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Five Contemporary Artists on Creating Political Work in Trump's America


How a socially engaged art practice can help critique, illuminate and push back.

A few days after Donald Trump was elected President, a friend of mine shared a video on Facebook of Amazon Mother Leiomy at Vogue Knights, and boy was she carrying. He appropriately captioned the video, "Storming into Trump's America like..."

People like to talk about how everything went downhill the day President Trump--the world's most successful stunt queen--won the election. Certainly the normalization of white supremacy, the erasure of LGBTQ rights from the online portals of the White House, the travel ban, the removal of protections for trans students and the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General--show that the landscape for minorities, women and queer people is suddenly a whole lot scarier than it was before.

But girl, the threat Trump poses is not a new one, as marginalized people have always lived under extreme duress. The difference, though, and even the bright side, is that today's resistance feels much more spectacular and mobilized. The resistance takes the form of protests, marches and think pieces, but also as art, joy and creativity. Queer and marginalized people will not be silenced, and art is one way to create community, social space and a dialogue with the political woes of the present.

OUT spoke to five contemporary artists, whose practice is as genre-defying as it is political, spanning and weaving new media into music into dance into performance poetry and beyond. We got their take on how a socially engaged art practice can help critique, illuminate and push back, even as the weight of resistance should be on every single one of our shoulders.



OUT: What five words describe your art practice?

Kia LaBeija: Healing, vulnerable, cathartic, pleasurable, invigorating.

In what ways can art with a political message impact social change?

Art is a universal language that allows us to see ourselves and our stories in other people. It has the ability to create human connection. Art has always impacted social change, and as artists, we are the ones who document our histories. Political art lives and thrives in non-conventional spaces. In 2017, art has had an even bigger impact as it can reach larger quantities of people at the touch of a button. More and more of the youth are coming to an understanding that they themselves are artists, because they have a level of profound visibility. Everyday our perspectives are changing and evolving thanks to creative people who believe in resistance.

How can art be used to critique and challenge politics?

We are greater in numbers and using our voices collectively as artists is one of the greatest ways we can survive the Trump regime. Our critique is not just in the way we produce tangible "works," but in the way we curate ourselves. We as human beings are the greatest threat to the current political scope. This moment in time is not new. We have lived and fought this battle before, and we will continue to fight. They can never take away our personal practices, our opinions, the way we dress, who we love, and the communities we create. We are all artists, whether self identified or not. Being ourselves is the highest form of freedom.

Discover Kia LaBeija's work, here.



OUT: What five words describe your art practice?

Black Cracker: Juxtapose, deny, condense, alleviate, reconsider.

In what ways can art with a political message impact social change?

The same way kitten videos and random memes do, or at least in theory. From the core to the community, although the process, a bit slower than say "drug cultures" evolution in certain genres then on to and through particular demographics.

How can art be used to critique and challenge politics?

It's beyond Trump. Make no mistake. It's beyond all the classifications that separate. Beyond anything our eyes can see. We as individuals need to find ways of falling in love with every energetic being that surrounds us. I want to be obsessed with you, with your burdens. Let me carry your load, if only for one moment. Let go and let in. Art must be the gravity that never lets up.

Discover Black Cracker's work, here.



What five words describe your art practice?

Fatima Al Qadiri: Allergic to categorization of every kind (sorry, that's six words).

In what ways can art with a political message impact social change?

In the era of social media, artists can have a massive following and their opinions have a more immediate impact than in previous generations. It's less about the actual art and more about public statements and actions taken by artists that matter in the current climate. For example, imagine if Taylor Swift publicly condemned Trump before the election?

How can art be used to critique and challenge politics?

The song "FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)" by YG and Nipsey Hussle was played on unsuspecting, pro-Trump radio stations via hackers. Alec Baldwin's regular impersonation of Trump on SNL has really upset the president. These are just two examples. Every critique counts, because we all know Trump is incredibly thin-skinned and obsessed with approval and ratings.

Discover Fatima Al-Qadiri's work, here.



OUT: What five words describe your art practice?

Alok Vaid-Menon: Improvisational, cheeky, disarming, intense, confessional.

In what ways can art with a political message impact social change?

As the brilliant Gloria Anzaldua reminds us, "Nothing happens in the 'real' world unless it first happens in the images in our heads." I believe artists have the ability to create and practice the type of world we are fighting for with our craft. We create a template for what's possible--what kind of values, aesthetics, and ways of being are necessary beyond the gallery/stage/exhibition.

How can art be used to critique and challenge politics?

Darling if it's not critiquing the establishment, then it's not art--it's propaganda! If we have to ask how to make political art then we have to ask a more basic question: Should we be making art to begin with anyways?

Discover Alok Vaid-Menon's work, here.



OUT: What five words describe your art practice?

Brendan Fernandes: Social, political, collaborative, performative... I was going to say "Postcolonial," but maybe now "Anti-Fascist" is more appropriate? Beyond the particular politics of each work, I tend to work socially and collaboratively because there's a necessary openness and honesty to those approaches to making art. There's something importantly "anti-authoritarian" about collaboration and collective actions.

In what ways can art with a political message impact social change?

Art is a powerful tool for social and political resistance, and a powerful means of finding agency in the world. In my work, the queer body is central. I understand the queer body as a representation of "otherness." It is often put in a position that is referred to as outside of the mainstream, or as sub-cultural. I put the queer body at the centre of collaborative works to give agency, critical mass and collective power to queer voices. In this way, the art becomes a social and political tool; a means of disseminating and embodying messages; and creates ways for marginalized communities to gain acceptance, find solidarity, and engage with new ways of acting, thinking, seeing and being. We come together as one to make change. Art with a political message can be both the ways we come together, and the message we have to share.

How can art be used to critique and challenge politics?

Art making creates new dialogues. It makes us reconsider what is happening in our society and world, and this includes the world under the Trump regime. Art can call for resistance (and can be the resistance) by asking people to question their wants, their needs and their purpose for living, thinking and surviving through these challenging times. In these strange political times, art can challenge the hegemony of government, can be a strategy for getting people to think and talk about the issues at hand, the broader issues that brought us here, and can be a tool to educate our way forward.

Discover Brendan Fernandes' work, here.

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