Opposition Art: Truth to Liars in Power

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You might say that orange is the new red. Donald Trump’s hue raises red flags for many artists and designers, and last week The Nation began to take aim at our president’s folly via OppArt, a new series of artistic dispatches from the front lines of graphic commentary. Spearheaded by Robert Best, art director of The Nation, and including as editors Andrea Arroyo, Steve Brodner and Peter Kuper, OppArt will showcase fresh content daily as a diverse set of artists take aim and draw. The first installation of the series, “Nuisance Flooding,” launched last Monday.

Curated with a singularly progressive and political point of view, OppArt will convene international artists with a broad range of talents, from comics and illustration to street graphics and fine art. Their work will confront and expose power while sustaining a wry humor in turbulent political times. The series complements The Nation’s longstanding ComixNation print feature. I asked Arroyo, Brodner and Kuper to talk about this new arsenal of critique.

Obviously, now is the time and you are the people to resist through art. But what is your goal?Andrea Arroyo: To continue using art as a tool for social justice. To bring into light the devastating impact of Donald Trump’s election on individuals and communities at the local and international level.

Steven Brodner: We have observed that there is a great deal of strong art on the web that needs highlighting. We are curating the pieces that tell a wide story of the resistance, looking at illustration, cartoon, fine art, street art, found art, U.S. and international. [We’re] hoping to make this an engaging and empowering experience for readers of The Nation and others who are accessing the art online.

Peter Kuper: Share these ideas so we can note to a wider audience the artistic actions that are taking place against this madness. To inform viewers on the subjects we are drawing and a form of solidarity and dialogue and test the mighty power of the pen.

Decades ago a group began called INX. Is this picking up where they left off?AA: I understand InxArt is still active. OppArt will feature resistance illustration, cartoon and fine art in many mediums and by a very diverse group of local and international artists. Rather than commissioning illustrations, we will collect artistic responses already out in the world.

SB: INX was a kind of syndication for New York Times artists, as I recall. They were and are wonderful. OppArt is using the availability of art on the we, art that has been published and now continues to be important, to further the debate and awareness.

PK: I was very involved in INX as an artist and art director for 20 years, and similarly World War 3 Illustrated, a political comix magazine that I’ve co-edited for nearly 40 years. These are all similar projects, giving artists a place to express themselves and illustrate our history.

Anybody who cares to know understands that we are in the early stages of a tyrannical reign. The big question is: Can art of dissent actually make a difference?AA: Yes, even if it does not bring the regime down, art facilitates dialogue and connects issues across borders and cultures. I do believe Donald Trump’s administration does think art can make a difference, as evidenced in the fact that I had been criticized on a public, official statement regarding my project Unnatural Election.

SB: I am not sure that we are in the early stages of something that will not be brought down by an enraged majority. The history will be written but it is our job to fight for what we see as true things. If society, for however long, wants to live in fantasy, racist or otherwise, it is our job to break in with uncomfortable information. Sometimes you can do that with humor, sometimes with empathetic work. We hope to provide the full range here. Art makes a big difference in the eye and mind of the viewer. It cannot change politics. It cannot even pour you a cup of coffee. Or remove a piece of lettuce from between your teeth. It can speak to people and fill a space where there might have been a silent reaction to injustice. In that occupation of the silence (that might have implied consent) is our great triumph. I believe that Truth + Time = Change.

PK: Yesterday I saw a show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York City of art created during WWI. There were incredible images by George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz and Otto Dix, among many others (highly recommended). These are the footsteps we are walking in, putting our history down on paper and exposing the hypocrisy, the emotions and horror of particular current events. Telling the story of one’s history is always important so we can examine how we found ourselves in this place.The collective efforts of artist can form a bond that brings people together and activates them when they feel like giving up. I have gotten this from music, film and the arts in general. Nobody starts out knowing or being politicized; it’s a process of being educated by an array of sources. We are creating one more source and hope it connects with hearts and minds.

What do you foresee as your role in relation to other acts of protest and opposition at this time?

AA: My role as an artist and curator is deeply connected with my values as a citizen; we are part of the resistance in the studio, online, on the streets.

SB: I see my role as a person who makes pictures and tries to get as close to the truth as possible using metaphor, surrealism and humor.

Do you have any unique strategies at this time?SB: Only to show
up every day, make pictures and, at all costs, occupy the silence.

PK: Waking up every morning and appreciating that we are still here. Deep breathing exercises, walking my dog in the park and an occasional shot of vodka. Spending as much time as possible with family and friends, yet drawing this type of art seven days a week. Not exactly unique, but highly recommended.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →