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Trump’s presidency has already ignited the art world

Art imitates life in a creative combustion

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Donald Trump’s presidential election has been met with a mixture of emotional reactions from within the US and around the world. Aside from his impact in social and political arenas like the economy, environment, and immigration, Trump has also sparked an explosive movement among the art, music, and creative industries. From well-known political artists like Ai Weiwei, to anonymous street artists, Donald Trump has become the subject of a widespread rise in politically charged artwork.

Trump’s inauguration was met with nationwide protest, including the Women’s March on Washington and the J20 Art Strike. An integral part of political protest has always been the art that symbolises and supports it. The protest art began from day one with Shepard Fairey, a contemporary artist, activist and founder of street wear label OBEY responding to the inauguration with a series of posters entitled ‘We The People’. The posters depict representations of American minority groups—arguably the most vulnerable people under Trump’s administration, with slogans like “protect each other” and “defend dignity”. As Trump’s presidency has progressed, so too has Fairey’s anti-Trump oeuvre. Fairey’s collaboration with the godfather of political art, Ai Weiwei, marked 100 days of Trump’s presidency with a series of skateboard designs taking direct aim at the leader’s impact on nationwide ignorance, sexism, xenophobia, and racism.

Anti-Trump street art hasn’t just been limited to posters and paste-ups. An anonymous artist collective known as the Art Finksters have also commemorated 100 days of presidency by placing golden toilets emblazoned with the words “Take a Trump!” in cities like LA, Miami, and Austin. The toilets are marked with stencils of a pig wearing a crown, described by the Art Finksters as a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm—a novel which coincidentally skyrocketed to the top of Amazon US’s bestseller list in the week of Trump’s inauguration.

Gold, pigs, and Orwellian references seem to be a recurring theme in anti-Trump artwork, with plans brewing for an installation of golden flying pigs to be set up outside Chicago’s Trump Tower in a project designed by architect Jeffrey Roberts. If city approval and Roberts’ fundraising goals are successful, the piece titled Flying Pigs on Parade, will see four 30 by 15 foot pigs disguise Trump’s name at the front of the building for a day. Gold has always been used as a symbol of wealth, status and opulence, however in this work Roberts uses the colour to make fun of Trump and his tacky pre-presidency habit of stamping his name across his many real estate properties.

As diverse and widespread as anti-Trump artwork has been on the streets, it has also made its way into spaces not traditionally associated with protest and political resistance. The J20 Art Strike called on galleries, museums, concert halls and theatres to shut down and act in solidarity to resist the “normalization of Trumpism” on the day of the inauguration. A month later, the Davis Museum in Massachusetts removed or covered around 120 works and replaced them with signs reading “made by an immigrant”—a direct response to Trump’s controversial immigration policies. This year’s Frieze New York art fair has also presented an artistic reflection of the political climate, with several works alluding to as well as directly addressing the effects of Trump’s presidency. Andres Serrano, best known for his controversial work Piss Christ, exhibited a portrait photograph of Trump alongside Snoop Dogg. The purpose was to reduce Trump’s status, significance, and authority to the same level as the Californian rapper, although many may actually be offended by the lowering of Snoop’s status to the level of Donald Trump. Also featured at the Frieze was Llyn Foulkes’ work ‘Night Train’, a seemingly inoffensive landscape work, which upon closer inspection depicts Trump pointing at a Goldman Sachs logo. The work also includes an eery field of white crosses, as well as a wooden post with the artists’ initials written in a way that is suspiciously close to resembling a swastika.

Political change, unrest, and resistance have always been met by artwork that seeks to dissect, interpret, and sometimes cope with it. Since his rise to power, anti-Trump artwork has surfaced as a movement that artistically reflects the current political climate and the struggles of people within it. The movement brings together artists from all industries, countries, and walks of life, and presents a universal tone of opposition among those disaffected by Trump’s presidency.

  • Words: Ikumi Cooray

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