about the negative rhetoric and imagery encouraged during the Trump campaign. In an interview with Buz zfeed reporter Kassy Cho, Watson said, "All I wanted from these photos was to help people realize who Donald Trump really is, and I just want to feel heardÉI know most people are set on their opinions about Trump, but I just hope one person sees #Signed ByTrump and it opens their eyes." Beginning with the title, Watson immediately in 75 Donnia Ghezlane-Lala, "Artist Writes Trump Quotes On Female Bodies In This Powerful Pho 74 to Series," Konbini (accessed November 30, 2017). Cassy Cho, "A Student Has Created A Gripping And NSFW Photo Series With Trump's 75 Quotes About Women," Buzzed (December 12, 2016) signed-by-trump?utm_term=.umB3Bzb1o#.dmZpy9Ae8 (accessed on November 30, 2017).


" 50 vokes Trump's presidential power to literally veto women, control their bodies, and sys temically diminish their worth and freedom through laws. Using words, she sets the stage for a visceral response to the images, invoking a sense of fear and urgency from her viewers. Indeed, when you view the "Grab Them by the Pussy" or the "You Have to Treat Them Like Shit" photo you are faced, literally, with what these words mean, which is ultimately that women are objects that men can and should control and whose value is limited. Watson's work reclaims Trumps's rhetoric of oppression toward women, meant to diminish women and highlight the superiority of males, by reminding viewers the meaning of the words through powerful visuals. Furthermore, this reclamation is meant to give agency both to herself and others who felt diminished by his actions and fear erasure of their human rights so that they may have the strength to stand up to their oppressors. Figure 10: Aria Watson, #SignedbyTrump , (2016). Source: Buzzfeed In the seven photos, all the women appear young and partially or completely naked, expressing their vulnerability and engaging the viewer on a visceral level. In "Grab Them by the Pussy," the thin white woman has "Grab them by the" written across her ßat stomach with "pussy" written in red on her hand, which covers her pubis. The presence of a wedding ring adds to the conßicting nature of Trump's negative rhetoric


" 51 speciÞcally, and men's desire to marry a woman in general. Here the viewer is struck by this paradox of language and imagery that simultaneously dismisses women's agency and value, yet with the subtle imagery of the ring signifying desirability of the woman as more than a sex object, but also a wife. And in "You Have to Treat Them Like Shit," we see a young brunette with her back to the viewer, the words splayed across the top of her back, her head cocked slightly to the left and her hand near her plump, pink lips. These words are clearly meant to assert Trump's control and dominance over women, as well as a devaluation. Further, having the words written on her back invokes re minders of other oppressive acts, namely public whippings of slaves to assert domi nance, and underscores the continual punishment of women for unapproved behavior. In this case too, public humiliation and debasement was the very purpose of the original remarks, both of which are tactics meant to subjugate, control, and dominate people. In each picture the women's faces are purposefully out of view; Watson said this was to protect their identity, but the effect is to make the images more relatable to a broader audience, especially more women. Yet, the headlessness of the bodies underscores the reduction of women to their bodies, limiting their personal agency and value. In this way, Trump's rhetoric achieves his goals of oppression, education of worth, and the contin ued objectiÞcation of women. So this move by Watson may have limited the impact she is striving to create, unless the viewer receives the negation of the face as a sign of the vulnerability of the girls, these nameless, faceless beings that our President indicates he wants to harm. Together, the vulnerability and vulgarity overcome some of these issues to allow the viewer to feel the impact of Trump's words in a visually stunning way.


" 52 Figure 11: Barbra Kruger, Untitled: Your Body is A Battleground . (1989). Source: The Broad Drawing on a rich history of socially engaged art practices, Watson's work in vokes Barbara Kruger's famous collage: Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground) , pro duced for the Women's March on Washington in 1989, which was organized to address threats to reproductive freedomsÑnotably, the same threats we face today. The 76 graphic nature of Kruger's piece appears like a print ad in a magazine, making it easily accessible to the mass populace, and questions media portrayals of women as well as the media's complicity in perpetuating negative stereotypes about women. Watson's photographs employ a similar feminist tactic of reclaiming both the body and the words. As noted previously, the female body is both a site of oppression and power, and Wat son capitalizes on this paradox to drive home the impact of Trump's vitriolic and oppres sive rhetoric, highlighting the impact of his attitude toward women and the risk his power as president posses to females in this country. Barbara Kruger, "Your Body is a Battleground (1989)," kruger/untitled-your-body-battleground (accessed on November 30, 2017).


