Justice for Margarita

As part of the effort to achieve justice for my partner Connie's mom, Margarita, I made this limited edition stencil print in English and Spanish. It is available through her Indiegogo Campaign for those who donate $300 or more. A smaller signed inkjet print on archival paper is available for those who donate $20 or more. #justiceformargarita #justiciaparamargarita

MayDay 2017

North American marsupials are organizing. Join them in the streets on May 1st !  Get your own free download of this poster at Justseeds.

The triplets of racism, materialism and militarism

In support of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture's national day of action #Revolution of Values, I made these 'postcards' of defunct monuments. They refer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s April 4, 1967 Riverside Speech when he said,
[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Update: This statue was removed and put in storage on Wednesday, May 10th by the City of New Orleans.

Update: This statue was removed and put in storage on Wednesday, May 10th by the City of New Orleans.

Designing a New Habitat for the Pollinators

It’s getting lighter. Daylight savings time is back. Mural season. Flowers awaiting pollination are beginning to bloom, daffodils and dandelions first. Bees are appearing and monarchs have begun their migration north from Mexico. There’s front-page news in the Journal-World that a fraternity of eighty-seven guys has moved into the 888 New Hampshire building (where our mural will be), while their palatial estate was being renovated. Closing in on the north side of the farmers market parking lot, construction continues on a yet another upscale apartment building shrinking evermore the neighborhood’s habitat for affordable housing.

In the studio a couple blocks away, we began imagining how the Pollinator artists would have responded to the destruction of the original mural, and how they would feel about changes to the neighborhood.  Would they act to protect and defend natures’ pollinators against threats to their habitat? How would they respond to the new building on which they would be painted and what it signaled for the East side of Lawrence? Would other artists be compelled to join them in their struggle?

Our initial drawings illustrate a tension between competing ideas about how neighborhoods develop and change, and who or what affects that change. As we worked, we talked about the tools and strategies artists posses to address these issues - how music, poetry, film and painting can shift perceptions and inspire action.

As space for affordable housing shrinks near downtown, so does the habitat for nature's pollinators. Market driven monoculture has replaced many wild and organic backyards and greenspaces in Lawrence with chemically enhanced weed-free sod. Dandelions are the enemy, technology the solution as with these newly developed 'drone pollinators.'

This kind of erasure isn't new. Mural Assistant Nedra Bonds has seen it before. In the 1980's, the historic site of Quindaro, near Nedra's home in Kansas City, Kansas, was nearly turned into a trash dump. No one in power seemed to care that Quindaro had been established by Wyandots and Abolitionists to fight pro-slavery forces until Bonds and others started to make a fuss and tell the story through quilts. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

                                                    Nedra sharing her Quindaro quilt at our Design Team workshop

                                                    Nedra sharing her Quindaro quilt at our Design Team workshop

So what's the antidote to market driven monoculture? Wes Jackson at the Land Institute calls it perennial-polyculture, a practice of mimicking the prairies of central Kansas to produce crops that don't require the soil numbing toxins used in industrialized agriculture. We asked ourselves what a perrenial-polyculture of built structures and human community would look like in Lawrence. Our answer meant aligning the mural design with wind-blown seeds, weeds and migrating pollinators both human and winged who eschew monotone and monochrome for a full spectrum of experience.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary: A place of refuge or safety. 

Santuario: Un lugar de refugio o seguridad.

Communities across the U.S. are declaring themselves Sanctuaries , and are refusing to collude with I.C.E, in order to protect targeted immigrants and to ensure that families are not torn apart by unjust laws. In a xenophobic rage, the President has promised retribution against any municipality that acts on behalf of people who don't have specific types of documentation. Here in Kansas, the Governor and Secretary of State have doubled down on these threats, proposing to completely defund communities that don't actively search for and detain those they deem unwelcome. This poster is available as a free download at Justseeds.

Re-imagining the Pollinators

For many Lawrence folks, especially those that frequent Saturday farmers market, the Pollinators mural and its untimely demise are still fresh in their memories. News that the mural would have a second life was celebrated but also prompted many questions. Where would the new mural be located? Would it be the same size? Who would design and paint it? And most crucially, would the design be the same, including the seven African-American artists and the Gwendolyn Brooks quote, “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond”?

Answering the first three questions was easy. The new mural would be at the same relative location (the north facing wall adjacent to farmers market), although only about half as large. The muralists, as I mentioned in our previous blog post, would be comprised of both new and old design team members plus a new assistant and two new apprentices.  Much more difficult to answer is the last question - how would the design be different from the original, what would remain, what would be changed, and what would be added?

Since early February, our design team has been grappling with these questions. Early on we chose to not merely reproduce the original Pollinators, but to re-imagine it. We committed  to honoring the original while adding elements that speak to a new time and new circumstances.

There are a few precedents for re-imagining a mural. The iconic “Wall of Respect” in Chicago, which evolved over the years with some images being replaced with others as needed, is probably the best known.

The "Wall of Respect" in Chicago, Illinois.

The "Wall of Respect" in Chicago, Illinois.

