Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Brief Visual History of Recent Political Art

Abraham Obama, by Ron English

I've seen a handful of blogs lately that are dedicated solely to documenting all the art being made about, and for, Barack Obama. I see it as a bright sign that the cultural creators of our society finally feel positively inspired enough by a political candidate to devote their minds, hands and hours to make art about it. I, like many other young artists, have made my fair share of anti-Bush art; it's grand to see pro-Obama art.

Let's use Shepard Fairey, of OBEY fame, as an example. Fairey is donating all proceeds from sales of his Obama art to the campaign ($400,000 last I heard). And from his same hand, we have this:

To now these:

Both pieces are successful and compelling. The new work though, has something else, optimism. Not images of bombs, HOPE. Not red and black and talk of global supremacy, bright blues and kind uplifted eyes. Not critique and criticism, inspiration. Obama inspires positivity. Obama's message of unity transcends. And we, the artists, are clearly lifted. The stigma on optimism incinerates.

As a sidenote, if you aren't familiar with him, Shepard Fairey is a severely adept street artist. He's most known for his work as OBEY. The pieces he put up for the last hurrah of the famed street art/graffiti hub 11 Spring St. in the fall of 2007 were visually rich blends of pattern and portrait. Most of the art from 11 Spring was incredible. Here's The Gothamist's great story on it. Below, one of Fairey's pieces from 11 Spring:

After years of seeing anti-Bush visual art and hearing anti-Bush slam and performance poetry, I feel thoroughly refreshed to see creatives using their skill to inspire. Fairey's was the first big design for Obama. Then many artists followed suit. For example, the Abraham Obama at the top of this post, one of many designs commissioned by Upper Playground (see one by Burlesque Design of North America below). Countless more Obama art is displayed on The Obama Art Report. In this way, Fairey has been an art leader, just as Obama has incited a sea change in political dialogue and, I would argue, a transcendance in our way of thinking.
Obama Poster by Burlesque Design of North America, available at Upper Playground's online store.

I'm all for hope. I'm all for energetically creating what we want, rather than constantly resisting what we don't.

The anti-Bush art served its purpose. It allowed us to speak our frustrations, to release our profound sense of collective disenfranchisement. The Bush era was a dark period in our nation's history. During it, our collective evolution was stunted in many ways. Our ability to speak up through non-normative communication channels was not. We found the alternative avenues in which to speak, from blogs to street protests to art shows. Now as we get to leave behind that dark Bush era and step forward into the glow, we carry with us our new ability to speak.

We carry with us our art, our words, our inspiration. We are all now, empowered agents of change.