Throughout Barack Obama’s press blitz this week, it was hard not to feel like we were moving less through a retrospective of the last eight years than a eulogy for what we were losing. Here was a president who writes as eloquently as he speaks about Toni Morrison. And here is the next one, pointing to what can be plausibly be identified as books in a corner, we don’t know. When on Thursday it was reported that the president-elect’s transition team plans to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and simply eliminate both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities altogether, it probably shouldn’t have come as so much of a shock—arts funding is always the first to be lopped off, and the GOP has never been much of a friend to four hour telecasts of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. The message though, if it wasn’t already crystalline, was this: Art’s relationship to a Trump administration promises to be a bear.
This morning, as Trump placed his hand on a bible in what can be described as a sustained reenactment of Munch’s “The Scream,” Jonathan Horowitz’s print Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat ass? Absolutely hung in a far corner of Petzel Gallery’s West 18th Street space in New York. A spectacular vision of our new Commander-in-Chief teeing off as the rapture descends, it’s a sobering reminder that as of noon today, a man with the temperament of a child will be entrusted with the nuclear codes. The thought is dark, but Trump’s lumpy form blithely chipping a shot under a nuclear sky that matches his unreal Cheetos complexion is also funny—because, like most things that are hilarious, it is terrifyingly close to the truth.
It’s also exactly the art that promises to emerge as the dystopic fiction of a Trump presidency becomes reality: expressions of refusal.
Horowitz’s print is part of a current group exhibition, “We need to talk… Artists and the public respond to the present conditions in America.” The gallery decided to forgo its planned programming for January and instead put out a call for open video submissions, a kind of town hall catharsis for the art world. It has an analog in the Hall of Issues, the space the artist Phyllis Yampolsky set up in Judson Church in 1961 as a community soundboard, which turned out to be a precursor to “Subway Therapy,” the emotional outcropping of notes that overtook the 14th Street subway station in New York immediately after the election this past November.
The videos submitted to Petzel, which are being accepted through the end of the month, are, along with a planned series of public symposiums and readings on civil liberties, immigration, and the environment, the participatory compliment to a more formal group show of new and recent protest art. It joins other institutions who felt the need to address this particular and curious moment in history, whether through special exhibitions, like “Nasty Woman” at Knockdown Center in Queens, in which around 600 artists submitted work to be sold in support of Planned Parenthood; performance, like “Regarding the Pain of Others,” which took place at Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea a few weeks ago among a show of Liz Glynn’s fragmentary sculptures; and more straightforward resistance, like those who chose to close their doors today in solidarity as part of the #J20 Art Strike, an “act of non-compliance” co-signed by over a hundred and thirty artists like Cindy Sherman and Dread Scott, the artist protest movement Dear Ivanka, or Richard Prince’s denouncement of his own Ivanka artwork as “a fake.”
There’s a pleasingly messy sense of urgency with which the exhibition at Petzel was assembled, as with much of the art world’s hastily organized protesting (it’s been awhile since it has mobilized in full like this). At the gallery’s entrance, the searing, rotisserie neon of Glenn Ligon’s Another Country (After James Baldwin) certainly helps to dispel, or at least disperse momentarily, our sense of cold dread. It calls up a trenchant line from the Baldwin novel from which it takes its title, “love was a country he knew nothing about.” You can direct those words at who you may.
Elsewhere, as if to illustrate our particular post-race moment, Robert Longo’s American Flag, ossified and blacked-out, hovers near AA Bronson’s White Flag #8, warped, brittle, and bled of all color—a cadaver readied for autopsy. In the center of the room, Rachel Harrison’s pint-size Trump swings in effigy, equal parts Petroushka and piñata, ridiculous and dangerous.
The question of what role art will or should play in a period of psychic stress was probably not at the forefront of anyone’s imagination today as the dirge-like horror of the inauguration unfolded under heavy skies and heavier eye bags. It’s a valid question, but to answer “at least the art will be good!” or “the Reagan ’80s gave us Basquiat!” partly misses the point. No artist invites the cataclysm. Nobody welcomes despondency, even if you get a good painting out of it. But the painting, or the neon sculpture, or the miniature piñata can clarify thought and focus emotion. The painting is a witness. In the end, the painting helps.
Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”
Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.
For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”
Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”
A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”
Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.
Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”
Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.
Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.
In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.
Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.
When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.
Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.
Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.
Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.
Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.
As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.
After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.
Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.
A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.
These Women Are About to Make History as the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington
These Women Are About to Make History as the Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington