Emotions are flaring up among artist participants in Elect This!, an exhibit of no-holds-barred politically-charged art on display through Tuesday, November 2nd, at SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), 685 Venice Blvd., Venice.
The concept of the group exhibit was to invite artists of any political persuasion to submit works in response to the upcoming presidential election and the current political climate in the United States.
Tapping the arts community in Venice and surrounding areas of Los Angeles, it should come as no shock that the anti-Bush, anti-Iraq occupation sentiment was overwhelmingly high among works contributed.
Guerrilla artist Robbie Conal, who lives in a nearby Venice neighborhood, was quick to lend his anti-Bush work, “Read My Apocalips” to the exhibit.
Conal, a pioneer of the guerrilla art and street art movements, has become nationally-recognized for his fiendish, grimacing depictions of mostly right wing politicians and pundits.
“Read My Apocalips” is part of a national postering campaign, with fellow guerrilla artist notables Shepard Fairey of “Obey Giant” fame and Mear One, to criticize the war policy of the Bush administration.
“‘Read My Apocalips’ addresses Bush destroying the world through militarism, taking away our freedoms to keep us free, issues like that,” says Conal. “The title of the work, ‘Read My Apocalips’ implies that Bush was lying about the reasons for invading Iraq and that lying runs in the family.
“The father lied about ‘read my lips, no new taxes,’ and the son lied about ‘read my lips, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” says Conal.
“The ‘Apocalips’ part of the title is an end-of-the-world reference, attacking the ‘we’re on a mission from God’ belief that Bush has, that if you don’t listen to us, we’re going to bomb the hell out of you. That’s scary!”
Aside from participating in Elect This!, Conal has been doing some campaigning of his own, taking trips to metropolitan areas and swing states slapping up his political posters on billboards and public fixtures.
“I’ve been running around the country like a chicken with my head cut off,” says Conal.
Conal has recently been to Wisconsin and Missouri, and he was also at protests at both the Democratic and Republican conventions posting his street art around the convention sites.
Chicano painter Joe Bravo has worked as a graphic artist and art director at a number of magazines, but recently his works have taken a sharply political turn.
Bravo designed the postcard art for Elect This! and he has contributed works expressing his opposition to Bush administration policies.
His painting “Wild Card” shows the president in a jester suit juggling warheads. “War Paint” shows the president with his face done up in American flag war paint. White crucifixes representing soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery replace the white stars of the U.S. flag.
“Bush’s total disregard for other cultures and the United Nations has brought America to a lonely mountaintop where we are more hated than ever,” Bravo explains about the reason for his artworks. “We are in a quagmire in Iraq, where we can neither go forward nor backward.
“Bush has used fear against the American people and intimidated other countries to further his agenda.
“History will record the truth about the Bush administration’s sweetheart deals with companies such as Halliburton, and most sadly the lives of young American men and women that were needlessly lost and injured in an unnecessary war. Not to mention the thousands of Iraqi civilians who also lost their lives.”
A number of SPARC officials, including SPARC founder Judith Baca, are well-known activists and make no attempt to hide their contempt for the Bush administration.
But Baca says that she had hoped to spur debate by organizing this exhibit.
A notice on SPARC’s Web site encouraged artists of any political persuasion to submit works — including Bush supporters.
But not a single pro-Bush or pro-Iraqi invasion work of art was submitted to the exhibit, according to Debra Padilla, SPARC’s executive director.
“I don’t know why that is,” Padilla says. “It was open to everyone.”
“There probably are Republican artists — they just don’t generally address political subjects in their artworks,” Conal speculates.
Baca comments that artwork submissions were received from around the country and even England.
She says that they did receive opposing feedback from Bush supporters on the comments section of the Web site, but no actual submissions of artwork.
“There was a 9/11 memorial that some of the artists that opposed Bush considered a bit sappy, but that’s it,” says Baca.
“I think we need to do a little better in encouraging dialogue,” says Baca, who had hoped that the exhibit would spur debate rather than simply be a mouthpiece for the high anti-Bush sentiment in Venice.
So what the exhibit wound up becoming in essence was an art community catharsis against Bush administration policies.
“I know why street art is not big among Republicans,” says Conal. “Nobody who supports Bush or is a beneficiary of that power structure is going to run around the streets at night putting up posters, and getting covered with glue and risking doing something illegal. They don’t need to.”
Baca was pleased with the range of topics and thoughtfulness of the artistic ideas in the show, she says.
“We had some artists who had never done political art before turn in some incredible pieces,” Baca says. Some that stood out to Baca include a piece that featured “raining white bombs” by college student Macias Jaime, and a piece by Pilar Castillo that cleverly played on a fortune cookie theme.
Venice muralist Francisco Letelier exposed a part of his past with a piece that sought to link Bush family CIA ties to the murder of his father. He says his father was an ambassador to the democratically-elected government of Chile in the 1970s, which was overthrown in a coup by General Augusto Pinochet with the support of the CIA.
SPARC special events planned concurrently with the exhibit include an election night party at 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 2nd; and a conversation about the Patriot Act with civil liberties attorney Stephen F. Rohde at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 28th.
Rohde is a constitutional lawyer, lecturer and writer. He is the immediate past president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California and frequently lectures on threats to personal freedoms.
Information, (310) 822-9560.