US street art celebrates common bonds as Trump enters the White House

Lucy Purdy

Striking political art campaign aims to spark conversations about American values in the week Donald Trump will become president

Eight years ago, his red and blue ‘Hope’ poster came to symbolise Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Now, as Donald Trump prepares to be inaugurated as US president, Shepard Fairey is among those featured in a street art campaign to ‘reclaim American identity and values from a rising tide of hate and fear’.

Non-profit organisation Amplifier Foundation has collaborated with artists to produce posters that reject the hate, fear and ‘open racism’ they say was normalised during the 2016 presidential campaign. They hope the faces appearing on the We the People posters – people standing in for traditionally marginalised groups and those specifically targeted during Trump’s presidential campaign — will flood Washington DC on inauguration day.

We thought it was the right time to make a campaign that’s about diversity and inclusion, about people seeing the common bonds we have

After discovering that large-sized signs are prohibited at Friday’s inauguration, the group planned a series of hacks. The images will be printed and distributed at metro stops and elsewhere in Washington DC, released for free via social media, and also appear as full page advertisements in the Washington Post newspaper on Friday. The phrase ‘we the people’ appears in the preamble to the US constitution.

The group is encouraging members of the public to use the art to send a message to the incoming administration that their America does not demean or discriminate. A crowdfunding campaign launched on the Kickstarter platform to support the project raised more than $500,000 (£405,975) in 72 hours and had reached $736,000 (£597,596) at the time of writing.

Art by Shepard Fairey

“When I say We the People, I don’t just mean political democracy, I mean cultural democracy,” said Fairey, whose art appears alongside that of Chicano [of Mexican descent] artist Ernesto Yerena and Colombian American Jessica Sabogal.

“We’re open to a flow of ideas from any number of backgrounds, any number of ethnicities, any number of perspectives. That’s how we progress. And that’s what makes the country and the world better. True democracy means everyone matters. Every voice counts,” said Fairey.

Every donation to the campaign will result in a postcard being sent to the president on behalf of the supporter. Amplifier plans to use every dollar it receives to fund art and activism that reclaims the American narrative, ‘to include those who have been historically left out of the public narrative and targeted by public policy: Muslim, Black, LatinX, LGBTQ communities, and women,’ they say.

True democracy means everyone matters. Every voice counts

“Our long-term vision is to initiate a series of national conversations that move beyond parties and back to values. These will range in form from digital interfaces to small circle meet-ups.”

“There is a lot of division right now,” said Fairey in an interview. “Trump is not a healer. Art, on the other hand, is healing and inclusive, whether topically it celebrates humanity, or whether it’s just compelling visuals to make a human connection.

Art by Shepard Fairey

Art by Shepard Fairey

“And so we thought it was the right time to make a campaign that’s about diversity and inclusion, about people seeing the common bonds we have, and our connections as human beings. The idea was to take back a lot of this patriotic language in a way that we see is positive and progressive, and not let it be hijacked by people who want to say that the American flag or American concepts only represent one narrow way of thinking.”

In the coming months, Amplifier will partner with organisations, schools and families to create spaces across the country, “in both red states and blue,” in which to speak, listen, and share positive ways forward.


The US artists disrupting a ‘rising tide of fear and hate’

 

Photo: Adrien Oneiga

Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey is a street artist and creator and founder of Obey Clothing. He became widely known during the 2008 presidential election for his Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster

“Anyone that looks at these images can see some amazing humanity in them. I couldn’t do anything to compromise this person’s quality of life, any of these people’s quality of life, without it hurting a part of me. I see myself in them.

“If I could ask the American public one thing, it would be to look at other people and see in them what they see in themselves. We frequently focus on our differences but really have so much more in common: common humanity, love of our children, desire for a peaceful life. Let’s focus on what we can do together even though we may not all look the same.

Art by Shepard Fairey

Art by Shepard Fairey

“During the Bush years the most prominent voices were those of fear and negativity. Creating the HOPE poster for me was to say, ‘Use your voice in a constructive positive way.’ There’s a lot more out there than fear, and if we all use our voices we can rise above it.”

 

Photo: Adrien Oneiga

Ernesto Yerena

Ernesto Yerena lives in Los Angeles. His art brings political concerns to light, often depicting cultural icons, rebels and everyday people
speaking out against oppression

“I create artwork that everyday working-class people, people of colour and everyone else, can have artwork in their homes and can relate to, that their children can grow up with. Images that are empowering. Images that celebrate culture. Images that are making them become critical thinkers.

“People of colour, we could totally be a part of the American fabric, but we have to be who the majority wants us to be, who the majority, what’s OK with American society. And I don’t want to be a part of that. I want to be myself. I want to be exactly who I am. I want to be as complex or simple as I am. I want to be exactly who I want to be and have people accept me for that.”

 

Photo: Travis Jensen

Jessica Sabogal

Jessica Sabogal is a first generation Colombian American muralist. She describes her art as serving “as a haven, a tribute, a creative outlet of adoration and exaltation for women” whose stories often go untold

“Art is an easy way for people to show how they feel simply by posting images on the internet or in their windows at home so I urge you if you identify with any of how my posters make you feel, please share them. We the People will no longer be exiled, excluded or eliminated from our America.

“The majority of my work is for women. As I have found my voice as an artist it became clear being Colombian and being a lesbian influenced my work all at the same time. I am all three all at once and try to make work to reflect these specific communities because we are always being left out of the conversation.

Art by Jessica Sabogal

“‘We the People’ has traditionally meant ‘everybody’. It was the unifying phrase that America was founded upon. However, over time it became very clear that it meant “We the very specific group of people that get to decide things for the majority of America.” It has meant: “we the people that get to leave other people out”. It has meant, “We white males.”

 

Photo: Adrien Oneiga

Arlene Mejorado

Arlene Mejorado is a Los Angeles-raised documentary maker and multimedia artist based in San Antonio. As a first-generation American she often explores themes of diaspora, cultural hybridity, gender-queerness and racial identities

“When I think of ‘We the People’ being used as language from founding fathers, I don’t really see myself in that narrative. I think that if it’s taken literally it should include everybody, but it doesn’t and I think we are in a time of transformation and redefining what is the foundation of this country. I think reclaiming the words “We the People” is kind of giving a reality check to this country.”


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