Art & Activism
August 16, 2017
by Michael Bilsborough
The current political climate calls for immediate action, while offering vast potential for activist artists to reach massive audiences. Artists can create art as quickly as news breaks, given unprecedented access to research, production technology, and websites. For example, an artist can read a news story, find an image of the subject, edit or animate that image, produce a gif or meme, and then share it on social media to reach thousands of people within a day. This artwork’s efficacy can measured by virality and response; the impact can be immediate, or it can recur as events link together over time.
One example is Steve Brodner’s provocative illustration of Donald Trump combing over a swastika, which was originally published by The Nation on December 17, 2015, and then resurfaced this week amidst outrage over Trump's response to Charlottesville. Another is Take It Down by Edel Rodriguez, which reached thousands of people in less than a day after news of Confederate statues coming down.
Moreover, the establishment of performance art, social practice, and interdisciplinary formats has accustomed audiences to the idea that activist art might be an event, a site, a ritual, or an elusive experiment that nobody sees; or it can be commentary in writing, on film, or other media. New York City saw recent examples like Mary Mattingly’s Swale, a floating food forest whose maiden voyage visited docks in multiple boroughs, Tania Bruguera’s Referendum with the Rubin Foundation, which tallied votes on abolishing borders, and Pedro Reyes’ Doomocracy with Creative Time, a phantasmagoria of American politics culminating in a vote - or a penalty.
In response to the unfolding stories of our present, artistic expression is both an archive of our times and a projection of possible futures. For one night only, SVA Continuing Education presents Art & Activism, which brings together acclaimed artists Steve Brodner, Nancy Giles, and Ed Woodham, hosted and moderated by Valerie Smaldone.
Steve Brodner is an acclaimed satirical illustrator and caricaturist who has worked for publications in the US since the 1970s. He is a regular contributor to GQ, The Nation, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times and has had art journalism appear in most major magazines and newspapers in the United States, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
Nancy Giles is an actress, comedian and news commentator known for her ongoing role on the Emmy Award-winning CBS News Sunday Morning. She has appeared in numerous television theatre productions and is a frequent guest on The Today Show, The Joy Behar Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
Ed Woodham has been active in community art, education and civic interventions across media and culture for more than 25 years. He is a visual and performance artist, puppeteer, curator and founder and director of Art in Odd Places, a public art project based in New York City focused on public interventions.