Let me ask a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to.

What happens when you get the courage to #resist and then you’re silenced?

Good question, right?

This actually happened to someone I know. The story is much too personal to her to go into  details, but I want you to understand the frustration and anger to such an event. Long story short, an artist and art teacher made a piece for a showcase at her school. All types of people–administrators, peers, students, public and donors–would have been able to view not only her artistic expression and hard work, but her voice, too. Her voice, views, and–personal protest.

Unbeknownst to her, the art piece was pulled from the gallery. A dialogue was not offered by a committee that made this decision. Later, she was able to speak her piece and fight for her rights to one individual, but still, the answer was something like, “Sorry, I understand how you feel.” The end result was still no.

Artists are vulnerable beings. Our spirit lives by expressing ourselves through our art frida-kholo-quoteform. Otherwise, we’d be politicians holding town halls or bankers calling the shots. What we do is emotional, heart wrenching, and painful. We grow, cry, talk to ourselves, shut down, open up, talk to others–we feel everything. And, we take risks. And the mass majority of people who don’t think with their right brains will never understand the anguish and transformations we go through. Heck, half the time we don’t know how we feel, we’re too busy exploring and digging deeper.

As an art teacher, she felt it her duty to be an example to her students. How could she encourage them to question, feel, explore, or take risks, if she was so quickly shut down for doing so?

Let’s think about this. What is the responsibility of an art teacher? Are they only to teach the fundamentals of lines, paint mixing, sculpture, depth, and whatever? Or, should they challenge their students to go further than what’s on the surface? My guess is that we want to cultivate a world where children grow to think for themselves, not memorize. We want them to be expressive and independent, not regurgitating thoughts of friends. We want them to be unafraid to challenge the status quo and use their gifts to do so, not hanker down and draw meaningless caricatures or reproductions. We want them to be able to freely express themselves, everywhere.

Was her art offensive? They wouldn’t pull it for no reason? There had to be a reason!

Take a look for yourselves.

andrea-downs-2

At first glance, you may only see the words that are a play on our president’s slogan. But then you see the words in red: Trump. Hate. But look closer.

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What are the small words surrounding the map? Look closer still.

andrea-downs-1

What? “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden…”

Okay, I must be missing something here. What’s wrong with this? I have to admit that artists are often misunderstood. Art is open for interpretation by the viewer. So, how can one make a statement?

censorship-ai-weiwei
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist/activist in China who openly criticized the government. Uh-oh….

Surely people will understand the piece means: chose love, not hate. Right?

 

Let me ask the artist. Why did you create this? What were you thinking? We’re not allowed to express our thoughts at work (unless you’re standing by the watercooler, of course).

“On November 29th, 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center published an article that focused on the 10 days following the election.  Specifically, it addressed the close to 900 harassment and intimidation incidents that were reported, across our country, in the 10 days following the election.  I was appalled by both the shear number of incidents and the fact that they were categorized into the groups of people that I had an individual or very close personal connection with; “anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim,” etc.

Maps (and the themes of identity and sense of place) have been an significant focal point for much of my artwork for the last 10 years.  Reading this article was an immediate and almost aggressive inspiration to create a piece that would reject our (now) President’s hateful words and actions, and remain committed to only choose love.”
Dang. The answer even feels emotional. She is creating and teaching what so many others have done before her and alongside of her: using art as a form of activism. Even the Southern Poverty Law Center encourages schools to create lesson plans that teach tolerance through art.
You can view this art’s activism as political. But that’s only on the surface, we humans don’t like to think deeply or else it might agitate us or be of a different opinion. Art forces you to question: “What is this artist really saying? What do I really see in this?” She is teaching tolerance and love. Wouldn’t it be amazing to teach children how to use art as activism, and that we all support them in their efforts of social responsibility? Imagine more kids using this platform for inclusivity. Perhaps we wouldn’t stare or mock the disabled or fear transgender friends, or hate those that we don’t know.
So, what happens when you’re silenced?
We’re artists.
Artists are never silenced. Persecuted like Ai Weiwei, yes. Still, Artists always find a way to get their message across. Even if it’s in the front yard.
andrea-downs-outside
Love on, Because I hate to sound cliché, but love trumps hate.

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