PAINT THE PROTEST

October 27, 2022 – January 27, 2023

Sharon Hayes
b. 1970, Baltimore, MD

We Won’t Go Back, 2022
Acrylic paint and newsprint (May 2020 – June 2022) on textile

When Will This End?, 2021
Acrylic paint and newsprint (May 2020 – February 2021) on textile

What Do We Want, 2021
Acrylic paint and newsprint (May 2020 – February 2021) on textile

Attuned to the ways in which language shapes human interaction—in both written and spoken forms—Sharon Hayes has paid particular attention to the vocabulary of political protest in her work. Whether (re)citing presidential speeches or (re)enacting historic demonstrations as part of her multivalent practice, Hayes recuperates slogans used to express anger or aspiration. She has stated, “that the speech act of protest makes meaning in a triangulation between the body that holds the sign, the words on the sign, and the place and time in which they’re held.” In her recent banners, Hayes reinforces this relationship. The text on each swath of fabric reads in reverse, the lettering appearing through the adhesion of newspaper fragments stuck too long to the wet paint of the banner’s slogan. Sourced from the artist’s personal collection, the newspapers ground the political messages, which otherwise move fluidly across movements and moments, to the day of their publication. We encounter what the protester sees from behind the sign, which reinforces the personal nature of political activism. Visible on the newsprint fragments are references to world events. Even though the slogans—”We Won’t Go Back,” When Will this End?,” and “What Do We Want,” have a universalizing ring, they are nevertheless tethered to a specific time and place.

Aaron Huey
b.1975, Worland, WY

Currency of Protest, 2002
Inkjet prints on seed paper
Open edition

A political activist, who has literally been in the trenches of street protests for years, new-media artist Aaron Huey believes in the transmogrifying power of art to change hearts and minds. Amplifier Foundation, the organization he founded to combat the worst of the Trump years, inaugurated the We the People campaign and provided indelible protest imagery for the Women’s March among so many other ongoing (and often crowd-sourced) agit-prop initiatives. The Currency of Protest, created by Huey in response to this exhibition, imagines the full cycle of civic dissent, from cultural uprising to the potential for total societal breakdown to hope and renewal. He collaborated with an AI, providing text to image prompts, using references to historical landmark protests along with the visual vocabulary of decorated bank notes. In these precarious times, with democracy in peril, the outcome of progressive action is unclear, and the AI knows it. With a specific focus on the Supreme Court, a current site of intense contestation, the currency on view here commemorates a future that is at once shaped by violence—a total dissolution of political norms—while providing quite literally for a sense of rebirth. Printed on seed paper, the fictional bank notes will grow wildflowers if planted, incarnating the oft-cited adage of oppressed, revolutionary souls: “They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.” Conceived as currency, this “money” is free for the taking. Its circulation will imitate the exchange of cash, while exposing the highly subjective and symbolic nature of its value.  

Francisco Masó
b. 1988, Havana, Cuba

Choreography #7, 2022
Photographic Installation

Raised under an autocratic regime where collective assembly is forbidden, Cuban-born Francisco Masódeveloped a keen eyefor gestures of cultural contestation. In his multidisciplinary art, he utilizes a strategy borrowed from ethnographic studiesknown as “participant observation” to infiltrate a society in order to understand and translate its visualcodes. For Masó, thespecific topic of interest has been the culture of repression in Cuba, and, more generally the struggles for justice that transcendany particular geography. The installation on view here brings together two conceptually related bodies of work: The photographic series, Obtuse Exercises for Dissenting Bodies, (2018-) features choreographed movements performed for the camera, deliberate poses that Masó proposes to non-violent protesters so they may avoid bodily harm when confronted by thepolice. And the striped edges on two of the photographs emanate from the series Aesthetic Register of Covert Forces (2017-) in which Masó transforms the lined patterns on polo shirts worn by the secret police in Cuba (detected in images culled from the Internet) into paintings that resemble and problematize the supposed neutrality of modernist, geometric abstraction.