" 53 In this case of gender oppression, the personal is indeed political. Yet Watson's work does not mirror Kruger's style, rather invokes it. For instance, Watson's photos could be in a high end fashion magazine or a PETA ad with different messaging. This use of easy to recognize imagery and layouts helps draw in the viewer subtly. She's also capitalizing on a limited color palette of (mostly) black, white and red, like Kruger, to further underscore this print ad connection. Of course, Watson's work is different using original photography with realistic images, not strictly a re-appropriation of print ads that Kruger invokes in her work. Watson has also chosen to reduce her models to their bod ies creating a stronger focus on the rhetoric, while Kruger clearly empowers women by creating an image of a female facing forward and returning the gaze to the viewer, an act of personal agency. Yet, while Watson's work is decidedly different, this focus on turning phrases, reclaiming space, and pointing out the messaging that shapes people's perceptions of females remains the same. Attacking the rhetoric of the campaign al lowed an outlet for Watson, while creating a lasting visual to remind the public of the constant negativity women face. What makes this set of photographs activist art are the tactics used to dissemi nate the message, namely social media helping this go viral, as well as the underlying message of social change inherent in the work. Watson did originally create this for her class project, but she did not want the images to die there, and she made a purposeful effort to share her message far and wide using social media. In fact, she originally post ed the images to Facebook, but they were swiftly blocked, so she turned to Tumblr to keep the conversation going. Again, Google this artist's name and the title of the works and you will see thousands of references, a clear indicator of the wide reach social me


" 54 dia can have in creating space for alternate viewpoints. Watson's intentional disruption of the dominant discourse was not only a personal attempt to regain agency, but surely increased that sense of empowerment for other women and oppressed groups experi encing the lash of this administration. And, while we analyze the hallmarks of socially engaged art practice, we can also challenge those elements, noting that while Watson did not collaborate with anoth er artist or have the public help co-create the work itself (a cornerstone of socially en gaged art), she did attempt to engage the public at large. Further, the models used here likely inßuenced her choices acting in a small way as that public engagement piece, al beit in the studio. For instance, the model with the wedding ring helped add a level of messaging to the "Grab Them By The Pussy" photo by subtly referencing the chastity of the female. Similarly, the youthfulness of the "Treat Them Like Shit" photo adds a deep level of vulnerability that would likely encourage a viewer to feel protective, helping them engage with the difÞcult material. The work was created for and meant to be shown in a traditional art space, her high school art class but, as noted previously, the artist intentionally posted these pho tos on social media instead in the hopes of helping them reach a wider audience. Wat son uses this public space to address this issue with a speciÞc goal of reclaiming her own voice, encouraging a shared experience with others, and creating social change. Further, it is important to note that social media is now a place of interaction, where au diences can engage with one another, comment on, and react to images. When Watson decided to put these photos out into those spaces, she began a collaborative element of the work, allowing the work itself to take on a rhetorical life of its own, as Gries would


" 55 suggest. While she may or may not have been thinking in academic terms about the rhetorical agency of her photos, she was capitalizing on our viral economy, increasing the images circulatory range and encouraging a more dynamic interaction with the works through this extended medium. This strategy helped her go beyond the art 77 world to engage people outside her high school art class. Thompson notes that, "The work of artists is, in fact, dwarfed in comparison to the scale and scope of the creative industries. Which means that artists must be all the more resourceful when it comes to cutting through the haze of cultural production." Arguably, social media is the prodigal 78 son of cultural production controlling everything from elections to clothing choices, but Watson was able to cut through the noise of social media, harnessing the power of the platform to spread her message and encourage a deeper conversation about our presi dent and his beliefs, as well as the potential threats women will face under this adminis tration. Felshin said, "Individuals are empowered through such creative expression, as they acquire a voice, visibility, and an awareness that they are part of a greater whole." Watson's images demonstrate that we are not alone, that this is not an ac 79 ceptable way to talk about women, and that you can combat these threats by speaking up and voicing your dissent. This message of empowerment seems to be at the heart of Watson's # SignedbyTrump series. Initiated by her need to reclaim her own agency and voice, the artist was able to increase the visibility and awareness of this kind of overt Gries, Still Life with Rhetoric , 17. 77 Nato Thompson, Seeing Power (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015), 16. 78 Nina Felshin, ed., But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism ( Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1994), 79 12.


