While I have been a longstanding activist, I noticed a sharp turn in my work following the 2016 presidential election. In October 2016, I undertook the project of completing a face-and-body painting every day. While one of these dealt directly with the election, many other works I made that month addressed larger social justice issues, including women’s rights and environmental protection, raising these issues directly or indirectly depending on the work.
The election disrupted my understanding of America and of the future of our country. This disruption has been evident in my work, as I’ve experimented with using a variety of media to grapple with the immediate issues facing our country.
In addition to continuing to create face and body paintings that often have political resonance, and taking photographs of those paintings, my most in-depth effort to address unfolding political events has been my 100 Days series. Inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s series of paintings about the northern migration, I have started creating a series of marker drawings, one or more depicting events from the first 100 days of the new presidential administration.
Creating the images has been more challenging than I anticipated at each step. I have learned in more depth about the events that have unfolded during this presidency, doing more research on both the facts and the images than I initially anticipated would be necessary. Many of the drawings have taken multiple renderings to get just right; while I imagined this as potentially a series of sketches, I have found myself taking greater care with the rendering of these weighty efforts. And — perhaps most concerningly — the dire threats to American democracy and to the freedoms and well-being of millions of Americans has made this a psychologically trying project. I find myself turning away from this project more often than not.
And yet, I continue to believe that it is possible and even necessary to look directly at the barrage of political events in recent months, to engage artistically in analyzing these events, and to thereby resist numbness and complacency. I will be continuing this series, but with the understanding that it will be a slower and more complex process than I originally anticipated, and that I’m working at the intersection of a desire to look away and a desire not to.