Category: Art Activism

Manifesto for World Revolution?

Vallen finds inspiration in the pages of Adbusters. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

Vallen finds inspiration in the pages of Adbusters. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

The front cover of the latest edition of Adbusters magazine, is a photograph of a surfer “shooting the tube,” that is, riding his surfboard through the hollow part of a large wave as it crests over itself and makes a tunnel. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I have spent much of my life on Southern California beaches… so I know this stuff. The photo is a bitchin image of primo, off the Richter, gnarlatious awesomeness (more obligatory surfer lingo).

But trouble is brewing in paradise. Beneath the eye-popping ADBUSTERS masthead that looks like a garish headline from a 60s B-movie sci-fi flick, a mysterious subhead hovers in the wave’s curl like so much kelp and non-biodegradable beach trash, it reads… Living Without Dead Time. It is a revolutionary proclamation from our past, and if we are lucky, from our future.

To unlock the profound meaning of the text, one has to read carefully while thumbing through the pages of the subversive rag and “art novella.” Hey, this ain’t no trendy, bourgeois gazette I’m talkin about here, this is a mag that promotes itself as a “Manifesto for World Revolution Pt. III.” Zounds! I think they are actually serious!

Adbusters contacted me in April seeking permission to reprint my 1980 silkscreen poster, Whatever Happened To The Future! The publication hoped to use my print in a “dystopic photo album” covering events in the 20th-21st century. Ah! Dystopia! I began to smile broadly.

"Whatever Happened to the Future!" Mark Vallen 1980 © Silkscreen print. Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Adbusters.

"Whatever Happened to the Future!" Mark Vallen 1980 © Silkscreen print. Published in the July/August 2015 issue of Adbusters.

When I was informed that anarchism would be the “overarching theme” of the issue, my ear to ear grin was joined with a sinister twinkle in my eye. Advised that the issue would cover, among other things, a “history of uprisings in the 20th-21st centuries” and an essay on “post-post-modernism,” I began to experience mystical self-transcendence!

I was simultaneously brought back to earth and thrown for a loop when told that Adbusters would like to place my image “right before the history section. We are featuring many old anarchist and situationist comics and cartoons, and would be honored to have your image run as a full page.”

Visions of Guy Debord, the Situationists, the Paris 68 uprising, and those brilliant posters created by the anonymous students and workers of the Paris 68 Atelier Populare galloped through my mind. Of course I did not refuse Adbusters request, which is why I am writing this screed.

Whatever Happened To The Future! has been shown at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, but Adbusters provided the proper historic context for my print.

Adbusters front cover, "Living Without Dead Time" issue. July/August 2015

Adbusters front cover, "Living Without Dead Time" issue. July/August 2015

Aesthetically, Living Without Dead Time is a poke in the eye, especially when compared to the à la mode commercial hipster garbage one finds on newsstands these days. Adbusters’ philosophy of art squares perfectly with that of situationism and its bugbear offspring, punk rock. In fact the publication is somewhat evocative of the rough and tumble punk aesthetic of L.A.’s Slash magazine, that “monthly manifesto of angry refusal” that rose from the polluted urban despair of 1977 to become the city’s first punk publication and an internationally influential journal.

Adbusters has taken the nihilistic graphic style of punk, and polished it up quite a bit. It maintains the punk spirit but meshes it with an overtly anti-consumerism political stance. In the summer of 2011 Adbusters championed a citizens’ “occupation” of Wall Street, and presto, the Occupy movement was born. Adbusters did not create nor control the Occupy offensive, but its contributions are undeniable. In their latest issue they announced they are “planning a #billionpeoplemarch in December” as a stand “against a world order which refuses to produce tangible action in the face of impending climate disaster.”

I do have some criticisms of Adbusters. I was an initial supporter of the Occupy movement, but soon found it rife with opportunists and social democrats. Bill Clinton’s former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, was invited to speak at an Occupy rally outside of L.A. City Hall; Reich’s presence only served to fold people back into the Democratic Party orbit. Likewise, the liberal political commentator and PBS host Tavis Smiley was also invited to address Occupy at L.A. City Hall. With a net worth of some $10 million, Smiley was firmly within the 1% circle that Occupy supposedly opposed. Inviting Reich and Smiley was a major political failing for an ostensibly anti-corporate movement.

