The local arts landscape is getting a fresh infusion of political art as part of a national get-out-the-vote project called "Remember What They Did." Phoenix is one of four cities where billboards and posters will be installed in coming days during the launch for an initiative aimed at getting Donald Trump and other Republicans out of office. Other cities include Detroit, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh.
Participating artists include Shepard Fairey, a Los Angeles artist whose prior work includes the iconic 2008 “Hope” poster featuring his portrait of Barack Obama. “This campaign is to remind people if we don’t vote Trump out of office, there will be another four years of this behavior that we’ve been experiencing,” Fairey says.
For this initiative, Fairey created a skull inside a police officer’s helmet, then added the word “Peace” across the helmet. “I was very disturbed by Trump’s response to the protests for racial justice,” he explains. Fairey’s piece also includes part of a May 29 Trump tweet, which echoes words uttered by a Miami police chief in 1967: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
There’s a reason his image is so startling. “It’s a harsh and provocative image because the philosophy of Donald Trump is harsh and scary.”
According to Fairey, art is particularly effective in creating political change. “Art can impact people emotionally and start conversations that might not happen otherwise, and condense complex ideas into digestible images that open back up into wider conversations.” Basically, Fairey sees the artwork as an aperture, but also a Trojan horse.
“For people who see it,” Fairey says, “the art reminds them that they’re not alone.” For those who don’t agree with the participants’ politics, the street art approach allows time for processing the ideas conveyed in the artists’ work. “Viewers can digest the work on their own terms, and confront it in their own time.”
"Remember What They Did" was developed by Robin Bell, Scott Goodstein, and a political action committee called Artists United for Change. Bell’s own body of work includes temporary art projections onto the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Goodstein has a long history of mixing art, music, and politics through campaigns such as punkvoter.com and Lady Parts Justice.
Bell conceived the project in March, then talked with Goodstein in early April. After creating a plan in May, they set about inviting artists to participate. “We reached out to the artists to see what they cared about, then the artists came up with the concepts for their work,” Bell says. Organizers helped by sharing lists of related quotes, and every artist chose one to incorporate into their design.
“We’re taking these ridiculous comments and giving them visual context,” says Bell. For Brooklyn artist Swoon, the imagery includes a trail of tear gas amid peaceful protests in Lafayette Park, on the day Trump had it cleared so he could have his photo taken with a Bible in front of a church near the White House. Nate Lewis tackled Trump’s response to COVID-19. Other participants include Nekisha Durrett, Rafael López, Robert Russell, and Robert Sheridan.
López’s design, which transforms stripes from the American flag into bars, references Trump’s policy of putting migrants in cages along the U.S.-Mexico border. But it also calls out U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, signaling the fact that "Remember What They Did" is also aimed at voting Trump enablers out of office. “You have assholes at every level of the ticket,” says Goodstein. “We want to vote them all out.”
Organizers are partnering with groups in each of the four cities to help make various elements of the project happen, including installing posters in public places and distributing stickers. They’re also inviting local artists to reach out through the "Remember What They Did" website if they want to be considered for the project. It’s a paid gig, according to Goodstein, who says every artist will be paid equally and fairly.
Fairey hopes their collective efforts will help to build a bridge between protesting and voting. “We’re creating serious content that’s not all sunsets and flowers to remind people that we won’t achieve our goals unless there are consequences at the polls.”
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