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How to Win #13: Learn from South Africa

Coming soon: This webinar will be on Friday, March 17th, 2017, 12:00 – 12:50 PM EST. Sign up for the webinar here. Even if you can’t be there live, still sign up so you can get the video recording afterwards.

While having an autocratic, erratic and narcissistic madman as a president might be new to artistic activists in the US, this is standard operating procedure for activists in other parts of the world. Join us as we talk with veteran South African activists Ishtar Makhani and Marlise Richter and learn how to navigate, and effectively operate in, this unfamiliar political terrain.

This is one in a series of webinars. You can see all of them here. You don’t need to watch all of them, or watch them in order, and they’re open to everyone – please share!

And please donate to help keep them free.

How to Win Webinar #12: Learn from Hollywood

Coming soon: This webinar will be on Friday, March 10th, 2017, 12:00 – 12:50 PM EST. Sign up for the webinar here. Even if you can’t be there live, still sign up so you can get the video recording afterwards.

Now that we have an entertainer in the White House, we need to understand how entertainment works. What makes a hit show? What makes a bomb? And how can we help the Donald Trump show “jump the shark”? Join Steve and Steve as they have a conversation with long-time screenwriter (Madmen, Smash) and activist Jason Grote and find out what artistic activists can learn from Hollywood.

This is one in a series of webinars. You can see all of them here. You don’t need to watch all of them, or watch them in order, and they’re open to everyone – please share!

And please donate to help keep them free.

To manifest life

Ryan Adams, a while ago

Ryan Adams, a while ago

You get the sense from some creative work, Proust’s maybe more than anyone who ever lived, that the author of the work considered everything in some sense magically interesting or valuable–and this is where language offers no adjective for what a work of art actually conveys, the isness of things. It isn’t that what’s being represented is valuable, or marvelous, or (pick any other available adjective.) It’s something else. What you sense from looking at a Van Gogh or reading Swann’s Way is how the individual who created the work had what the fellow I’m going to quote below called a total appreciation for life just as it is-with nothing left out, including the crime and the evil and the horrible suffering and injustice. Bruegel has this quality–there’s nothing that isn’t worthy of being painted, and when he paints it, it’s suddenly (again, try to imagine that non-existent adjective or noun). There’s no word for what’s going on in that transformation or disclosure that happens in art. Language has no verb for the work being done by the painting or the novel. Celebrate, affirm, savor, appreciate, cherish–sorry, no. Below are seemingly extemporaneous observations that attempt to express (bumping intentionally up against the limits of language and showing how words fail to capture what’s going on) the urge to create something that will condense life itself into some created thing, or (what amounts to the same thing) alchemically make something inanimate appear to come alive. In a way, the urge to create is something like the will to be so aware of everything that you yourself are fully alive. These are remarks from the singer Ryan Adams, talking with Bob Boilen in the most recent episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered. It gets close to showing how impossible it is to say what’s really happening in great creative work, in any medium:

You manifest a meaning from a thing to yourself, in whatever format, a painting, a poem, a song, an article, or a novel or a note to a friend or a drunken text or email or spray painting on brick walls or inappropriately decaling your car. You conjure this feeling. There’s this thing inside of human beings, this total appreciation of being alive. It’s so profoundly in our gut. Even all of these people who would seemingly be horrible people, somewhere in there there’s this longing, this reaching up, and in the right way if it’s channeled, there’s some kind of a notion in them of “I have to document this thing that I saw” that becomes these songs, or these poems. We’re all in the high school of life and waiting for the teacher to turn around so we can take that pen we’ve been chewing on long enough that it’s got a sharp enough end that you could scratch your initials into that ventilator in gray/blue paint over by the window. It’s the same thing as those beautiful drawings in caves, where you see pictures of horses and wild game they were hunting. That person that day was either thinking of how beautiful those animals were or how it felt to be out there with them that day.

How to Win Webinar #11: Recalibrate Reality

Coming up! This webinar will be on Friday, March 3rd, 2017, 12:00 – 12:50 PM EST. Sign up for the webinar here. Even if you can’t be there live, still sign up so you can get the video recording afterwards.