When Occupy seized the lawns around L.A. City Hall, the campaign degenerated into a fight over the “right” to camp on City Hall grounds; opportunities to make alliances with working people were squandered over a tussle regarding camping. This can only be attributed to naiveté and a lack of actual working class politics. Adbusters excelled at “culture jamming” but hit the skids when laying the groundwork for political opposition against the entrenched financial aristocracy.

There is one article in the Living Without Dead Time issue of Adbusters that I must give an emphatic thumbs down to, a piece on the Euromaidan “revolution” that occurred in Ukraine in February 2014. It is a hack-job that does nothing but contribute to the jumble of Russophobic Cold War nonsense presented nonstop by the corporate media. It is a lazy minded essay that plays into the war hysteria that seems to be growing by the day.

At Airstrip One, a prole secretly looks at Adbusters before participating in the Two Minute Hate on the telescreen. Photo, E. Goldstein.

At Airstrip One, a prole secretly looks at Adbusters before participating in the Two Minute Hate on the telescreen. Photo/E. Goldstein.

The Adbusters Ukraine article did not once mention NATO, the EU, or the enforced austerity programs of the IMF and the World Bank. The article paints the crypto fascist Dmytro Yarosh as a popular revolutionary leader, when in reality he is the boss of the right-wing, ultra-nationalist Right Sector organization. Yarosh is on record as having written, “I wonder how it came to pass that most of the billionaires in Ukraine are Jews?” [1] The word “fascist” is used in the Adbusters article, but it is decried as a Russian propaganda term used to malign the democratic project in Ukraine.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr. and Republican Congressman Ted Yoho wrote amendments to ban U.S. troops from training a Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia unit known as the Azov Battalion, which is integrated into the Ukraine National Guard and the army. The Azov flag is a variation of the infamous “Wolfsangel” symbol used by the Waffen-SS. In early June 2015 the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the amendment blocking assistance to the Azov Battalion. I understand that this story broke as Adbusters was going to press, but credible reports of the fascist threat in Ukraine have been circulating for some time, even on this weblog. The Adbusters Ukraine article did not even come close to mentioning this.

The socialist stalwarts at Jacobin magazine have a harsh assessment of Adbusters. Published in 2013, their critique titled Adbusted poses some tough questions about the politics and philosophy of the anti-consumerist publication; these are unsettling queries that demand answers.

I am not an anarchist, marxist, or a democrat, and I am certainly not a republican. The only identity I embrace is that of dissident artist, my humanist politics are fully on display in my art. To be honest, I am happy to be published by Adbusters, my criticism of them not withstanding, just as I would be gratified to be published in Jacobin. It is all part of the essential conversation so needed at this juncture in history.

The final image published in Adbusters is a photo that spreads over two facing pages, in this case the next to the last and the final inside page. It is a grainy black and white snapshot of masked protestors on a nighttime street. It is an ominous vignette laden with tension. Hostage-letter style text floats across the photograph, it reads…

May love and revolution rise from the ashes of this dying civilization.

– // –

Signed prints of Whatever Happened to the Future! can be purchased here.

[1] Practice for a Russian Invasion: Ukrainian Civilians Take Up Arms. Spiegel Online. April 16, 2014.

I AM NOT THE ENEMY

I Am Not The Enemy - Poster by Mark Vallen ©

Poster by Mark Vallen ©

I Am Not The Enemy
Free downloadable, 11 x 17 poster.

Download and publish the poster on any printer that takes 11 x 17 inch paper. Poster available here.

Print and display this poster for solidarity, unity, and compassion, and to express your opposition to xenophobia, and racism.

– // –

I first published this poster in the weeks following the heinous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when thousands of hate crimes directed at Muslim Americans, or those thought to be Arabs, were occurring across the United States. Some of those attacks resulted in murder.

It was the case of Balbir Singh Sodhi that drove me to create my pencil on paper drawing, which I then published as a poster against hate crimes. Mr. Sodhi, a turban-wearing Sikh and proprietor of a gas station in Mesa, Arizona, was gunned down by a “patriot” that hours before, had bragged in a bar about wanting to “kill the ragheads responsible for September 11.” That murderer now sits on death row, but the racist xenophobia that motivated him is alive and growing in the United States, where anti-Muslim hatred and incitement has reached a boiling point.

On the afternoon of February 10, 2015, three young Muslims, twenty-three-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his twenty-one-year-old wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were found murdered in their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A 46-year old white man was arrested as the suspected killer.

Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha had been married for just a month. Deah was a dental student that organized free dental care for the homeless of Durham, North Carolina. He was also raising money to provide free dental care to refugee children in Turkey fleeing the devastating war in Syria. His wife Yusor was a talented artist and videographer. Her sister Razan did fundraising for a charity group that helped deaf Muslims.

It took days for the U.S. press to notice the killings while the twitterverse exploded with horror and outrage, lambasting the media for its almost non-existent coverage of the murders. Downplaying the possibility of a hate crime, the press has been reporting that the shooter might have killed the three over an argument concerning a parking space. But the unarmed students were found in their apartment, each with a bullet hole neatly placed in their heads. That was not an argument over parking… that was an assassination. I am deeply concerned that the media hems and haws over whether or not the killer was angry over a parking space or was actually motivated by a hatred of Muslims. I cannot image the horror and alarm Muslim Americans must feel at this moment.

The murder of the three young Muslims has become an international incident. United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said: “At a time of troubling tensions stoked by those who seek to twist the teachings of faith and sow division, these three young people represented the best values of global citizenship and active community compassion to build a better world for all.”

On Feb. 11, 2015, at a daily briefing with the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, a reporter asked a question regarding the killing of the students, “Does the White House have any reaction?,” to which Earnest responded, “There’s no specific reaction from the White House.

On Feb. 12, 2015, U.S. ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, sharply criticized President Obama for his “telling” silence over the murders. Erdogan remarked: “If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you. As politicians, we are responsible for everything that happens in our countries and we have to show our positions.” Erdogan chided, “I ask Mr. Obama, where are you, Mr. President?”

After mounting criticism, Obama finally made a short statement on Feb. 13, 2015. The president said the killings were “brutal and outrageous,” and that “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.” That those words sound refreshing in “the land of the free” should tell you just how deep the crisis of American democracy has become.

While Obama’s words were certainly true, they also smacked of hypocrisy. The president targets people outside of the U.S. for “what they look like, or how they worship.” In five years of his drone attacks on Pakistan, 2,400 people have been blown-up by drone fired hellfire missles. While the majority of fatalities were suffered by terrorists, an estimated 951 innocent civilians were also killed, including up to 200 children. You might say that the victims of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate were simply “collatoral damage,” but I suggest you take that up with their parents.

I do not know what more I can say. I will let my 2001 poster do the talking for me.

L.A. Mexican Consulate: Jan. 2015

Protest in front of the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate-General, Jan. 2015 - Photograph Mark Vallen 2015 ©

Protest at the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate-General, Jan. 2015. Photograph Mark Vallen 2015 ©

In Mexico and around the world, January 6, 2015 became an international day of solidarity with the parents of the missing students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college in Iguala, Mexico.

Vigils and protests took place all across Mexico, as well as in 20 U.S. cities. On the evening of Tuesday Jan. 6, 2015, up to 70 protesters in Los Angeles, California gathered outside of the Mexican Consulate-General across the street from L.A.’s historic MacArthur Park. My poster, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos, played a small role in the significant demonstration. You can view an article and photo essay about the demonstration that I have uploaded on my PATREON website, where you can also become my patron and directly assist in making such poster projects possible.

Twittering Like A Bird

Detail of hummingbirds from Diego Rivera’s remarkable 1947 oil painting, "Portrait of Linda Christian."

Detail of hummingbirds from Diego Rivera’s remarkable 1947 oil painting, "Portrait of Linda Christian."

I have an aversion to the Orwellian truncation and mangling of English words and their meanings. Last year Lake Superior State University came up their 40th annual list of words that should be banished for their mis-use or uselessness; words like swag, foodie, curate, and enhanced interrogation. I would like to add to that list the words twitter and tweet.

As a lover of the avian world and a keen bird watcher, I know that tweeting is something birds do. Nope, you can’t fool me.

Up until just recently, to say that  someone was “twittering like a bird” meant that they were inanely chattering about trivial matters. That does not sound like me, so I am certain many will be surprised that I have finally made the giant leap into the micro-blogging Twitterverse.

twitter.com/mark_vallen

Now, instead of long-winded rants and essays, I have to learn how to express myself with twitter-speak, 140 characters sprinkled with # and @ signs. Heavens above, Pablo Neruda sheds a tear!

Although Twitter has been in existence since 2006, I must admit to not appreciating its potential until just a while ago. Specifically it was the mass protests in Mexico over the missing 43 students from Ayotzinapa Normal School, and how Mexicans were using Twitter in response, that finally woke me up and won me over.

As is almost always the case when it comes to the truly important news of the day, I was completely frustrated by the near total lack of coverage the Ayotzinapa crisis in Mexico was receiving, not just from the mainstream media as I would expect, but also from the so-called “progressive/activist” news outlets as well.

Undaunted, I turned to Twitter, and saw how the students, activists, workers, and protesters of Mexico were using the micro-blogging platform to spread their drive for true democracy, exchange images and ideas, create dissident culture, coordinate actions, and so much more. Not only that, people around the world were joining them; I wanted to jump into the fray myself, and the only way I could do that was by creating my own Twitter account.

I look forward to using the platform to post announcements of artistic happenings, as well as news and links I find interesting as I research my writing projects; spreading the Art for a Change message to a larger international audience. I promise not to “twitter like a bird” over celebrity superstars and their lifestyles.

Whether you are already a Twitter user, or have been perched on the fence about joining - I invite you to connect with me on the Twittersphere. Please visit https://twitter.com/mark_vallen and click the “Follow” button to receive regular updates!

Art For A Change Patreon Project

“A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself”
- Jim Morrison *

Dear Friends and Associates old and new. I have splendid plans for the Art For a Change project in this unfolding New Year, and I need a little bit of your help to make them come true.

Recently I found out about a new website platform called PATREON, which is pulling together a community of artists, photographers, writers, musicians, and all manner of creative people; it allows supporters to directly fund their favorite artists. Patreon is similar to an ongoing art grant, but one financed completely by the people!

This week, I have publicly launched the Art For A Change Patreon site, where you can directly support my art and writings. If you would like to know more about my Patreon campaign and perhaps lend your support, please visit:

www.patreon.com/markvallen

I am mindfully launching my Patreon campaign now because of an upcoming significant date for all Americans and the global community, January 19, 2015 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In his 1954 sermon Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. King uttered visionary words for the nascent political activists of his day that were also amazingly applicable to the artists of the present. As a teenager in the late 1960s, when I read King’s advocacy of “creative maladjustment,” I suddenly understood the path I would take in life. As both an artist and an activist, Dr. King’s words hold special meaning for me:

“This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation: dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives: truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries: and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a non-conforming minority.”

The scourges of racism, war, poverty, and severe inequality that Dr. King confronted still plague U.S. society and the world, recent mind-numbing events in the news are proof enough. But where are the creatively maladjusted that King spoke of? Clearly, the artists of today have not met the challenges of a world in crisis.

Banner from the "Art For A Change" Patreon page

Banner from the "Art For A Change" Patreon page

The Art For A Change project hopes to nurture and encourage the “non-conforming minority”… but it cannot be done without your support. I have been creating socially conscious art for my entire career - and I have written this blog for the last ten years - all entirely without any outside funding or art grants.

Patreon, meanwhile, allows creative people to receive regular monthly funding to support the imaginative things that they do. It provides a way for creative types to be compensated for their hard work, especially when it comes to work that is distributed online and often for free. The best part is, support can begin at just $1 per month! Plus, as part of an artist’s community on Patreon, supporters (patrons) can communicate with artists directly and get special updates on their work!