Hank Willis Thomas
b. 1976, Plainfield, NJ

One Million Second Chances (The Invisible Men), 2018
Screenprint on retroreflective vinyl, mounted on Dibond

The crossing (yellow & black), 2021
UV print on anti-slip tape, mounted on Dibond

Hank Willis Thomas occupies a central place in the Venn diagram of contemporary art and political activism. He is a catalytic force, energizing cross-disciplinary collaborations dedicated to raising consciousness about the cultural imperative for social justice, including For Freedoms and the Wide Awakes. His photography interrogates the representation of Black bodies throughout American history, especially in the mass media. The two works on view here intentionally activate a viewer’s physical engagement with the image, inviting a visceral sense of participation. One Million Second Chances (The Invisible Men)—a photo taken by Thomas at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in 1995—is printed on retroreflective vinyl. At first, the image of Black demonstrators congregated to peacefully denounce racism and call for true equity—is entirely muted as if behind a veil of historical erasure. But when viewed in the light cast by flash photography, the contours of the picture emerge from the haze to lock in an indelible portrait of struggle and enduring hope. The photo of a large crowd comprising Black protesters in The crossing (yellow & black) was sourced from the National Archives. Thomas printed the image on a sheet of yellow-tinted anti-slip tape with black diagonal lines across its surface, emulating the palette of caution strips. Designed toliterally stop you in your tracks, the tape functions here as a reminder that the fight for justice is a fraught one. Even the title—“the crossing”—invokes historical oppression in reference to the Atlantic slave trade as a reminder that the arc of justice is longbut inexorably slow.

Richard Prince
b. 1949, Panama Canal Zone

Untitled (Protest Painting), 1994
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas

Untitled (Protest Painting), 1994
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas

Untitled (Protest Painting), 1994
Acrylic on canvas

Born into the age of Aquarius, Richard Prince identifies with the tune in, turn on, drop out hippy ethos of the late 1960s. However, he has always shirked the idea of collective action—of collective anything. A loner, he mourned the Kent State murders and the hellscape of the Vietnam War far from the crowds of protesters filling streets across the country. Instead of marches and sit-ins, Prince retreated to his studio. His barricade was the easel, the camera, the typewriter. The Protest Paintings (1989-2014)—narrow canvases that enclose the placard shapes of picket signs, visual archetypes for public dissent—signal Prince’s engagement with counter cultural values, but from a measured distance. The paintings themselves range from pure abstractions devoid of imagery or text to placeholders for Prince’s signature one-liners or scratches of “Birdtalk.” Withoutreferences to specific causes or demands for change, they are ciphers for contrarian dreams. Prince claims to have “paint[ed]the protest.” The choice of what to protest is up to you.

Rirkrit Tiravanija
b. 1961, Buenos Aires

untitled 2015 (demonstration drawings), 2015
Graphite on paper, a selection of seven from a set of one hundred drawings

untitled 2021 (rich bastards beware),2021
NFT,animated GIF, tokenized edition, 1 of 1 (ERC721)
K21 Collection by Kanon

Protest lies at the heart of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s multidisciplinary and participatory art. To create his ongoing series of demonstration drawings, he invites a group of young Thai artists to render graphite facsimiles of photographs from the International Herald Tribune documenting outbreaks of civil unrest around the world. Images range from violent street protests in Bangkok to Parisians marching in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo to members of Occupy Wall Street demanding economic equity.

Tiravanija’s first NFT, untitled 2021 (rich bastards beware), is a satirical protest piece. A skeletal shadow puppet—part devil, part pirate—throws a spear through a bleeding heart, which shatters and causes the figure itself to crumble. This grim scenario plays out in front of a $100,000 bill—a denomination printed as a gold certificate in 1934, during the Great Depression, but never circulated. Too large for public use, the bill was deployed by financial institutions for transactions since wire transfers were excruciatingly slow. Here Tiravanija leaves us with unanswered questions. Is he lauding the liberatory decentralization of the blockchain, which promises to wrest wealth away from the hegemonic few? Or is he critiquing the once overheated NFT market fueled by speculation?