Why Recalibrate Reality?: Should artistic activists use our work to hold a mirror up to reality to make the invisible visible? Or should we use our talents to imagine new possibilities of what reality could be? Or can we do both? Join Steve and Steve as they give a brief course on the latest aesthetic and cultural theory, and discuss what artistic activists might learn from the academy and put it into practice in the real world.

This is one in a series of webinars. You can see all of them here. You don’t need to watch all of them, or watch them in order, and they’re open to everyone – please share!

How To Win Webinar #10: Make Your Meetings Inventive

Why a Webinar about Meetings? We’ve all been in a lot of action planning meetings lately, and some of them… are less than productive. This training is on how to lead Action Planning Meetings that don’t suck and are super creative and effective. Steve Lambert and Steve Duncombe give you tricks from their years of artistic activism work on what to do when you get stuck and how to conduct group brainstorming that works, and they’ll take your questions about how make your meetings better.

Email us at [email protected] if you want to run with any of the Russian interference ideas that the group came up with!

Here are links to things we talked about in the webinar:

The next artistic activist online trainings are:

Mar 3. #11 How to Win: Recalibrate Reality

Mar 10. #12 How to Win: Learn from Hollywood (Special Guest Jason Grote)

Mar 17. #13 How to Win: Learn from South Africa (Special Guests Ishtar Makhani and Marlise Richter)

These are open to everyone. Please share them with your friends and anyone else who could use some artistic activism ideas.

And here is the Magic Mirror!

Iluminations of illuminations

Sweet Kate, In for Repairs, Ray Hassard, oil on canvas

Sweet Kate, In for Repairs, Ray Hassard, oil on canvas

I came away from the current show at Oxford Gallery craving more excellent oils from Ray Hassard. His pastels are masterful and the latest work he’s been doing in Florida may be better than anything he’s done in the past: the way he captures the light so that it gives a sense of depth and even immense volume to the space in these small landscapes is remarkable. Yet, maybe because I’m an oil painter, my favorites are the oils in the current Oxford show. Like a number of other Oxford artists—Chris Baker and Matt Klos—he’s fascinated by the most commonplace scenes. Beyond the immediate pleasure offered by the color and the play of light and shadow, he conveys a sense of completion and harmony in scenes that invites you to look again, in a fresh way, as if for the first time at scenes you otherwise might not even notice. Hassard picks the least auspicious subjects: a leftover holiday decoration on New Year’s Day, a crossing guard brandishing a stop sign, or someone nearly lost in shadow cleaning and repairing an old boat in storage. My favorite painting of Hassard’s was in a previous show at Oxford, a small image of a parked pickup truck, a view one could enjoy of thousands of trucks parked in small towns and villages anywhere in dozens of states—and you would never give any of them a second look if you passed them on the way to somewhere else. The light, the color, and the abbreviated rendering with assured brushwork—he could have done the painting in a single sitting, en plein air—concentrate energy and a sense of ease in Hassard’s execution. Bill Santelli and Bill Stephens joined me at Oxford to see the new work and Santelli pointed out how Hassard again and again composes an image, like Diebenkorn, so that smaller areas of comparatively intense activity are clustered close to a top edge, with a more uniform expanse of color beneath it—a field, a floor—creating a tension between the complexity of form against an open void below it. Hassard’s real subject is the unity and uniformity of the light, rather than anything it reveals in particular. My favorite in this show is Sweet Kate, In For Repairs, his view of an old boat maybe being readied for another launch. It’s actually one of his least colorful, a field of neutral tones with a few small notes of muted orange, blue, green and a tiny stripe of red. In the foreground: a trash barrel with a loose load of scrap jutting out in all directions like a month-old bouquet, and a narrow, tall pylon. All the activity he depicts, the subject of the work, is just visible, pushed to the background, half-hidden in shadow. The worker, up on a ladder, is barely indicated, perfectly done, with a few patches of color, tucked away, almost out of view, like an Easter egg. The light is modulated gently throughout the entire scene, and even the higher reaches of the repair shop are dark but still dimly illuminated, with the darkest shadow reserved for small pockets of space under the boat. You feel the day, the season, a world in which the boat repair is neither more nor less interesting than the trash in the barrel—it’s all good and essential to the whole.

IMG_1100In reproductions, it’s hard to recognize how masterful Barbara Fox’s work is in reproduction. Her images of scattered glass balls resting randomly on illuminated manuscripts are stunning, not only in how perfectly she captures the behavior of light, but also in her handling of oil. There’s a double-entendre in that word “illuminated” in her work: the calligraphy itself suggests pages from the Book of Hours, but these pages are, as well, illuminated by an angle of light she returns to again and again, falling across the page, and through the orbs, from the upper edge—from above, given the viewer’s frame of reference. So these are illuminations of illuminations, and what at first seems puzzling and restrained, the way in which Fox paints almost the same image again and again, begins to feel like a disciplined, repetitive meditation. When you stand close to one of these paintings, the way Fox applies oil confirms and strengthens the sense of perfection she achieves—from a few feet away you have the sense that her script and orbs are as crisply defined as a hard-edged abstract, but up close there is a feathery quality to her lines and edges from the way her paint rides the fabric’s texture. That painterly quality is part of what makes the image glow. In one of the most impressive paintings, the largest canvas, A Sense of Possibility, a translucent ribbon falls across the page on which someone has written words that take a while to decipher—you see them from the front and the back, so without a mirror handy, you have to create a reverse image of the cursive writing in your head. Bill and I finally cracked the code even though we had to guess the two key words, given the angle of the ribbon: “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Happy and compassion are almost missing, but enough of the second word is visible. The words of the manuscripts beneath her orbs hide their meaning, unless you’re fluent in Latin, but even this wisdom, revealing and yet withholding itself simply by holding its curve, makes you work to understand it. As all wisdom does. Once you do, it feels almost like a commentary on all of Fox’s work: it’s a practice to achieve a stillness that serves as the home for that compassion, and the happiness that flows from it.


Beatrice Glow

It’s a long wave. I think of everything as being interdependent or part of an ecosystem, philosophically and biologically. There are urgent moments of crisis where the waves are crashing on the land, which are the moments that activists quickly rise to. But then there’s the long waves, behind them, that are holding a space. They’re affecting generational change, through educational, cultural methodologies. I see myself as being part of that [long] wave; I want to stay in there and be vigilant all the time.

Beatrice Glow is an artist and researcher who tells the little-known stories of everyday objects that have had a significant influence on world history. By way of educational installations, she introduces counter-narratives to myths that have been normalized by colonialism and imperialism. Glow is interested in breaking down the barriers that have been created by these myths, especially the social imaginaries that people create to understand others. She is a Fulbright Scholar, recipient of multiple international grants and fellowships, and is currently the artist-in-residence at New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute (2016-2017).

Editor’s Note: This interview took place eight days after the election of Donald J. Trump.

Sarah J Halford: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Beatrice Glow: I’m a diasporic daughter of Taiwan, born in California. I’ve been a guest of Mannahatta – this land we’re on [NYC] – for the past 12 years. I would like to think of Taiwan as a crossroads of Asia-Pacific. It’s gone through so many ways of colonization. Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, English…I’m in many ways a crossroads of that. I also like to think of Taiwan as a very interesting place in the history of humanity, because 6,000 years ago the Austronesian peoples left Taiwan on canoes and they were able to travel onwards and settle on the islands from Taiwan to Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Tahiti, all the way to Hawaii at Easter Island. All of that region has relations that eventually trace back to Taiwan. So, some in Hawaii can actually communicate with elders in Taiwan. That informs a lot of my ways of carrying forward and thinking about how I am related to the human beings that I encounter every day.

SJH: How would you describe your work?

BG: I think of myself as a storyteller. I take a lot of counter-narratives – the ones that are usually tied to colonialism and migration – and I find ways to weave them through into our present. Right now I’m really focused on social-botanical history; ways in which plant objects that find their way into our kitchen cabinets reveal so much of the formation of globalization. But I use easy access points to tie into daily lives and think about the ramifications that little decisions that were made affect the world around us.

SJH: So what kind of “easy access” points might those be?