Today’s admission prices to any of the major museums in the U.S., can run anywhere from $15 to $25 dollars per person; the entrance fee for two individuals attending a “special” exhibit at a museum is commonly $50. In the first half of 2014, Christie’s auction house sold $4.5 billion worth of overpriced artworks to society’s 1%. None of that has anything to do with making art accessible to the 99%, or helping the great majority of working artists in the U.S. to survive. It is time that artists and their enthusiasts take another path; by means of Patreon, the public now has a new ability to help directly shape the art world.

I am excited to see what we can collectively accomplish in the months to come. Many of you have followed my works for years, some of you have just discovered this web log. I greatly appreciate that you find value in what I do, perhaps as much as I enjoy painting, drawing, and writing about art on this blog. Together, with your generous support, we can do so much more!

– // –

* The quote from Jim Morrison came from an interview with him conducted for Creem Magazine by Lizzie James in 1970. Morrison died in 1971 at the age of 27. Creem Magazine published the interview in 1981 on the anniversary of Morrison’s death.

Carry The Names & Reverend Billy

"Carry The Names" - 24 hour vigil at New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 5- 6, 2015. Photo by anonymous photographer.

"Carry The Names" - 24 hour vigil at New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 5- 6, 2015. Photo by anonymous photographer.

On Tuesday afternoon, January 6, 2015, while evangelizing at New York’s Grand Central Station, the fire and brimstone preacher known as Reverend Billy was arrested on trumped-up charges of “obstructing governmental administration” and “disorderly conduct.” You might ask “who is that preacher man” and why was he Sermonizing at the nation’s busiest train station? Allow me to explain.

A coalition of activists in New York operating under the title, Carry The Names, decided to hold a peaceful, public vigil at Grand Central Station on January 5th and 6th, 2015. The vigil would be held to commemorate the victims of racist violence in the U.S. and to “bear witness with the names and stories of over 150 people killed or brutalized with impunity.” Most were killed by “legally-sanctioned extrajudicial violence,” that is, by those armed bodies of men employed by the state. It was at the vigil that those same men would put the good Reverend Billy in hand-cuffs.

Carry The Names was mostly promoted by social media. In Twitter and Facebook announcements, organizers of the vigil stated that “we will carry into the New Year the memory of more than 150 people who have been subjected to the tyranny of violence, in a country where racism and police brutality are pervasive. We will hold their names high for the world to see.” Hundreds of New Yorkers of all races and ages turned out for the vigil, where activist/artists from Carry The Names provided them with black and white signs printed with the names of those African Americans and Latinos slain due to racist violence.

 "Carry The Names Vigil" - Photo by Enbion Micah Aan/www.enbionmicahaan.com

"Carry The Names Vigil" - Photo by Enbion Micah Aan - www.enbionmicahaan.com

During the opening hours of the vigil the signs were held aloft as statements were made, songs were sung, poetry recited, and the names of the deceased were read out loud.

Vigillers never blocked travelers at the train station. Eventually the signs were arranged in neat symmetrical rows on the station floor. The roster of victims included Emmett Till, Fred Hampton, Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Akai Gurley, and Eric Garner. Interspersed with the names were other signs bearing messages of rage and sorrow: Racism Is A Deadly Force, Beware Police Brutality, Not One More, Stop Killing Our Loved Ones, Imagine Freedom, Who Will Be Next, We Will Not Forget, Don’t Shoot, Stop Killing Our Loved Ones, and When Will We Be Free?

Some eighteen hours after the start of the vigil, Reverend Billy arrived. Seized by the Holy Spirit, he began to Sermonize the crowd with a homily aptly titled, Black Lives Matter. Approximately two minutes into his reflection on racial oppression in the U.S., he was arrested, hand-cuffed, and frog-marched off by the New York Police Department to cool his heels in “The Tombs,” the Manhattan Detention Complex in Lower Manhattan. The Carry The Names vigil completed its twenty-four-hour run despite the arrest, disbanding at 5 p.m.