Jacqueline Humphries
b. 1960, New Orleans, LA

Untitled, 2020
Oil paint on aqua resin

Untitled, 2020
Oil paint on aqua resin

Untitled, 2021
Pigmented Aqua-Resin with oil and enamel

Throughout her career, Jacqueline Humphries has vivified the history of gestural, abstract painting by wedding the mechanics of digital communications and the ever-shifting opticality of the computer screen with the time-honored tradition of pigment on canvas. She creates vibrating surfaces through the overlay of various stencils cut to resemble emoticons, emojis, CAPTCHAs or ASCII text as a form of mechanical mark making. The resulting paintings—richly colored and densely layered objects—communicate in a code that is familiar but never fully legible. The shapes of Humphries’ protest paintings are, however, quite recognizable in that they emulate placards comprising the typical “plane” and “post” construction of signs made for marches. They are made by casting cardboard and wood in  pigmented resin, which is then further enhanced with the application of painterly brushstrokes and their resulting drips. Though without specific message or demand, these protest signs articulate an ethos of dissent. Presented upside down, leaning against the wall, as if yet to be taken aloft in ademonstration or laid to rest after collective action, they express, for the artist, the critical idea that painting “can DO something.”

Dread Scott
b. 1965, Chicago, IL

Obliterated Power (Capitol), 2022
Screenprint, archival inkjet print

Obliterated Power (Supreme Court), 2022
Screenprint, archival inkjet print

On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide, Performance Still 2, 2014
Pigment print

Dread Scott’s expansive artistic project is rooted in the truth that America’s democratic form of government and capitalist system—which promises equal access for all—is premised on a dark history of oppression. His often performative and participatory work—from What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? (1988) to Slave Rebellion Reenactment (2019)—brings this reality to the fore, inviting both engagement and controversy to spark a new cultural consciousness. In the photographic series On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide, Scott placed himself in a crippling stream of water spewed from high-pressure fire hoses in a direct reference to the 1963 Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, during which police fought against the non-violent Black protesters with the same inhumane tactics. This searing performance links the historic event to the ongoing battle for freedom in the U.S. and around the world, in which people risk bodily harm, incarceration, and even death in the fight for equal rights. In his more recent print series, Obliterated Power, Scott has masked iconic structures of U.S. authority—the Supreme Court, the Capitol, and the Pentagon—with black veils of gestural markings. These stark images speak truth to an unyielding power that is yet to truly recognize its own complicity in the violence of its past and to seek meaningful forms of reparation. 

Raven Chacon
b.1977, Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation

Silent Choir (Standing Rock), 2017-22
Audio recording, 12 min. 8 sec.

Protest marches or demonstrations, no matter how non-violent in spirit, tend to be noisy affairs. So, imagine the sonic power of a silent vigil, when the belief in a cause is so strong, so profoundly felt that no words are necessary. That is what composer and noise artist Raven Chacon witnessed when he went to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in 2016 to support Water Protectors protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across sacred, ancestral land and water. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Elder women in the encampment led more than four hundred people in a non-verbal demonstration across a bridge, facing down state police and private security workers in utter silence. Chacon, whose multidisciplinary work centers and responds to the impacts of colonial violence, made a field recording of this singular act, capturing the ineffable presence and power of human breath. The barely audible, ambient sounds hold sonic space for everything not said but deeply lived by the Indigenous protesters and their allies.

Andrea Bowers
b. 1965, Wilmington, OH

Transfeminist (TransLatin@ Coalition, Blockade at the Beverly Center, L.A., CA, March 20th, 2015), 2016
Graphite on paper

Demonstrators protest government bail-out, Stock Exchange, Wall Street, September 25, 2008, 2009
Graphite and colored pencil on paper

What defines a protest? Does the impact lie only in demonstrations by the masses, or can it stem from the convictions of an individual participant? Andrea Bowers isolates the quiet power of the lone protestor in her series of graphite drawings in which she detaches one person from the crowd, foregrounding how democracy depends on singular acts of showing up. In Transfeminist (TransLatin@ Coalition, Blockade at the Beverly Center, L.A., CA, March 20th, 2015), Bowers extracts a solitary figure from a newspaper photograph of a larger public action, drawing their likeness within an otherwise blank, disproportionately large background. This work shows a young child, standing pigeon-toed and holding a sign that reads, “Trans Feminist” in solidarity with a critical, intersectional cause. Bowers’ painstakingly rendered graphite drawings, including Demonstrators protest government bail-out, Stock Exchange, Wall Street, September 25, 2008, emphasize a singular message within the cacophony of the grievances and demands at the heart of most protests—in this case, a condemnation of the predatory lenders targeting low-income home buyers that fueled the subprime mortgage crisis. A life-long activist and feminist, Bowers chooses in these drawings to focus on the personal in the political, the unique story of every protester, which is often lost when witnessed within the collective fervor of the crowd.