Art has provided a means to document social injustice and structural racism in ways otherwise impossible given established socioeconomic and political structures, as well as a powerful means of engaging and mobilizing its audience to take action. In our assignment for this final week of Modern Art and Ideas, we were asked to curate a set of images that explore one of the themes discussed. I chose the last theme, an exploration of art's place in society, and curated a set of five artworks, as I am drawn to art as a means of expression and mode of communication when voices of a group are marginalized and silenced.
In the first piece, the image is of a "yarn bomb": crocheted or knitted street art that can communicate a message or make a statement. Usually, the piece juxtaposes the cold metal of urban surfaces or the rough bark of a tree with a wrapping made from soft fibres that typically in other contexts will denote comfort and safety. The example below shows a yarn bomb on a chain link fence facing the White House in Washington, DC; the artist shares the names of Black Americans harmed by the continuing structural racism and violence in the United States, along with protest slogans and messages of positivity and engagement.
In the next image, a photograph of black cops stand near the words "Alive" painted on a wall behind them in New York City, NY. The photographer muses whether they would indeed be alive if they were not wearing the blue fibres on their bodies.
The next image in my set is a tapestry on display at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City, IN. A modified version of the American flag, with different size stars, and a vertical rather than a horizontal orientation, is the background for a new Pledge of Allegiance created by the artist. National symbols, and what meaning do they/should they have, has played a significant role in the ongoing discourse around structural racism. I was drawn to this piece because of the overall message from creating it: that it really can be that easy to change an existing and oppressive symbol, like a flag, a pledge or an anthem, and create something new that is more inclusive.
Words are again the focus of the next piece, in which the photographer creates an image that highlights the people in a protest in Washington, DC, exercising a freedom of speech that is literally based on the words written on the wall in the background but while being actively monitored by a government helicopter.
Posted to Instagram, the final image shows a protester running from a crowd of policemen during the Baltimore BLM protests in 2015. The photographer did receive national attention once Time Magazine used one of his images for a cover (not once, but twice); however, like the other artists in this set, his social media feed communicates the authentic narrative to what is happening in his community - narratives which may not be communicated in the same manner or detail if left to other, more traditional, media streams.
I loved this assignment: the opportunity to think more critically about the place of art in telling a story, but also how these stories were complementary yet unique, once combined into a curated set. Please consider following the artists whose work is shared above, and learn more about their stories through their art:
Personal blog for Bryn Robinson, PhD. All opinions are my own.