" 56 and repressive rhetoric, helping to remind viewers that they too have agency. And this, of course, is the Þrst step toward social change. Work #3: Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank's We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evi dent Developed through a Kickstarter campaign during the 2016 election, Zo‘ Buck man and Natalie Frank's We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident presents a collection of quotes made by male politicians about women. Ranging from the completely ab 80 surd, "If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted," uttered by Texas Representative 81 Steve Stockman to the absolutely damaging, "Rape is kinda like the weather, if its in evitable just relax and enjoy it," remarks made by Clayton Williams, Republican candi date in Texas, the quotes highlight the pervasiveness of gender oppression in this coun try by our supposed leaders. The 30-foot long mural features quotes about women, 82 their bodies, their rights, and their experiences from leadership across the political spec trum. The majority of the mural features the quotes with numbered labels corresponding to the name key on the right side of the display. The text is placed against a dingy pink background featuring a group of white men seated around the table, where, of course, no woman has a seat, yet another subtle hint at the underlying patriarchy in our nation. There's a bust of man and a painting of a naked woman (Jean-August-Dominique In Zo‘$Buckman and Natalie Frank, We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident: Mural, 2016, 80 Zo‘!Buckman website (accessed October 18, 2018) , Þgure 12. Mark SappenÞeld, "'If babies had guns they wouldn't be aborted.' Is Rep. Steve Stockman 81 serious?," Christian Science Monitor (April 14, 2013) Decoder/2013/0414/If-babies-had-guns-they-wouldn-t-be-aborted.-Is-Rep.-Steve-Stockman-se rious (Accessed November 29, 2017). AP, "Texas Candidate's Comment About Rape Causes a Furor," New York Times (March 26, 82 1990), (Accessed November 30, 2017).


" 57 gres' famously unrealistic Grande Odalisque ) hanging casually above the Þreplace, fur ther underscoring that a woman's place is indeed in their gaze, to be revered for her body and controlled by men. Recall the rich history of the Grande Odalisque discussed previously with the efforts of the Guerrilla Girls. Here, the artists are drawing on the long history of portraiture that places the female Þrmly in the male gaze. Texts such as, "Some girls, they rape so easy," attributed to Rep. Roger Rivard and "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?" which was tweeted by our now President Trump during the campaign, exempliÞes the prevalent rhetoric of misogyny, patriarchy, and violence against women in America in the highest chambers of our government. Figure 12: Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank, We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident (2016). Source: Zo‘$Buckman website. The mural was shown at New York Live Arts and was both open to the public and viewable from the street. In an interview with Vice Creators , Buckman said, "This re search-based mural project is about the cumulative effects of negativity, hate, and the abandonment of science that has completely bewildered us, on women and girls." On 83 Anton Sargent, "37 Politicians Get a Mural Dedicated to Their Most Shameful Comments 83 About Women," Vice (February 19, 2017) buckman-frank-politicians-shameful-comments-about-women-mural (accessed November 20, 2017).


" 58 the duo's Kickstarter page the artists wrote that they aimed "to ask the reader, the passerby, the viewer--how do we feel about a public discourse that demeans our bodies and our selves?" And, though the project was shown in a traditional gallery space, it 84 was picked up by art critics and bloggers across the world, highlighting the broad spec trum of inßuence these kinds of works can have. With articles in places as widespread as HufÞngton Post , Vogue UK , and the popular blog, Scary Mommy , its reach was vast and came to the attention of everyday audiences, elevating the work beyond the usual circles of art critics and activists. Like the other artworks mentioned thus far, social me dia played a critical role in spreading the message and work, helping to raise the funds to create it, as well as continue the dialogue around these issues and inform the discus sion. Getting these kinds of images out into the public is important for re-directing the rhetoric and enticing the public into continued, sustained outrage and action against this administration. As Buckman explains in an interview with Vice Creators , "I think this is about saying to women, we hear you. We want to give you agency. If you [have] been grabbed, if you [have] been raped, if you [have] been objectiÞed in the workplace, or scored on a scale, we want you to know we hear you and we need to join together." 85 And, indeed, these voices are being heard, as exempliÞed in this and other movements, such as the #metoo effort that started on social media to highlight the issue of harass ment in the workplace, and have resulted in high level politicians and public Þgures fac ing the consequences of inappropriate and illegal behavior. This level of social engage NY Live Arts, "We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident" Kickstarter campaign, https://www. 84 ref=email (accessed November 20, 2017). Sargent, "37 Politicians." 85


