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Life Arts    H3'ed 1/22/17

Time to Diss Obey- The Failure of Identity Politics and the Need for Radical Art

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"Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it."

Bertolt Brecht

Radical/revolutionary artists have historically served to convey messages of dissent and hope in response to institutionalized injustice and repression (see here). In its purest form, radical art is not beholden to political, economic or artistic establishments and cannot be used for commercial interests or propaganda. Radical visual art has typically been made accessible to public consumption in the form of murals in the streets or within freely accessible public institutions. Today, street art and modern graffiti are art forms that can provide free art and non-curated radical content to the masses.

Shephard Fairey aka Obey is a well-known street artist. To those of us who love the genre, Obey is a godfather: his signature image of Andre the Giant is iconic. Obey's work has graced countless city walls, galleries and museums around the world and has been mimicked by young artists everywhere.

Shephard Fairey became a household name in 2008 due to his popular Barack Obama propaganda "HOPE" poster. A symbol of optimism and liberal identity politics, the artwork soon became the subject of a lawsuit where Fairey was found guilty of using the image that inspired "HOPE" without permission from its source (AP), and later tampered with- and fabricated evidence to conceal his culpability.

In addition to his guerilla street art, Fairey is a graphic designer who partners with big corporations, such as Nike and Saks Fifth Avenue (for a list, see here). As a result, many in the art establishment in general and the graffiti/street art niche in particular feel that Fairey sold out.

Nowadays, Shephard Fairey has come up with a new protest campaign in collaboration with the Amplifier Foundation and inspired by the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. The project, called "We the people: public art for the inauguration and beyond", aims to "disrupt the rising tide of hate and fear in America". With a range of rewards and souvenirs, the Kickstarter campaign has garnered more than a million dollars (with an original goal set at $60,000). Fairey and his collaborators will use this treasure to produce artwork that can be attached to protest signs and banners and distributed to people attending the inauguration in Washington DC on January 20th.

"We the people" is comprised of five portraits of individuals from different minority communities. It aims to "spark a conversation" about our differences and collective humanity and is a response to Donald Trump's hateful, misogynist rhetoric.

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