I know Reverend Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) as a brilliant performance artist who has dedicated his life and work towards social transformation using the arts. He is wholly committed to the vision and practice of non-violence, both is his street theater interventions, and in his writings. Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir are radical performance artists that stage mock revival meetings to deride and ridicule the folly of late capitalist “culture” in the 21st century.

The police maintain that the Reverend’s disorderly conduct charge stemmed from his “intentionally causing public inconvenience and annoyance,” and that he had been arrested “for physically trying to block a police officer from doing their lawful duties.” I think not. His arrest was politically motivated, an act of state repression designed to squelch the free speech rights of all Americans.

The Daily News reported the Reverend saying “I was handcuffed while I was speaking in the middle of expressing my beliefs in a public space. This is the most basic form of American freedom.” On Wednesday the police released the Reverend on his own recognizance.

In a message to his supporters posted on his website, the Reverend said that “I shouted ‘Black Lives Matter’ a few times in Grand Central Station and police rushed at me like I was a fiend.” But his note was also conciliatory, he wrote: “The cops can be reached and changed. That must happen. It will come from black lives and white lives being unafraid to talk to them in public space. That was always how it was. We have to bravely go to them and change them - and that is a strange transfer, like wrestling with very old culture.”

I have the highest regard and fondness for Bill Talen and what he does… though I am not in full accord with him. When all is said and done our differences do not matter, for we are kindred spirits. I will say the same for the movement that has sprung up in the U.S. in opposition to police violence against “minorities.” I shrink back from its naiveté and political disorientation, yet at its core there are incontestable truths regarding race and class in America. Ultimately, this post is not about the Reverend Billy at all. Rather it is about all of those individuals, who, despite the odds, work to uproot the poison of racist terror that continues to exist in American society.

In my July 2011 article, An Exorcism at Tate Modern, I detailed a performance the good Reverend had just conducted at the Tate Modern in London to protest the museum taking sponsorship from the oil giant, BP. The article included a short video of the Reverend’s antics at the Tate, which were nothing short of inspirational and illustrative of the powerful performance art Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir engage in.

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting the Reverend when he came to Los Angeles to perform at a local venue with punk icon Exene Cervenka. I covered the event in my article, The Burning Palm Tree Epiphany, which I concluded with the following words: “Talen’s love of humanity, the earth, justice, and beauty, finds expression not in dry political discourse but in artful burlesque; he speaks a language community organizers are by and large unfamiliar with, or willfully disdainful of - the vernacular of art. The conformist machine society is equally non-aesthetic, so, the Reverend Billy Talen provides us with a revelation - art and action leads to salvation!”

The So-Called Torture Report

vallen_bagram

“We don’t torture, we’re a civilized nation

We’re avoiding any confrontation

We don’t torture, we don’t torture.”

Ten Year Anniversary of AFC Blog

Artist Mark Vallen at an undisclosed secret locale somewhere in greater Los Angeles, 2014. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe.

Artist Mark Vallen at an undisclosed secret locale somewhere in greater Los Angeles, 2014. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe.

¡Ay, Caramba! Today marks the 10th anniversary of my founding the Art For A Change web log.

This labor of love was brought into existence on November 27, 2004. In prior years, I wrote articles that appeared on my website and e-newsletter, but in 2004 I made the change to the blogging platform due to its immediacy.

As a lifelong realist painter, printmaker, and draftsman, I felt compelled to write about the visual arts, not just for other artists, but for those with little engagement in art. Being an artist was not enough, it was also necessary to be an advocate for art.

But what kind of art? As the name of this site suggests, one of my concerns is that we remember how to summon art as a means of authentic progress, community, human solidarity, and social transformation. Once integral facets of art, those ideals have been severely weakened as the art world continues its fall into commodification and hyper-commercialism. So it was also necessary for this web log to take an activist stance.

There is another meaning to the title, Art For A Change. After surveying the paucity, artlessness, and detachment of today’s official art world, the name proclaims that art will have to be found elsewhere. It will rise from the ground up, outside of officialdom - it lives here.