The idea that a mural does not necessarily have to be static or ever really finished, that it can be a living expression that grows and changes with the times has been a compelling notion for our design team. Because visual art is bought and sold as a commodity, there is less opportunity to change something after it's left the studio, while re-imagining artworks in other media like dance and theater is much more familiar. It’s not uncommon to see reinterpretations or updated versions of well-known stories from the likes of Shakespeare or August Wilson set in new contexts with casts that reflect different points of view. We have that opportunity because the Pollinators is being recreated and we can make changes if we wish. It would be a much different story for folks at the Spencer Museum and City, I imagine, if the original mural was still there and we proposed to change and adapt it.

To ground our re-imagining, we began at the Lawrence Public Library with research about the original Pollinators, it’s subject matter and design, and how the community came together to ensure it would rise again.

The team felt strongly that this story of why the mural was destroyed and the community effort to restore it needed to be depicted in some form. The fate of the Pollinators is connected to the larger story about how downtown Lawrence is changing and who will benefit from those changes. Re-examining the central metaphor from the original mural, we began thinking about the factors, agents, etc. that inhibit or block pollination in nature. This led us to question what factors might inhibit the ability of the artists depicted (and their descendants) to ‘pollinate’, and how analogous forces could prevent cultural cross-pollination in the larger community. Big questions.

So, instead of separating our discussion about the biology of pollination from the African-American artist pollinators in the mural and the cultural impact of new development, we let these ideas overlap, complicate and influence each other. We talked about monoculture in agriculture and how to spot signs of monoculture within the cultural community of Lawrence. We talked about the shape and structure of pollen grains, the persistence, beauty and utility of 'weeds', contemporary African-American artists with roots in Kansas, and we talked about how upscale development is encroaching on the East side with uncertain consequences. Our research and conversations produced a wealth of ideas.

GetFileAttachment-4.jpg

In this way, the re-imagined Pollinators project has become a forum for creatively addressing important issues including affordable housing, food justice, and people’s history.  This is intentional. Inspired by the examples of artists Liz Lerman, Augusto Boal and Judy Baca, our approach is founded on the idea that a collaborative creative process can illuminate and articulate community conflicts and aspirations in ways that can lead to equitable and just solutions.

Next, we begin to visualize the mural design…

International Women's Strike

In solidarity with the International Women's Strike, here are portraits of two incredible women. CJ Brune, who passed in 2015, was one of the original February Sisters and a lifelong activist who I was lucky to know as a friend and mentor. My mom Pamela, still alive and kicking, is pictured on her soap box fighting, as she has her whole life, for women's rights and social justice.

                                                                    Mom and "CJ" together in 2016

                                                                    Mom and "CJ" together in 2016

Trigger Warning

It is imperative that we stop this slide into violent ideology, now.  Students, faculty and staff from KU and across the state have made their voices loud and clear on this issue – They DO NOT want concealed carry on campus.  It's time we support them. Please join others in condemning and stopping this dangerous and irresponsible legislation before it’s too late.  

Frederick Douglass Community Center

Last year I got to work with folks in Toledo, Ohio on a small mural for the Frederick Douglass Community Center.  We chose to include his quote, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." In light of recent events, these words have an added meaning for me today. The broken men are the president and his gang of ignorant scoundrels.

Don't Adapt to Absurdity

I am proud to be joining artists from across the U.S. in "Inaugurating Resistance," a new visual art campaign coordinated by Justseeds and the Interference Archive. Our work supports peoples movements in response to the rising tide of xenophobia, racism, and misogyny in the U.S. You can browse and download images from the growing collection, and you can submit your own here. Below are the four pieces I have contributed so far.

I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist.

Dr. Vincent Harding, 1931-2014, was a visionary historian, theologian and social justice activist. In July 2012 on his 81st birthday Dr. Harding spoke at the National and Racial Healing Town Hall at a Children’s Defense Fund’s conference. “I am, you are, a citizen of a country that does not yet exist, and that badly needs to exist. And I want to offer you the opportunity to celebrate my birthday with me by pledging deep in you that you are not going to give up this life without offering yourself totally to the creation of this country that does not yet exist.” Borrowing the refrain from Langston Hughes's poem Let America Be America Again, he said: “We can always stop there and complain and complain and complain. ‘You’ve never been America to me.’ But remember, Langston did not stop there. ‘America, you’ve never been America to me. But I swear this oath—you will be!’ I want you, those who are not afraid to swear oaths, to swear that oath for yourself, for your children, and for your old uncle here. You will be, America. You will be what you could be. You will be what you should be, and I am going to give my life to the working for that.” (From a 2014 article by Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund)

Dr. Vincent Harding, 1931-2014, was a visionary historian, theologian and social justice activist. In July 2012 on his 81st birthday Dr. Harding spoke at the National and Racial Healing Town Hall at a Children’s Defense Fund’s conference. “I am, you are, a citizen of a country that does not yet exist, and that badly needs to exist. And I want to offer you the opportunity to celebrate my birthday with me by pledging deep in you that you are not going to give up this life without offering yourself totally to the creation of this country that does not yet exist.”

Borrowing the refrain from Langston Hughes's poem Let America Be America Again, he said: “We can always stop there and complain and complain and complain. ‘You’ve never been America to me.’ But remember, Langston did not stop there. ‘America, you’ve never been America to me. But I swear this oath—you will be!’ I want you, those who are not afraid to swear oaths, to swear that oath for yourself, for your children, and for your old uncle here. You will be, America. You will be what you could be. You will be what you should be, and I am going to give my life to the working for that.”

(From a 2014 article by Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund)