Art: The Other Voice of America

A little while ago I heard about an ongoing exhibit at the SomArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, called Art: The Other Voice of America. In the words of its curator, Mary Lou Nevarez Haugh, the exhibit “is about images that prompt one with the impulse to make a difference, in our push against injustice, despite all the denial that abounds. Political art is a dialogue and a human visual response to political and social issues and their consequences, both at home and abroad.”

This extraordinary show presents the works of over twenty artists, whose artworks address the issues of our times. An old acquaintance of mine, Doug Minkler, is a participating artist in the show. I first met Minkler in the early 1980’s when I was traveling through San Francisco’s activist art circles. He’s an artist entirely devoted to the art of serigraphy, and his silkscreen prints have been well known in San Francisco for decades. With a colorful and jarring neo-expressionist style, Minkler strikes at war, corporate power, and imperialism, while extolling and defending civil liberties, labor, immigrants rights, and environmentalism.

He maintains a small website where you are invited to download free digital versions of his silkscreen prints and publish them as street posters and leaflets. Last January he sent to me a working copy of a treatise he was writing, entitled A Call for More Internationalist Art. I’m including an excerpt here, not only because it describes Minkler’s character and beliefs (as well as my own), but because I believe it also describes the raison d’être behind The Other Voice of America exhibition.

“It is paramount that we all take part in shaping the future. Artists are as qualified as anyone else to make decisions about their future. Artists in general, have chosen not to chase the dollar, have a healthy intellectual curiosity, value justice and are highly suspicious of dogma. Without espousing their beliefs, they usually possess sound values - share the wealth, protect our natural resources and make love not war. We have developed our expressive skills and often view the world from a unique vantage point.

This artistic perspective, often coming from our deep unconscious, can provide insights crucial to motivating, informing and problem solving. At this time in history, the survival of our species is dependent on learning how to cooperate. Our job as artists is to create a map. The map should reflect the highs of cooperation versus the lows of nationalism. The map key will develop the language of compassion and reason and the paths to a better future will be as varied as the as the people on the planet.”

Among the other outstanding artists included in the show is, Art Hazelwood. Working in the best tradition of American social realism, Hazelwood is an exemplar when it comes to the socially engaged artist. His figurative oil paintings are up close looks at real life in the modern urban metropolis, but they also possess the bite of social critique. When Hazelwood decides to make an overt political statement in a painting or print, stand back, because you’re likely to get singed. He has some reviews and articles on his website that are of interest, for instance his transcript of a panel discussion on political art that took place at San Francisco’s Meridian Gallery this past February is illuminating.

The SomArts Cultural Center will be holding two important panel discussions to coincide with their exhibit: Saturday, March 12, Bridging the Gap: Art & Social Justice. Saturday, March 19, The Artist’s Role in Social Change. The Other Voice of America exhibition runs until March 24th.

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