BG: Right now I’m talking a lot about nutmegs; I think most people know nutmegs whether it’s through a holiday drink or something spicy they put on their coffee at Starbucks. I tell the story about how Mannahatta was traded by the Dutch in the 17th century for another island in Indonesia in the fight for nutmegs. That always sparks a lot of imagination in people to think that – what? That’s the founding myth of our island? I thought this island was purchased for $26! And I think that that conversation starts to unravel and people enter the story through that perspective. And then you can talk about really deep concepts such as trans-local colonialism and how everything’s intimately connected through the centuries.

Pictured: An assortment of nutmegs from “Rhunhattan [Tearoom]” – an installation by Beatrice Glow

I recently worked on the medium of: What is perfume? through creating this pop-up perfume store that takes on the aesthetic of a perfume store in a shopping mall, but through that I went over the history of each scent and plant behind them, and the ways in which they played really critical roles in the formation of globalization during the Age of Discovery. So, I talk about nutmegs and how that led to the trade of the spice islands with New York. I talk about black pepper – after the English lost the first colony of Rhunin present day Indonesia’s Banda Island archipelago, they went to India and said, “Alright, we’re going to conquer this market.” So that led to a whole other wave of colonization.

I talk about these domino-effects in a perfume shop, and that allures an audience that I find normally wouldn’t go into an art space. An art space presents this hierarchy, and in a shop it’s broken down into consumer language, which is I think becoming a universal, international language at this point. So, how do we find new ways of reaching out to folks? That’s the biggest challenge that I think educators and artists face today.

SJH: So, when people would visit the perfumery, what is it that you wanted them to take away from that experience? Was there any specific goal in mind?

BG: I want them, first, to have something that they haven’t experienced before: that you can have something that is pedagogical, beautiful, immersive, and olfactory all in one space. I want them to have an experience that doesn’t come off as didactic, but as a learned experience. So, I think that was one key that I wanted people to depart with.

We’re so tired of being spoken to all the time, and our optic nerves feel very tired of all of this information that is saturating, so how can we find other senses? We’re in a very fragmented moment, I think, where a lot of us feel dehumanized in the sense that we are just reduced to being consumers, we’re reduced to being receptors of propaganda. So how can we activate other senses in our body to realize that we’re fully human? In here I wanted this entire aesthetic experience; I was also engaging with smell that brings us back to our stomachs, our brains, our senses, and kind of activates that part of us that’s often neglected in institutional spaces.

SJH: What do you want them to do with that information?

BG: I want them to go to have dinner with people and go, “Oh yeah! You know that spice? Let me tell you a story…” And they’ll share that. I think word-of-mouth is very powerful, and imagination that’s activated is very powerful. And I want them to question everything around them: question the value and importance and weight of every miniscule item that they encounter. To become more active thinkers around how this plate of food came to be – the cycles of Earth, the water, the rain – how is all of that a factor of what you’re able to eat today? Including the truck that had to transport them, the air they had to travel through, and the labor. So, one has to think about a more interdependent ecosystem that we all are apart of instead of feeling that we’re all individuals that aren’t affected by what happens around us, and how little actions do have ramifications.

I think that is the power of education and cultural work. You know, you and I were talking earlier about reshuffling our priorities in a time where we feel like the work that we’ve been doing has not been enough, that we’re in echo-chambers [re: Trump presidency]. And I think a big part of it is that we have to reaffirm our question or change our tactics in a time of crisis. There’s a lot of people who want to organize, who are feeling very passionate to organize, do something, get on the street and protest, but that feeling of a revolutionary moment needs to be carried forward, and we need to be in there for the long-haul. I think that’s where education and culture is so important in terms of continuing the daily efforts of teaching ourselves and thinking through how to self-organize and how to do the groundwork in this moment of hateful speech that is oozing out of the media and hate crimes that are popping up around our country currently.

Knowledge as hegemony needs to be disrupted. I think more and more about the way in which the media has been trying to make everything into very binary relationships; we’re sort of flattening our conversations. It’s intentional. It’s also trying to make sure that people don’t have critical thinking skills and I want to trust that we are all capable of that and continue to speak to people in that way, trusting that they have that capacity and to nurture that at the same time.

