FREE SPEECH: Creative Protesting

By on November 15, 2016

Local artists respond to the presidential election.

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JACKSON HOLE, WY – When the election results were finally announced, Walt Gerald was crestfallen. As a father of two young girls, ages 5 and 2.5, the graphic designer and printmaker had planned on celebrating with his wife and daughters the election of the first female president of the United States. Instead he found himself having to explain how and why America had elected a man who, with his derogatory words, has disrespected women everywhere.

As he grappled with what to say, he found direction from Hillary Clinton in her concession speech. “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams,” Clinton said.

Gerald decided to take those words and make an art piece, a poster printed in his eldest daughter Piper’s favorite colors, pink and purple.

“I felt like I needed to do something positive,” Gerald said.

The artist then posted an image of the poster on Facebook and told viewers that if they wanted a copy of it, they should make a donation to a progressive nonprofit (Gerald suggested the Human Rights Coalition, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU) and let him know about their donation. He, in turn, would send them an original print emblazoned with the presidential candidate’s uplifting words.

“I don’t want to make any money off of this,” Gerald said. “We need to turn our sadness into action. That’s the only way things will change.”

Gerald and his wife Carter Cox say they expose their daughters to diverse cultural experiences whenever possible, and they teach them that differences should be celebrated. “As far as our values go,” Gerald said, “We believe that someone’s gender, orientation, or religion shouldn’t restrict them from an equal opportunity for success and happiness.”

Artist Bronwyn Minton also values diversity, and turning to her regular art practice was a salve to the disappointment she felt over Trump’s election.

“My work is about complexity and pattern and beauty,” Minton said. “It comes out of observation of nature and it can be used as a metaphor for all kinds of things.”

Minton’s work includes drawings, photographs and sculptures that play with shapes and forms found in nature. A macro view of crystalized salt might suggest fundamental elements, or cause a viewer to muse upon how much space exists between particles of solid matter. A black on black drawing of a flower might suggest the power of nature to push up through dark earth.

“Art is really important to culture. By having a bunch of different people making different things we have diversity.”

For Ben Musser and Leif Routman, of the indie-acoustic soul and roots band Benyaro, making political art started before the election with their Get-Out-the-Vote tour. They’ve been on tour for several weeks, including election week. Leading up to the election they released a starkly political music video of one of their songs, “Too Many Men.”

“We decided to pluck this one song and do a music video that had a message,” Musser said. “It’s about our frustration with the old guard impeding progress.”

The video calls out Trump and Ted Cruz and critiques them for their patriarchal ways. “We’ve been led by men for centuries and where has that gotten us?” Musser asked. “Where we are today.”

The song proved too political for many music magazines and online venues, according to Musser. So they released it on the Benyaro Facebook page.

“Not enough people took the possibility of Trump seriously,” Musser said. “Now we have protestors in the streets, but where was that energy before the election? Art could have engaged younger folks. This video could have done that.”

Despite his frustrations, Musser and his band-mate will continue their tour ending with a show in San Luis Obispo on November 17 and a show in Los Angeles on November 19. Check their Facebook page for details.

Meanwhile, Gerald said his poster has received a great reception and he is shipping posters out to people across the country. “It’s been very well received,” he said. “I’m glad people are starting to shift emotions into action.”

Evie Lewis invited her friends and neighbors to channel their shared despair over the election into making art. Lewis, a long-time theater artist, had the idea to create cardboard people and paint them blue and black. She and her friends installed the blue people in a field at the base of the Indian Paintbrush neighborhood on Fall Creek Road.

“It’s art protest,” Lewis said. “These people are in mourning for America. Our country elected a racist, misogynist bully. That seems to me worth mourning.”

Lewis said viewers will see different things in the people who were intentionally created to represent diverse races and classes of people. Some might see a field of Democrats decrying the Republican win.

Whatever the perception of the blue people, the cardboard and acrylic paint won’t hold up for long in the elements, Lewis said.

Perhaps there’s a little bit of hope in the ephemeral nature of grief. PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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