" 59 ment helps to elevate this piece to activist art that was meant to inßuence social cus toms. Figure 13: Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank, We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident (2016). Source: Vice Creators . Buckman also told Vice Creators that that she wanted the project to "start a con versation about responsibility," stating that she is "incredibly concerned right now about the messages the next generation is going to grow up to receive ... I really want the conversation to be about accountability and [for] people who aren't having these con versations to recognize the vastness of these statements and realize how language feeds into actions and ideology." This reclamation of language remains a tactic used 86 throughout the feminist movement, particularly by third wave feminists. Relying on dis cursive strategies such as reinserting oneself into the dominant discourse, challenging oppressive language, and creating speaking positions in a world that denies your voice are all necessary steps for creating agency and empowering individuals to act toward changes in social customs. Artists who are willing to stand up and frame these issues visually give life to those voices and help community members begin to see that they Ibid. 86


" 60 are not alone and do have allies that will support their rights. And, by doing so, Buck man and Frank are helping to challenging a political narrative that oppresses women and diminishes their value. Figure 14: Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank, We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident (2016). Source: Vice Creators . Additionally, the artist's purposeful invocation of both The Declaration of Inde pendence and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolution" reference fundamental rights. Stanton's piece was written for and read to the masses at the inaugural Women's Rights Convention in 1848, and was written to include women in this fundamental document shaping our Nation's policies. Like Fairey in his We the 87 People series, here the artists are invoking revolutionary language, words that shape our collective identity and recall the importance of democracy. This work highlights that our President's comments were just the latest attack on women in a long string of misin Elizabeth Cady Stanton, "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions (1848)," in The Essential 87 Feminist Reader , ed. Estelle B. Freedman (New York: The Modern Library, 2007), 57-62.


" 61 formed, misogynistic men who perpetuate myths about women's bodies as they strive to control women's personhood. Yet, it presents an opportunity for reßection and analysis. Judith Barry and Sandy Flitterman-Lewis point out that "It is necessary to have an analysis of women's subordination within patriarchal forms of representation." These 88 authors encourage an evaluation of social constructions of the female identity, particu larly ones that employ a "textual practice which exploits existing social contradictions" in order to acknowledge "the importance and function of discourse in the shaping of social reality." This work helps to make this subordination obvious by highlighting the dis 89 course of politicians and by questioning the very language of power and position. And, if this kind of rhetoric represents everyday language or locker room talk, then this analysis and re-representation becomes necessary to combat this pervasive and oppressive rhetoric. The work of Buckman and Frank is interesting for both its rhetorical elements and its purposeful activism, demonstrating that socially engaged art takes on many forms and lives in many spaces. The creative use of public space that was employed by the gallery and the purposeful use of social media to keep the conversation going helped reach a larger audience, thus engaging more people. Furthermore, the slick use of ad vertising-like text helps jolt the viewer out of complacency making the old anew, as Kester would say. Buckman and Frank want to make people stop and think and they used their platform to help encourage this level of thought in order to create a sense of empowerment, awareness, and social change. When we stop and analyze what elected Judith Barry and Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, "Textual Strategies: The Politics of Art-Making," in 88 The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, ed. Amelia Jones (London:Routledge, 2003), 66. Ibid., 70. 89


" 62 ofÞcials are saying, we question their authority and, hopefully, decide to vote in ways that match these newly formed values. Raising social awareness has been key to a number of the works reviewed thus far, and the goal of that awareness is changing norms, reclaiming agency, and, eventually, electing ofÞcials who understand the impor tance of equity and civil rights for all and who can help to change social customs and laws. This work helped to shape that dialogue for the many viewers who experienced it Þrsthand, and for those of us who experienced it virtually. Lastly, their work helps to un dermine a narrative that demeans women, invalidates their worth, and authorizes abuse against them. Figure 15: Zo‘ Buckman and Natalie Frank, We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident (2016). Source: Vice Creators


