Though the encampments at Standing Rock have gone and President Trump’s executive order has cleared the way for construction, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline continues. And right now, it’s taking place inside an art gallery.
When you enter the Hammer Museum, you’re greeted by a huge mural of flowing lines in various shades of green, red and blue, intersecting at both ends of the wall. It might look like just a beautiful piece of art, but upon closer inspection you see names of banks on one side, dollar amounts flowing through and the names of four firms on the other end.
“We had the chart up first and when people walked by, they thought it was funders or donors to the institution,” said Andrea Bowers, the artist behind the exhibit. “But when I put up the giant recycled lights with the slogans, people totally stopped and spent so much time with the mural.”
It’s an infographic come to life in the form of fine art. It shows where funds from the Dakota Access pipeline come from. Together with a light installation and a wall of silkscreened ribbons, these elements make up Bowers’ exhibition at the Hammer Museum.
The exhibition, which is free to the public and on display until July 16, is the culmination of teamwork across sectors dating back to last August, when things at Standing Rock were gearing up.
Hugh MacMillan, a senior researcher with Food & Water Watch, an environmental advocacy organization, started following the fight against DAPL at that time. After a few late nights researching online, sifting through information on various company websites involved with the project and digging through SEC filings, he published a list of funders behind the project on LittleSis. It’s a free database and watchdog site by the Public Accountability Initiative (it’s meant to be the opposite of Big Brother).
“I kind of went rogue with this,” said MacMillan. Although this is the type of work he does for Food & Water Watch, this wasn’t technically a campaign of the organization yet.
From there, it started to get traction on Facebook and Twitter and eventually made its way to Democracy Now!, where they had MacMillan on as a guest.
Working with their own designer, Food & Water Watch then published their own infographic. It differs from the one put out by LittleSis in that it’s much simpler and easy to follow.
“I think when people see their own bank that they have a credit card or checking account with, just one line away from these energy companies, it hits home,” said Lily Boyce, the designer behind the graphic.
Other outlets started picking it up and you started seeing shares from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Mark Ruffalo. Bowers eventually stumbled upon the graphic. It would form the basis of Bowers’ exhibition.
“I was so blown away and so angry, but grateful for the information,” she said, about finding the graphic while waiting at the airport. “I was so into it that I missed my flight.”
Bowers spent about a week at Standing Rock in December, volunteering at the camp by cleaning rooms at a nearby casino during a blizzard. Although she’s been to other encampments, she was in awe of Standing Rock’s self-sustainability and the way the tribes’ incorporated their belief systems into the activist work.
“I came home and it really changed the way I thought about myself,” said Bowers. “It was such a magical experience.”
It was around this time that #BankExit was taking off, the movement to take money away from Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Bowers started looking into banks that she felt comfortable putting her money into. That’s when she came upon Food & Water Watch’s graphic.
So when the Hammer Museum asked her to do a mural, she immediately thought of this. She gave Food & Water Watch a call and within 24 hours they were collaborating on the mural.
“There were a lot of conference calls, a lot of emails, figuring out how to scale it [with the designer, Boyce],” Bowers said. “We wanted to develop a brochure that was educational and not just about me. We wanted to help people figure out how to divest, explain the organization and [guide people to more information].”
This was the first time Bowers worked with researchers and she came to realize the importance of research in activism, especially at a time when political discourse would have you believe that facts are relative.
And as a strong believer in art as activism, Bowers has incorporated a participatory element in her exhibition. From postcards to city council urging them to divest city funds from big banks behind the pipeline, to ribbons that people can take home with silkscreened phrases like, “You can’t drink oil,” and “Tierra Y Libertad,” she’s made sure to continue the resistance, long after the camps have cleared.
“It’s just the beginning as far as I’m concerned,” said Bowers.