Pictured: “Aromerica Parfumer” with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Chile, by Beatrice Glow. This exhibit took the form of a perfume store in the Mall Plaza Vespucio and explored the ways in which plants – and their spices and smells – shaped global history.

SJH: You’re currently doing an artist residency at NYU. How did you get involved with the university?

Beatrice Glow: That’s a long-time affair. I did an undergraduate here and after I left I went to Peru for a Fulbright, but I continued to stay in conversation with the Hemispheric Institute. Through that I eventually got involved with the APA [Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU] after many years of being back in the city and working. I became a visiting scholar at the APA for four years and the residency made a lot of sense – what I’m interested in researching on my own and the institute’s interest in pursuing ways of thinking through Asian Indigenous intersectionalities.

Given that we’re having a moment [of] asking some really urgent questions around environmental racism in this country, and how to shift and disrupt this idea that diasporic peoples are complicit in colonial society, it made sense to rethink our position as allies, so here I am working with them.

SJH: Can you tell me what you mean by “environmental racism”?

BG: That’s a big term. We’re in a time where resources are exploited and distribution is not equal. Often times people who have access to clean water supplies are privileged, and people who are not deemed important to society, or [considered] “disposable” populations – indigenous communities historically have been treated that way and it’s a form of erasure. That’s something we’re talking about. We’re looking at Flint [Michigan] as a water conflict in our country; that’s been a large part of what’s happening in Standing Rock. These are all just symptoms that have been going on for quite a long time.

Even in New Jersey we have the Ramapough Lenape people who in the past year said that over 9 people in their clan have died in their community due to water poisoning and pollution, due to toxic waste poured on their land. These things are dumped purposefully on reservation land or indigenous land to be hidden away from the “mainstream.” I think of environmental racism as social Darwinism, as eugenics, as social policies meant to reinforce a certain hierarchy here – white supremacy.

Pictured: “Lenapeway” – an installation by Beatrice Glow and The Wayfinding Project at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.

SJH: If you were to characterize one of your works as a “success” what would that be?

BG: Something that was very media-friendly was The Floating Library that I created in 2014 on the Hudson River. That had over 4,000 visitors – with no advertising – over one month. It was a pop-up library. It got so much press coverage that some days I had to do three interviews at once. Major media wanted to cover it, and but also when people flooded in they showed that desire to connect with [other] people, to unplug – I asked people to turn off their cellphones when they were onboard.

I think that what was so powerful was just being together. This sense of wanting to engage with other senses such as being on water, reading, doing hands-on DIY projects, having really amazing conversations with strangers that you wouldn’t normally have in a bar or on the street.

There was a lot of cultural momentum in that one month. I think that I would measure that with many moments of success in there. Such as, one day it was starting to rain on the boat and people would just come and help carry all the books inside. That was a moment when people were recognizing the value of books and of teamwork and that there was no customer service. I thought that that was surprising to see that moment of activation; I didn’t need to lay down the rules because it was about collective placemaking. I thought those were small moments that prove to me that this is a possibility and we need to have more spaces like this to practice being together with strangers and also trusting each other.

SJH: So, the art was at the center of those small moments?

BG: Yes, and I think the successful part was people relating to each other in a positive way.

I think the power of art is that you can be as in your face or as subtle as you want. In my work, I don’t think I try to antagonize people immediately, I try to approach it from a human perspective. So you don’t see my work in use of politics very clearly because I feel like you can alienate people very quickly. I think more and more in these conversations we have to talk about colonizers and marginalized communities or people who have been erased. It’s difficult, especially if I’m with people who either have complexities around white guilt or who don’t consider themselves responsible as descendents or as people who benefit from it. But I try not to antagonize people, I try to talk about it as a majority-minority conflict instead of adding words and code to the conversation.

I think it’s always about asking people to reflect upon that there is no hierarchy of oppression. It’s about coming to a basic place of: how can we move forward, acknowledging that there are these power plays in society. And I think if you can channel these conversations toward a point about how to strategize and be productive together, then people don’t take it personally. It shifts that mood. There’s nothing productive in making anyone feel bad about being complicit.

SJH: You said that you aren’t explicitly political in your work, but would you consider your work to be a political act?