The first post I made to this web log was a quote from the American photojournalist Dorothea Lange. Celebrated for documenting life in the U.S. during the Great Depression, Lange said:

“Everything is propaganda for what you believe in actually. I don’t see that it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you’re a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith, I don’t know, I have never been able to come to the conclusion that that’s a bad word.”

While this web log focuses on the visual arts, over the years I have made mention of dramatists, photographers, writers, and others who share my philosophy regarding art. Though I have not mentioned her before in my writings, one such person is the American author Ursula Le Guin. In a speech given by Ms. Le Guin at the National Book Awards as she received the 2014 Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 85-year old author described the world of publishing in much the same way as I describe the art world;

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art - the art of words.”

The Art For A Change web log shall continue to be a voice for those artists “who can remember freedom,” and a wellspring where “resistance and change” begins in art. In the future, you can expect from this blog a number of exciting projects designed to undermine the divine right of kings, both in the art world and otherwise.

Barefoot Gen & the Shadow Project

August 6, 2014 marks the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Aug. 6, 1945 the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people in the blink of an eye. Three days later, Aug. 9, 1945, the U.S. obliterated the Japanese port city of Nagasaki with another atomic bomb, killing an estimated 70,000.

Flyer for the U.S. premiere of the animated film "Hadashi no Gen." Anonymous artist. 1985. Collection of Mark Vallen.

Flyer for the U.S. premiere of the animated film "Hadashi no Gen." Anonymous artist. 1985. Collection of Mark Vallen.

In 1985 I marked the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombings by attending an extraordinary August 4th event at the Buddhist Higashi Hongwanji Temple in the historic Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles. Asian Americans for Nuclear Disarmament, East Wind magazine, and the Los Angeles Buddhist Church Federation had organized the U.S. premiere screening of the 1983 animated film Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen). Based on the biographical manga by artist Keiji Nakazawa, the animated film tells the story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as seen through the eyes of a six-year old boy named Gen. A multicultural crowd of over 100 people gathered at the L.A. Buddhist Temple to view the English subtitled film. You can view a clip of Hadashi no Gen here.

International Shadow Project 1985 - Stencil silhouette on the streets of Edmonton, Canada, August 6, 1985. Photographer unknown. Over 500 outlines of nuclear holocaust victims were painted on the sidewalks of Edmonton.

International Shadow Project - Stencil silhouette on the streets of Edmonton, Canada, August 6, 1985. Photographer unknown. Over 500 outlines of nuclear holocaust victims were painted on the sidewalks of Edmonton.

On the actual 40th anniversary date of August 6, 1985, Americans from coast to coast woke up to find that the streets and sidewalks of their cities had been painted with the eerie ash-white silhouettes of men, women, and children. The political street art had been organized by a mostly anonymous coalition of artists calling themselves the “International Shadow Project 1985.” The outlines symbolized those vaporized Japanese whose shadows were burned into stone by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Shadow Project organizers called on dissident artists to only use water-soluble paint when creating the outlines. With buckets of whitewash and stencils cut into life-sized human shapes, some 100 artists and activists in Los Angeles worked before sunrise to furtively paint more than 1,200 silhouettes all across L.A., it was especially poignant to see the shadows painted on the sidewalks of the city’s Little Tokyo district. From New York to Oregon, thousands of artists painted the silhouettes on sidewalks; nationally, 104 people were arrested for painting the ghostly outlines in public places. Shadow Project actions took place in 250 communities worldwide.

Ugly tensions are mounting as the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings are observed. From Ukraine to Gaza the smells of explosives and burned flesh are in the air as the entire world lurches towards war. According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, by 2018 President Obama will have spent $179 billion on maintaining the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons - and the costs are likely to grow. In the present day it is difficult to find any evidence that the International Shadow Project ever existed. Today’s artists are overwhelmingly quiescent, and the only “shadows” to speak of belong to the rapidly disappearing “peace movement.”

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Sources used in this article:

United Press International - Aug. 7, 1985 “Shadows drawn on Bay Area streets.
L.A. Times. Aug. 7, 1985 “3,000 in L.A. Protest Threat of Nuclear War.
Edmonton Journal. Aug. 6, 1985 “Streets bear grim plea for peace.