I have been asked to create artwork under the hashtag #artistsforlove, a self-described “movement” just launched by Flora Bowley + Kelly Rae Roberts. If you’ve been following me lately, you’ll see I’ve been up to my own collective art making in response to the dystopian hellscape unfolding before us in the wake of the election.
I want my little corner of the internet to know that while I believe the intentions around this call are good, and I always support people making art that’s healing for themselves, I will not be participating, and here’s why:
- The featured work is decidedly not inclusive or intersectional. On the two websites with the broadest audience, the core contributors are white/white passing cis, western, and relatively wealthy women. I’m committed to amplifying marginalized voices, and that is not happening here (which is unfortunate, given the scope of these women’s collective audience).
- Lack of Credit. There is no acknowledgement nor support of existing solidarity movements in the arts, while purportedly “starting a movement.” We stand on the shoulders of many, many artist + political movements that paved the way for this kind of work. Their contributions go unacknowledged here, and credit matters. Using words like “solidarity” and “revolution” requires a commensurate understanding and commitment to those concepts beyond the personally therapeutic benefit of making a poster. See also: #blacklivesmatter.
- #UnityBypass. The overarching call for unity and “holding each other” despite “different political beliefs” erases the lived terror and literal life-and-death experiences of those most affected by the conditions typified by our current socio-political climate. This type of #spiritualbypassing is dangerous and counterproductive. If you wouldn’t ask it of 1930’s Jewish folks, don’t ask it now. Discernment ≠ divisiveness. Criticism ≠ attack.
- Gaslighting. Advocating a justice-blind vision of “holding each other despite our political beliefs” without “holding each other accountable” creates an atmosphere in which anyone wanting to stand up to fascism is somehow not standing for love, or standing for unity. Let me say: you don’t have to hug your abuser. You don’t have to seek reconciliation right now, or even understanding. It’s ok to call out fascist politics for what they are, it doesn’t make you a less evolved or less loving person.
- Othering.The text itself is problematic, as it pre-supposes a white perspective by saying “I stand with _____(list of marginalized people)_____”. This “othering” perspective drifts dangerously into White Savior territory. Grouping such disparate groups into a monolithic bloc without offering any visible support beyond lip service is safety-pin level ally theater.
- Lack of Resources. It does not specifically name – nor offer any actual calls to action to address – the most pressing issues at hand: the normalization of fascism, white supremacy, white privilege, white fragility, racism, xenophobia, and voter apathy/lack of political engagement. My concern here is the message being sent to the predominantly white audience of these artists is: take a stand by making a poster and donate money, the end. Dismantling systems of oppression in order to have an *actual* impact on these groups requires so much more from us. It means we will lose followers, subscribers, customers, and even friends. To truly make a difference, we have to have some skin in the game. It also means we need to organize locally, support our local SURJ chapters, our local indigenous rights orgs, our local #BlackLivesMatter groups, our local #antifa groups, our local third party politicians, etc.
- Censorship. Thoughtful and level-headed critical comments are being systematically deleted or dismissed without any real engagement, and that’s just not cool. UPDATE: I see some comments previously not approved have been approved.
I get that not everyone is into, or even capable of, creating work that’s overtly rebellious or incendiary. I understand people need to offer many, many kinds of medicine for this wound to heal, and that not all of them will be as radical or as tactical as mine may be. These are just my personal barometers for assessing participation in group events.
I also understand not everyone feels the same alarm or urgency about these issues as I do, or has had the access/time/resources to explore them. I admit I am extremely impatient with white cisgendered women in the personal development / creative expression / spiritual entrepreneurship fields. But if you’re reading this, I hope you’re willing to grapple with the ideas of solidarity and intersectionality as they relate to creating visible work in response to the current political climate.
Don’t stop making art – political or otherwise – because you’re afraid you will “do it wrong.” Fuck that noise.
Do participate in #artistsforlove if it is truly in alignment with your medicine.
Just: be discerning before getting on a bandwagon of feel-goodery. Listen more to the marginalized groups in these posters than to people like me, or the well-meaning people that thought this was a good idea.
Understand the work won’t always feel good.
That’s how you know you’re doing it.
Then maybe make some art about THAT.
UPDATE 11/23: MIRACLES ARE REAL. The artists who initiated this project have shown a willingness to examine the problematic aspects of it, as well as apologizing for the silencing and disregard for the marginalized voices expressing a fair range of emotions from concern to rage. I look forward to seeing how this project develops in the future, and how white women with a large audience use their status to effect real change to benefit those who need it the most.
Well, that escalated quickly.
There are a number of really intense yet necessary threads discussing my critique over on Ye Olde Facebooks and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the ugly whitelash but the tenacity and severity of white supremacy and white fragility never cease to amaze and confound me.
It takes some guts to call out people you actually know IRL, and are in community with. Had I thought for one second that a simple email saying hey this shit is problematic AF would have been effective and heard, I would have done it. I’ve been trying to have these conversations with the leaders in this particular community for years, and since my post on Ferguson there has been radio silence.
And instead of showing the vulnerability they’re always on about and saying “Wow, thank you for sharing, we meant no harm but can see this could be harmful, we’ll listen to all the marginalized voices here and re-evaluate this project immediately,” it was the same predictable set of extreme defensive maneuvers, silencing through delete + block, centering the feelings and needs (intent) of those in power who are under scrutiny over the voices and concerns of the marginalized ACTUAL GROUPS ON THE POSTERS (impact), and an absolute digging-in-of-heels around the project itself.
There were some voices in the wilderness crying out, however (Lyzee Lynx I’m looking at you). And props should be given to Flora for the fact that the thread still stands and was not taken down.
Ultimately, I received dozens upon dozens of messages saying this was a huge moment, that it was a massive learning experience, and that white women are waking up to how the white feminist personal liberation creative expression industry colludes with white supremacist capitalist imperialist patriarchy because it does not actively seek to include and feature marginalized voices.
I can’t say this hasn’t been painful, but I can say that this pain is what we must work with if we are to truly keep fascism at bay. It is gaining ground. But so are we.
More will be revealed.
Another artists’ response to #artistsforlove:
How To Be Easily Be An Ally to Marginalized Communities:
On unity and white women talking about racism:
Some artist collectives that create work that supports non-dominant voices:
A great article featuring non-dominant artist voices: