The Art of Protest: Public Art and Scholarship as Political Resistance
June 16, 2018
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Through the art of protest, we reserve the right to express this liberty creatively and intellectually. - George Orwell
Artists and scholars have long been at the forefront of protest movements in the United States and around the world. Whether by direct action or through their work, they have been instrumental in calling out injustice, fighting for the rights of marginalized groups and drawing attention to problems both local and global in scale. In these fraught political times, the necessity of art that responds to injustice is never more urgent. On June 16th Sarah Lawrence College and the Mayapple Center for the Arts and Humanities will jointly provide a forum for artists and scholars to reflect on their own practice of activist art, and more broadly, on the potential(s) for art as political resistance in America in 2018.
This one-day workshop will begin with a panel discussion with artists Dar Williams, Mahogany Browne, Felix Endara and scholars Nicolaus Mills and Michelle Slater on their personal practice of art activism and the possibilities and problems of art activism as political resistance. Participants will continue the conversation generated in the panel in an informal lunch with other artist participants. After lunch, participants will convene in a generative session of their choosing with program faculty—Dar Williams (music), Mahogany Browne (poetry), Nicolaus Mills (journalism) and Felix Endara (Film and television)—further delving into art activism in their area of interest. Themes will include creating a successful op-ed piece in response to political themes, creating communities as social capital through music, resisting through poetry, telling transgender narratives through theatre and film, and considering ways that visual arts can help carve out a space for free thinking and resistance. The day will conclude with a group discussion on collaboration among artists/artistic disciplines in the service of activism and steps for moving forward.
This one-day workshop previews a ten-day residential workshop on art as political resistance planned for June, 2019 at Sarah Lawrence College. Program admission includes all programming and a catered lunch. Vegetarian and vegan options are available.
Nicolaus Mills (Journalism):
The inaugural New York Times op-ed page appeared in 1970, and since then the op-ed page has become standard in newspapers and online publications. The op-ed has paved the way for more divergent voices than ever to be heard. By virtue of its size (750 to 1,000 words) the op-ed is an ideal form for reaching an audience in the currently volatile political climate. This workshop will focus on how to interest an editor in your op-ed even if you are not a recognized authority on the subject you are writing on.
Mahogany Browne (Poetry):
This workshop is designed to investigate how our memories inform our poetry. We will focus on imagery and new ways in which we look at the body as a landscape, our dreams as a blueprint and our yesterdays as an almanac. This generative writing workshop will consist of five components: analyzation, discussion, writing, editing & performance. This journey will bloom new writing in an effort to create an urgent dialogue with our limbs as language.
Dar Williams (Music):
In this course, we will explore the things that are helping to build our communities. Using my unusual songwriter brain as I traveled for over twenty years, I looked at ways that towns came into finding their own identities, confidence, and resiliency. I call the guiding force of successful communities “positive proximity.” Sociologists would call it “bridging social capital.” Let’s talk about how our towns can thrive in the 21st century, creating both a sense of hometown pride and worldly welcome. I think towns and cities are on the brink of a golden era. Let’s discuss.
Felix Endara (Film & television):
WORKSHOP: What’s your story? Storytelling case study: Trans Narratives
In this workshop, we will explore the role of art and storytelling to effect social change. In 2016, a CBS poll found that only 26% of Americans believe trans people should be permitted access to public restrooms of their choice, and 60% state that they should be banned from the restroom appropriate for their gender. In 2017, bills to restrict public restroom access to transgender people surfaced in sixteen states. UCLA's Williams Institute notes that 41% of trans people nationally will try suicide at some point of their lives. That percentage, coupled with figures that count at least 25 transgender people killed in the United States in 2017, call attention to the urgency for trans people to advocate for their lives. Meanwhile, 84% of Americans will only learn about trans people through the media. So although trans visibility in the media reaches critical mass, our stories are our power, and so it is adamant that we are active agents in how our stories are told. Social justice hinges on resisting and repudiating the ideologies that underline our misrepresentations, and counters their real-life damaging consequences.
We will use transgender visibility in the media as a case study to ask questions about authorship, narratives and counter-narratives, and audience. We will review existing mainstream narratives of transgender lives using race, class, and ability lenses. What are the tropes and stereotypes that repeat? What are the misrepresentations that are perpetuated? What are models and strategies for shifting these narratives? While we will center film and television as the chief disciplines of study, the true emphasis will be on storytelling. This is an interactive workshop, with presentation, participatory discussion, and applying key takeaways to own projects