The following commentary is one in a series from KCET and Link TV writers and contributors reflecting on how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future of California.
If things don’t go as planned and jobs don’t come to the Rust Belt, those who voted for Donald Trump may want to look to Latino street artists. They can ask them to share techniques — how to use paint as a protest tool, a practice that came from the barrios, where underserved villagers rose up with brushes for pitchforks and paint as torches.
They can get advice from those in underserved communities who have always spoken up by writing on the walls of their neighborhoods, demanding for better education and shared civic liberties. Those artists know how to operate under a long legacy of Chicano muralists and the visual conversations seen in places like East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, methods that reinterpreted David Alfaro Siqueiros’ “America Tropical” and expanded a movement championed by the Chicago Mural Group and Antonio Bernal who painted the building wall of El Teatro Campesino in Del Rey, California.
At that time murals became a representation of an alternative and real Los Angeles and redefined what art could be for a city. That work is ongoing.
It’s now all hands on deck to withstand a presidency that branded itself as a movement, rebranded media coverage as a failure, and keeps tossing in social media chatter to add complexity to “truth.” These realities all give street artists more causes to focus on. Of course, this is not to say every piece of art in public space must have intentions of protest infiltrating its composition. The world needs beauty, a break from chaos. But if there is a message in an artwork, there is an obligation to focus on an issue with informed thoughts, be it in murals with long-form storytelling, or the small pieces of street art that mirror assertions in repetition.
And it’s the stencil that may be best suited to match the masterful regurgitations of Trump surrogates who target, state, rinse, then repeat.
If the fears become real, count on artists to find ways to vent frustration through visual symbols in the streets. It’s a First Amendment right that is shared with the press, but has the privilege to send a direct message of grievance, and is stronger opposition when used with calm and robust thinking.
If voters from the Rust Belt, or from across America, grow dissatisfied from being ignored again and again and want to join in, a spot on the wall can be saved for them.
Top image: View of murals under the Coronado bridge in the Chicano Park area of San Diego in San Diego, California on Sunday, March 15, 2015. | Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images
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