BG: I think everything we do is political, even if you’re choosing not to participate, that’s also political and it’s perpetuating certain dynamics. Everything’s inherently political, I believe. I don’t use the word “political” because I don’t want that to be the only place that we can understand our ways of being. I want us to really understand, first and foremost, that we’re humans in this human experience.

SJH: So why choose art to communicate that perspective?

BG: Art is like a snake; it moves through different sectors. It can come off as innocuous in certain societies where art isn’t seen as anything that can affect change. So, [art is] a platform in which you can still say things in a cultural space.

I lived in Peru for two years, and because I entered in as a researcher and artist – and a young woman, I have to say that – people didn’t take me too seriously. Because of that, I was able to enter many different social circles, from being friends with the woman at the supermarket who sells juice and learning about her stories, to meeting politicians and so-called “high society” people who are like, “Oh an artist! And American! We’re curious. Let’s meet her.” So, I think that taught me early on that if I can use that role of the artist to allow me to weave through different systems and dynamics, I can tell a much more truthful story. And if I were to come in as a politician or say I’m a journalist, people will immediately shrink up or put on a mask or say something different.

When I did a presentation about Floating Library a while back to a group of scholars, one of them at the very end who was very instrumental in a lot of organizing efforts and Occupy, he asked, “This is something that we always wanted to do. We want this library for the people, a space of connection, a space of organizing. How come you were able to do it and we can’t?” And I just said, “Because I don’t use the word ‘politics’ so that everyone is okay to come around and share. So it’s a people-centered conversation.”

Pictured: Visitors reading together on “The Floating Library” by Beatrice Glow

SJH: Do you consider your work to be artistic activism?

BG: This is hard. You asked me this before the election, but how do I feel now? I’m still going to say no, because I don’t feel like I’m doing enough currently.

SJH: What would be ‘enough’ for you to consider yourself to be an art activist?

BG: If I’m actually having tactical strategies to change policy. If I’m actually actively organizing people or being part of an organization that wants to mobilize and who wants to do art actions explicitly targeting certain issues, then I would say that is a more explicit way of thinking about artistic activism. I’m not sure I am, given my work. Maybe it’s an old way of thinking, that activism is addressing urgent issues. I think those definitions are becoming more and more loose, that’s why it’s a hard time to discuss what that really means. But I do feel like, with my daily life, I try to carry those revolutionary moments into the classrooms when I speak with a crowd of folks about why I choose to work on certain subject matters over other ones. I could be making beautiful art objects and be very happy about trying to make a gallery sale, but I find so much more fulfillment if I can tell a story that has been erased from our knowledge or that’s just not going to make it into the history books.

So, yes, that is a type of artivism. But it’s not the one that we tend to romanticize – the one that’s on a revolutionary platform. I also want to acknowledge that a lot of activists really put their bodies on the front line and they make art for political means. Mine can go both ways. So, I don’t want to claim that; I want to give that space for folks who really are doing that and who really are risking their lives. I don’t know if I have those guts to put myself in those kind of shoes. Have I been tested? Have I been brave enough? But a lot of people do this kind of work not because they’re brave but because they’re forced, they’re desperate and they have to do those things. So, those are questions that I think I’m still struggling through, as a lot of us are.

SJH: But your work can certainly advance knowledge around colonialism or imperialism or national myths. Do you see it that type of knowledge work as an effort toward social change, in general?

BG: Absolutely. It’s a long wave. I think of everything as being interdependent or part of an ecosystem, philosophically and biologically. There are urgent moments of crisis where the waves are crashing on the land, which are the moments that activists quickly rise to. But then there’s the long waves, behind them, that are holding a space. They’re affecting generational change, through educational, cultural methodologies. I see myself as being part of that [long] wave; I want to stay in there and be vigilant all the time.

But how do you measure that? That’s going to be difficult because – well, time is speeding up – but people used to say that it takes about 60 years to see a change. So, I hope that by the time I’m an old woman I might be able to see a little bit of change, if I get to be lucky and see that.

SJH: When you’re creating pieces do you actively think about change?