" 63 Work #4: Marilyn Minter's Trump Plaque and HALT Action Group Demonstration In the same vein as Buckman and Frank, Marilyn Minter created Trump Plaque in 2017 to commemorate Trump's famous boasting about grabbing women by the pussy. 90 The "plaque," which has been reproduced as a poster for HALT Action Group (HAG) demonstrationsÑspeciÞcally a large-scale guerrilla street postering of New York City on International Women's Day in 2017Ñfeatures a grinning Trump, with his name written boldly at the top, the full text of his infamous remarks about assaulting women on Ac cess Hollywood , and his presidential title featured at the endÑ like a signature. Much like a "most valuable employee" plaque or a commemorative plaque from a famous leader, this one is emblazoned with raised gold text, shiny and uniform as if the words were nothing more than an inspirational quote. Yet the presence of vulgar language in this celebratory format immediately jars the viewer. Further, the implied violence and ob jectiÞcation in the quote also shocks the viewer when presented in this format. Not only is this language unusual for a statesman to utter, it is unheard of in a commemorative plaque. Moreover, Presidential portraits tend to position the leader with a serious facial expression or stately look of contemplation; yet, Minter has chosen to feature Trump facing the viewer with a smug look. The viewer is faced with this happy man in celebra tion, then begins to read the text and runs into words such as "fuck" and "bitch." Addi tionally, his hair and portions of his face are shaded creating a dark, slightly sinister quality to the portrait, hinting at the absolute audacity of the comment. A plaque serves Marilyn Minter, Trump Plaque , (2017), ArtNet News, action-group-trump-sexual-assault-posters-886631 (accessed October 18, 2018), Þgure 16; Carl Swanson, "Is Political Art the Only Art That Matters Now?" Vulture (April 20, 2017) , http:// (accessed Nov 19, 2017).


" 64 as a historical marker and by using this visual format Minter essentially memorialized the statement, helping to jolt the viewer into considering the comments in a new light. In an interview with Sarah Cascone at ArtNet News in 2017 Minter said, "I've been making nothing but resistance propaganda since November 9É I want to reach the 90 million eligible voters who didn't vote who are just waking up to how fragile our democracy is." 91 Together these elements take a traditional format of celebration and become a protest of such comments, asking the viewer to question exactly what it is we are celebrating about this statement. Figure 16: Marilyn Minter, Trump Plaque , (2017). Source: ArtNet News Minter's agenda is clear and she is using street art techniques and social media to spread that message far and wide. Through serialization, these artists are replaying the tape, so to speak; reminding people of the language of violence, and creating a rep etition of rhetoric that combats, as Alison Gingeras noted, "the collective amnesia that Sarah Cascone, "Meet the Art World Activists Responsible for These Viral Trump Sexual As 91 sault Posters," ArtNet News , (accessed November 27, 2017).


" 65 can dangerously set in when it comes to Trump's history of violence (verbal and sexual) towards women." HALT Action Group, composed of an unknown number of activist 92 artists along with Minter, has been mounting actions like this since the election in an ef fort to de-normalize Trump's actions and rhetoric. Minter's creation became a marquee piece with which HAG members and street artist KATSU plastered the streets of New York, creating a repetition of the words, forcing the world not to forget them and the covert rhetoric of oppression that they represent. Their goal was for this to be a tool to "refute the normalization" of Trump's administration. Their audience in this case was 93 the world, with the image quickly sweeping through social media and getting picked up by news outlets around the world. And why not? If words can be used to shape reality negatively, they can also be used to re-shape reality for social good. To reiterate this dangerous rhetoric through repetition is a powerful move on the part of this group, who utilize both propaganda and activist techniques to challenge authority, question values, and keep the issue at the forefront of the societal memory. The group's ofÞcial state ment about the work noted their interest in combating the normalization of Trump's racist and anti-women policies. They further encouraged viewers to contest his adminis tration's policies and presidency. As a clear example of activist art protesting the admin istration, Trump Plaque created a space for dialogue, shared experience, and a sense of personal control and power in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Allowing this work to become a poster and to be used by grassroots activists helped it reach a larger audience and to encourage cultural change. Patricia C. Phillips Ibid. 92 Ibid. 93


