When Waging War Against a Fascist Regime My Art Fights For Me
On November 8th, 2016 Donald J. Trump lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. He became the 45th President of the United States. The famous Maya Angelou quote frames it best, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Trump showed us who he was when he campaigned. Trump showed us who he was for forty years before that. in both his personal and professional life. He’s a misogynist. He’s a racist. He’s xenophobic. He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. He is an admires totalitarian governments and the despots that lead them.
And he’s been in power for almost two years now. If you’re a person of color, if you’re Gay, if you’re a woman, the only way you can categorize Trump’s administration is that it is fascist and it has all the earmarks of a regime. Right out the gate we got a taste of what this regime’s modus operandi would be when it tried to implement the Muslim Ban. Since then the onslaught against our rights and civil liberties has been relentless. So what did many of us do in opposition? We resisted. We marched. We petitioned. We called our local representatives. We engaged on social media. It has had an effect. Oh, things are still quite bad. It’s a constant struggle, and there’s a word that’s constantly being bandied around that sorta sums up the times we’re living in: unprecedented. But I think we all can agree the situation would be worse if not for our opposition. But, as with everything… there is a cost.
I don’t know about y’all, but I got TIRED.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” James Baldwin never lied. Imagine that rage acerbated by the fact that Trump’s win brought all the racists out the shadows and into the light. Imagine that rage accompanied by new levels of empathy. I am Black but I feel the attacks on my Brown brethren as if they were my own. When Trump went after Muslims of color? I felt that. When Trump went after illegal aliens, separating children from their families? I felt that. When Trump refused to denounce White Domestic terrorism? I felt that. When Trump continuously denounces Black leaders who want to hold police accountable for the unconscionable acts of violence and murders of Black folk? All under the pretense of not respecting the flag, and veterans from a commander-in-chief who dodged the draft five times? Oh, I most definitely felt that.
But this level of rage isn’t sustainable. It’s too draining. Or at the very least, too draining for me. I had to find another way. Another way to contribute that wasn’t so taxing, that wasn’t leading me down a path to apathy. A good friend of mine once told me, “I envy the power you have to create meaningful imagery and that imagery can be used to amplify what people are feeling.”
Huh. He was right.
I am an artist after all; why not simply illustrate my frustration against what was going on in the outside world? Even though I’m not a political cartoonist I certainly took inspiration from them. The Medium’s own The Nib crew does excellent work week after week. They deserve all the accolades and Kickstarter money that they can get. One Nib contributor particularly resonated with me because we both have backgrounds in comics. Artist Pia Guerra is best known for being the artist on Brian K. Vaughn’s Y The Last Man. It’s fascinating to watch her reinvent herself as a political cartoonist. Her work is visceral and thought provoking. Next up is another comicbook artist Mike Norton, best known for his webcomic Battle Pug who decided to put his talents to a new strip called Lil’ Donnie. It’s really quite awesome. To its credit Image Comics is collecting both bodies of work into trade paperpacks. Just in time, before the midterm elections… go get ‘em!
As previously stated, much of my inspiration was coming from political cartoonists or comic book artists who have transitioned into political cartooning. I certainly have an appreciation for the genre but that’s not where my creative energies were being directed. If anything, artistically I was going in the opposite direction; an artist with comic book roots transitioning into formal illustration. Well there’s a master out there without peer who has done what I was attempting to and he makes it look ridiculously easy: Bill Sienkiewicz. There really isn’t much to say about the artist except Google him, you’ll be glad you did. Over the past two years, Sienkiewicz has gleefully illustrated Trump and others within his camp in the most unflattering light. Although his work is unapologetically left leaning and focuses on specific perpetrators worthy of his ire, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to focus on the issues themselves.
Case in point: The Muslim ban. I’m still amazed at how quickly folks came together to protest this heinous act. It was an inspiration and I decided to craft an image where immigration policy and patriotic symbolism conjoined. I’m not officially aligned with the Women’s March group, but I respect them and what they stand for. One leader specifically caught my attention and became a lightning rod for resisting the ban: Linda Sarsour. She would be my muse. Who better to turn into a modern day statue of liberty? I’d like to think Emma Lazarus would be proud.
So it’s official now. I’ve decided to focus my art [at least part of the time] to causes I feel strongly about and hopefully evoking a provocative reaction. Let’s face it, if you’re not simultaneously inspiring and pissing people off at the same time you’re probably doing it wrong. Trust me, not everyone was happy that I made a modern interpretation of Lady Liberty a progressive Muslim woman.
These days I sometimes travel in religious circles of the Episcopal kind. Various priests of the faith have commissioned me to interpret Jesus in new ways. I was encouraged to dispense with classic Christian iconography in lieu for something new. There was only one rule that was absolute. Jesus had to be Black. No worries sir… Oh, I’m here for THAT. With that stated, I never expected to illustrate a commission that would have Black Jesus inserted within a BLACK LIVES MATTER protest.
Emboldened by commissions that mixed religious precepts with African American injustices, I decided to turn my attention to a deserving subject. Emmett Louis Till was an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi at the age of 14 in August 1955 after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. Emmett Till is the child patron saint of the Civil Rights Movement. His death galvanized many African Americans including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. We’ve come so far, but in some ways we’re standing still… or worse, regressing. Young Black folk continue to die while trying to navigate White spaces.
Death due to racism is particularly heinous when it comes from the hands of the police. Allegedly sworn to protect and serve, law enforcement is too often the blunt object used to silence people of color. One of the most outspoken critics of systemic racism against Black lives is Colin Kaepernick. He knelt in protest. It was such a simple act, and yet so powerful. He used his privilege and his wallet to back a cause he believes in, and he’s paid the price for doing so. He is a true American hero and I decided to portray him as one.
It’s always been tough to be a person of color in this country, but in Trump’s America, things got decidedly worst, especially for the brown that are undocumented. The young people who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] are particularly vulnerable. These children brought to the United States when they were young aren’t considered true citizens. My illustration defines the narrative differently. And for added emphasis I replicated the word “dreamer” in a multitude of languages; from Spanish to Japanese, from Filipino to Haitian Creole, from Croatian to Swahili, I wanted the message to come across loud and clear. Dreamers ARE AMERICANS.
The United States has a long, sordid history when it comes to separating the children of people of color. The indigenous peoples of this land mass endured this indignity first. Enslaved African Americans had their families ripped apart continuously. There are documented instances of children being separated from their families in Japanese Internment camps as well. Now this country is at it again.
I depicted an agent of ICE exactly as I see them: As a predator. Sorry, not sorry.
So, has this work had a negative impact on my career? I genuinely couldn’t say. Possibly… It’s not like I have so much freelance work that I’m turning down gigs. Far from it. The work shown above isn’t hidden; it’s proudly displayed on multiple online portfolio platforms. Potential clients see exactly where my head’s at politically and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These are interesting, and dangerous times. I feel that we are in a pivotal moment in American history, a turning point if you will. I have no intention of standing idly by and endure racial regression.
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