BG: I do, especially if what I’m speaking on is on a time wave, but I also think about geological timescales and our relationship with land and waters and Earth and the non-human animals that also are affected by us, I think about all these things and how we’re so intimately networked.

A lot of my work is about social imaginaries. I think the media is very good at spinning myths about “the others.” Every one of us have made decisions around this election for probably a range of personal or political or sometimes erratic choices. We all have our way of way-making. But there’s also this myth right now in hearing people who are imagining the Trump supporters as a largely white-working class rural population, but we’re finding that actually, a lot of people around us have chosen him. Those are myths that we need to start to unravel, around why we have these “Us vs. Them” dynamics. There are also social imaginings of how Hillary supporters were too – from these privileged, elitist, coastal towns. Everyone has all of these names and they’re very painful and really divisive. They’re creating psychological borders and ways in which we can’t start to see people wholly when we see them as “this” political agenda or “that” political agenda, and that is a very dangerous thing.

So, I work with social imaginary in my work such as: how do words carry weight? For example, I’ve been working with the word, “Chino.” It means “Chinese” in a very basic way, or “Asian,” but actually Spanish-speaking Latin America has so many different ways of using it. It could mean 50 cents or marijuana, or orange juice, it can mean cat or ladybug – chino/chinita – and so through that one word I dissect ways in which a full etymology evolves and what we project onto this imaginary “other.” That goes into the conversation on smell – so all of that imagination, seduction, desire for something distant and abstract, and that are invisible things that we can’t grasp but really shape our public opinion around things we barely understand that we are quick to form judgment around. So these are ways in which meanings are things that get pulled into my work, where we throw them around so carelessly, where it can later be used to form policy. I want to get more specific into the words that we’re rallying around.

It’s also about love, which might sound cheesy, but I feel that it’s important that we do not let this moment poison us and we continue to use education and culture to plow forward, as many of our predecessors and ancestors in the field have been preaching for years.

Read more artist interviews.

Apply for the Johannesburg Art Action Academy

Are you an artist or creative practitioner interested in challenging public perceptions about sex work in South Africa? If so, please apply to attend our Art Action Academy in May!

In collaboration with SWEAT – Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce and Sonke Gender Justice, we invite artists (and creative practitioners of all kinds) interested in challenging dominant narratives about sex work to apply for a 5-day Art Action Academy to be held in Johannesburg from the 24th to 28th of May 2017.

Many artists want to create work that has a social impact. Unfortunately, organizing a successful social-change campaign often isn’t part of an artist’s education. The Art Action Academy (AAA) will help socially-engaged artists make their work more impactful and better evaluate the effect of their work.

Using a range of contemporary examples of organizing and activism from around the world, participants will study the ways cultural creativity has been employed for social change. We will explore ideas from cultural theory to cognitive science to mass communications. We will learn to apply these ideas through a mix of classroom style presentations and practical exercises designed to unlock our imaginations from the prison-house of the possible – and then to figure out how to make the impossible into reality, through new strategies and tactics. The workshop will culminate in a collaborative creative action on the 28th of May.

The goal of the AAA is not merely to impart knowledge, but to access, organize and operationalize the creative, cultural and political resources possessed by artists themselves. In brief, the goal of the AAA is to have participants own their method to further develop as successful artists and effective activists.

The workshop will be led by the Center for Artistic Activism and draw on the experience of SWEAT and Sonke in implementing creative activism in their advocacy to decriminalize sex work.

Applicants should be based in South Africa and able to commit to participating for the full duration of the workshop.

Travel, accommodation and meal costs for selected participants will be fully covered.

Apply Online by the 10th of March

This Art Action Academy is supported by the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Foundation for South Africa.



Bill Santelli, Untitled

Work in progress from Bill Santelli, for the upcoming Doppleganger group show at Oxford Gallery. I’m half done with my offering for the show, and the undone half is making me nervous. Maybe that’s fitting, given the theme.

Protest Sign

Leading up to the Women’s March(es) on January 21, 2017, C4AA Co-Director Stephen Duncombe was asked to write about a “political object” for the web journal HiLoBrow.  He chose to write about a protest sign he had made and carried at an earlier march.

You can read it here.