" 66 wrote that "Public art encourages the development of active, engaged, and participatory citizens, a process which generally can occur only through the activism of an artist and provocation of art." Serializing the image and placing these visual reminders in public 94 spaces helps to disrupt the viewer's everyday experiences and jolt them into a new awareness. Wielding her fame and the power of viral media, these posters grabbed the attention of Þgures as popular as J.K. Rowling, helping to make them go viral and reach an even larger audience. Further, the group encouraged downloads of the poster to help spread the message beyond the walls of New York City. Many viewers also participated in the action taking to the internet with the hashtag #pussygrabbingPOTUS, which fur ther spread the message through viral networks. Activist artists have been using this strategy for decades, whether they put their work on buses as advertisements (as Gran Fury did with Kissing Doesn't Kill: Greed and Indifference Do, 1989), spreading their messages on social media, assembling in mass numbers to gain coverage, or postering streets, as we see here with HALT Action Group. And, as noted previously, Minter has long been provoking her audience and through this collaboration she continues to help us all see differently. This example of activist art is meant to incite the viewer into action and shock in dividuals out of complacency. Historian Deborah Frizzell has acknowledged the power of public art that "requires the space of the polis, the space of appearance and dialogue, activated by the viewer/citizen." This idea of the polis is interesting in that the polis as 95 Patricia C. Phillips, "Peggy Diggs: Private Acts and Public Art," in But Is It Art?: The Spirit of 94 Art as Activism, ed. Nina Felshin ( Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1994), 286. Nancy Spero and Deborah Frizzell, "Nancy Spero's War Maypole/Take No Prisoners," Cultur 95 al Politics , 5.1, (March 2009): 119.


" 67 a city-state was controlled by a few ruling males, but the concept also invokes a sense of dialogue and debate, both things which this work is trying to incite by questioning Trump's power and policies. Furthermore, the acknowledgement that this kind of social ly engaged artwork which requires viewer action is crucial. In order to disrupt the con versation and create a new understanding of how power has infected our lives, artists need the viewer to participate. This piece does so, cleverly, by creating multiple signi 96 Þers (slick mass media imagery and the commemorative plaque visual), confusing the reading of the work and forcing the viewer to create new meaning. Furthermore, challenging the viewer and actively seeking their participation in creating new meaning is a hallmark of Minter's career. In particular, Minter's work has historically challenged conventional standards of beauty, through the lens of 80s and 90s (and now modern-day) feminism. Her work explores the many roles of women: 97 woman as an object of beauty, as a source of pleasure, an object of desire, as mother, as sex symbol, as a domestic goddess, and so on. With her critical lens she focuses in on issues of exploitation, of double standards, and of unattainable expectations by ex ploring graphic imagery of women's bodies, sexual desire, fetishism, and the fashion and beauty industries. Through her most recent work, hyperreal images of women de picting the pleasure of seeking beauty and embracing fashion, as well as the sexual de sires of women, Minter crafts a conversation about what it means to be female, to have desires, to feel guilty about those desires, and women's troubled feelings in this at Ingeborg KŠhler, "A Continuous Present: On the exhibition," in Nancy Spero: A Continuous 96 Present , ed. Dirk Luckow and Ingeborg KŠhler (DŸsseldorf: Richter Verlag, 2003), 22. Phoebe Hoban, ! Marilyn Minter: The Art of Sensory Excess, " The Art Economist Vol.1, Issue 97 9 (2011): 15.


" 68 mosphere. She explores the ambivalence many women feel of buying into social norms, enjoying "pretty" things, yet wanting to be taken seriously and have equal rights in our society. She explores this push and pull women feel from enjoying commodities, yet not wanting to be a commodity themselves. Mostly an art-world outsider, Minter struggled to gain critical acclaim throughout her career, finding it only recently. Her exploration of porn imagery quickly caught criti cism from second-wave feminists who criticized the perpetuation of this type of, often, 98 misogynistic imagery. Minter stated that the idea came out of the question, "What subject had women artists never touched? And what came to me was porn, but it couldn't be soft-coreÑthat had been done. It had to be hard-core, complete with money shots. Would the fact that a woman had painted them change the meaning of such images? I was asking ques tions I didn't have answers for, and that was my undoing in those politically correct times." 99 By appropriating porn imagery, Minter was able to push the boundaries of what was ac ceptable for a female artist during her time, much like her contemporary Betty Tomkins, and draw the viewer into this larger question of pleasure. Embracing these images, 100 reclaiming the power of sexual imagery for females, she was able to exert a new kind of feminist power into the movement's dialogue. Of course, this didn't happen overnight, and the artist suffered a serious set-back in her confidence in her work, even changing Bill Arning. ! Marilyn Minter: From Unshiny to Shiny. " Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, exh. cat. 98 (New York: Gregory R. Miller & Co, 2015), 16; Joseph Keckler. ! Artist Marilyn Minter on Her First Retrospective, Anti-Censorship, and Pubes. "# Vice 22 (8), ( August 12, 2015). Accessed October 12, 2015 . ! Marilyn Minter in Interview with Jane Harris " Time Out , March 29, 2011. Accessed November 99 10, 2015. . Kate Messinger. ! NSFW: Marilyn Minter and Betty Tompkins on Censorship, Art, and Being 100 Embraced by Millennials. " The Creators Project , September 24, 2015 . Accessed October 15, 2015. .


" 69 direction to focus on images of domesticity and consumerism, like her contemporaries Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons were doing at the time. But this set-back, par 101 tially spent by doing fashion photography, helped the artist refine her now signature glossy, monumental portraits of females as objects of desire, of commodity, and of con sumerism. Trump Plaque expands on this long history and critique of feminism and the female experience, but catapults it beyond gallery walls into the streets in a forceful call to action. Further, Minter's history is important, because she has clearly drawn upon her advertising background and mass communications savvy (not to mention her own celebrity) to bring her current agenda of protest against the administration to life. Much like Thompson, Minter acknowledges the power of mass media stating, "Advertising im ages are not shallow. They're almost the most important thing around." Indeed, the 102 recognition quality of Trump Plaque is part of its reach and impact. When familiar im ages, like celebratory plaques, are taken out of context, the viewer gets jolted into a new perspective. Minter is capitalizing on that fact and using it to her advantage. Addi tionally, by drawing on this mass media imagery, Minter calls into question the commodi fication of the female body. Women have become a commodity in this culture and, to borrow from Karl Marx, a fetishized commodity at that. Women have become an image of idealized beauty, an object of desire that ignores the labor that goes into creating such images. Minter seems to be always commenting on the fetishized imagery of women, particularly with her hyperreal close-up series, while also acknowledging the Parul Sehgal. ! Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty. "# New York Times , June 25, 2015. Accessed No 101 vember 1, 2015. . Keckler, ! Artist Marilyn Minter on Her First Retrospective, Anti-Censorship, and Pubes. " 102


" 70 troubled nature women have with the desire to emulate idealized beauty and the desire to not be a commodity. Much like Cindy Sherman was doing in the 1970s, Minter has been re-representing the female body and experiences in order to question the domi nant images of women. Only, instead of subtly playing on the popular imagery of 103 Sherman, who exploited the familiar tropes of cinema, Minter has instead focused, rather blatantly, on the rituals of beauty, the creation of the image, the fetishization of the female body, and, in this case, the rhetoric that defines women's rights. In this way, Minter's work strategically reinforced the ways in which capitalism perpetuates sexual inequity. And again, through Trump Plaque , we see her employ her signature strategy of challenging the dominant discourse, as she subtly, yet overtly, questions gendered power structures and the discourse that shapes women's rights. Figure 17: HAG Protest NYC, Trump Plaque , (2017). Source: ArtNet News Laura Mulvey. Fetishism and Curiosity: Cinema and the Mind $ s Eye. 2 nd ed. London: British 103 Film Institute, 2013. 86.


" 71 This activist art piece and subsequent socially engaged art demonstration de notes the role discursive methods can have on informing the populace and questioning the way rhetoric shapes perceptions and human rights. By activating the public space, harnessing social media, and engaging the polis, Minter and HAG have contributed to a larger conversation happening in the United States around human rights, the current President, and the work of feminist activists.. Artists, such as Minter, are helping to keep a record of historical acts and serving as witnesses to injustice, something we saw fa mously with the artist Leon Golub. In fact, Golub speaks of painting as an "act of wit nessing" with the resulting art possessing a "kind of realism that has social utility." In 104 multiple interviews Golub himself notes that as an artist he is a "reporter," and that his art is a way of drawing attention to social and political conßicts and tensions. This 105 idea of the artist as reporter is noted in other sources too, often when discussing photo graphic art, but also when looking at painting and the use of this medium to articulate a message. Here, Minter and HAG are reporting on an injustice that was never dealt 106 with fairly or fully by the media or the law and serving to stand up for people everywhere by suggesting that, This is not acceptableÑ women are not objects to be grabbed at will . Further, these kinds of artistic action and "performances" help others regain a sense of personal control while drawing attention to social conßict in order to impact cul tural change. # Robert Enright, "The Ambiguous Witness:An Interview with Leon Golub,"$ Border 104 Crossings $no.73 (2000):$18, 20. Enright, "The Ambiguous Witness," 20; and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Leon Golub: Do Paintings 105 Bite ?, 16, 20 . Alastair Sooke, " Goya's Disasters of War: The Truth About War Laid Bare ," BBC (2014) (ac 106 cessed November 14, 2014) ( ; and Golub , directed by Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn (1990: PBS). DVD


" 72 CHAPTER IV Conclusion These examples are just a sampling of the many artists challenging this adminis tration's policies and rhetoric, as well as society's role in creating this administration and allowing this behavior to go unchecked. Make no mistake, society created Trump, and it is the shared feelings of racism and bias held by society-at-large that have allowed this behavior throughout our history on various levels of egregiousness. But these artists are now, and have been, challenging society on issues of women's rights, the rights of gays and minorities, the effects of assuming that one religious group can without harm justify the oppression of others, and more. Their focus on visual representations of text help viewers recall and react to the damaging and divisive rhetoric of Trump. The visual rhetoric inherent in each of these images is powerful because they attempt a reclama tion of the words that shape our shared experience of this presidency. As noted, artists answering this call to action are employing a variety of strategies to spread their social messages and engage the public in dialogue to create awareness and cultural change. Felshin argues that, For activist artists, it's no longer simply a matter of adopting a set of more inclusive or democratic strategies, or embracing social and political subject matter in a critique of representation within the con Þnes of the art world. Instead, activist artists have created a cultural form that adapts and activates elements of each of these critical aesthetic practices, uniting them organically with elements of ac tivism and community organizing. Not content to simply ask the questions, these artists edge in an active process of representation, attempting at the very least to Ôchange the conversation,' to em power individuals and communities, and ultimately to stimulate so cial change. 107 Felshin, But Is It Art? , 26. 107


" 73 These strategies have been at play throughout the course of socially engaged art prac tices and are still being employed by artists reacting to Trump's policies and threats. By not letting the words of our current president be forgotten, each of the artists in this analysis is inciting the cultural memory of viewers and encouraging outrage and action, teaching us that when we challenge the very language of oppression we can start to break free from its trappings. Furthermore, by presenting an alternate point of view and, in a sense, forcing the viewer to consider another opinion, these works challenged the prevailing opinion of the day and continue to serve as a commentary on and historical document of events. They become continual reminders of our history, our role in shap ing that history, and challenge our ability to forget these acts. Roberts-Miller suggests that there are four ways to undermine demagoguery: 1) undermine the proÞtability of it by consuming less and shaming media outlets, 2) resist arguing with people who have different viewpoints to bear witness to the plurality of views and diversity, 3) challenge the logic of arguments in cases where individuals are simply repeating demagogic talking points, and 4) encourage and demand democratic deliberation. Arguably, the works examined here are actively shaming media outlets 108 by challenging their passive reporting and encouraging democratic deliberation through the deployment of discursive strategies and visual media. Creating agency, disrupting the dominant discourse, and creating space for dialogue and shared experiences all are useful tactics to inßuence culture. Throughout this analysis I attempted to show the ways in which art can effect so cial change. Doris Sommer wrote, Roberts-Miller Demagoguery and Democracy , 94. 108


" 74 Through art we reframe experience, offset prejudice, and refresh our per ception of what exists so that it seems new and worthy of attention. And through humanistic interpretation we share the civic effect. Interpretive skills can lead to informed judgments, appreciation of the historical con text, and effective communication. 109 The works explored here demonstrate how a piece of art can serve in protest to achieve these goals. Through visual tools, public assembly, and media savvy, these works en courage individuals to think in new ways, and, through the use of re-appropriating lan guage, help these issues stay in the social consciousness. These artists are all attempt ing to represent inequalities and alter culture utilizing their platform to envision change. Doris Sommer, The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities , (Durham, 109 NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 10.


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