In advance of the president’s first official year in office on Jan. 20, KQED Arts checks back in with some of the artists profiled in our massive ‘First 100 Days: Art in the Age of Trump‘ series from 2017. To get a read on the artistic response to this administration one year on, we ask five local creatives what’s changed for them personally, politically and creatively.
Last year, 14-year-old teenage artist and political cartoonist Quinn Nelson made a lasting impression on thousands of people who picked up copies of the graphic newspaper RESIST! at women’s marches across the country. Her political cartoon in response to President Trump’s election depicted a furious girl in overalls and pigtails surrounded by the words “I, but young, fill the void with a scream to tell you that I will fight.”
All told, 2017 was a big year for Nelson. In addition to being selected for RESIST! and profiled in a KQED Arts video, the Oakland Public Library’s TeenZone hosted an exhibition of her drawings in June; it was her very first show.
“I never realized how personal my art was until it was thrust out into the public eye,” she says. “It was a little anxiety-provoking, to be perfectly honest. As of now, I have no shows coming up, which is probably a good thing. My schedule is already so busy with school and sports.”
Now 15 and in high school, Nelson says she’s working on her drawing skills and exploring new styles. “I’m studying portraits of people and trying to get a better understanding of how to draw the human body and face,” she says. “So far, it’s been fun and challenging.”
As for politics, she remains pragmatic. “I was never too optimistic about this presidency, although I never found myself being truly pessimistic about it either,” she says. “To quote Star Wars, ‘Darkness rises, and the light to meet it.’ Modern civilization has been perpetually engaged in moral tug-of-war for centuries. I believe that this is just another one of those instances.”
That doesn’t mean she’s done fighting. You might even see her at the Women’s March again this year. “The last one was so inspiring and empowering. I firmly believe that protest is essential to a productive society,” she says. “It would be so boring if everyone had the same opinions.” —Sarah Hotchkiss
San Francisco-based visual artist Mark Harris was already producing politically provocative art when Donald Trump won the White House. So perhaps it’s no surprise to read that Harris, who produced a series of Trump-related postage stamp art last year, is still at it. “I’m still exploring racism, gun violence, immigration and police violence. I’ve been delving more into the subtleties of white supremacy, and the role of whiteness and its relation to the social and political power structure in the United States,” Harris tells KQED.
That said, Harris insists his morale is high, even higher than it was a year ago, even though “the current administration is no friend of justice, common decency or honor,” he says. (Harris also faced a mini-media frenzy when his art was removed from administrative school offices in San Jose during Black History Month.)
“I think the collective shell-shock has worn off, people are waking up, and realizing there is work to be done to keep this thing from going completely off the rails,” the artist says. “I’m really excited to be contributing to the ‘waking up’ part.”
Harris has an upcoming show at Era Art Bar & Lounge in Oakland featuring works from his Economy of Souls series, which reinterprets the $100 bill (see above), and his PWT’s – Poor White Trumpers series. The show runs Feb. 2–March 2, with an opening reception Feb. 2 from 6pm-9pm. —Rachael Myrow
Nabila Mango, Aswat Ensemble
Last year, we introduced you to the Aswat Ensemble’s Notes Against the Ban, a concert protesting the travel ban affecting six majority-Muslim countries, and addressing growing Islamophobia. “The support we received from the various communities was amazing,” says Aswat founder Nabila Mango, citing sold-out crowds at four different performances in 2017. “So this year we are expanding on that by touching on the themes related to dreamers, immigrants and refugees.”
That concert, titled A Musical Refuge: Salute to Dreamer, Immigrant, and Refugee Resistance, premieres Jan. 27 at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland, featuring collaborations with La Pena Community Chorus, San Jose Taiko, and Vukani Mawethu Choir. (It’s sold out, but will be live-streamed.)
“This concert is all about solidarity between communities, celebrating diversity, and resisting the forces that attempt to silence us,” says Mango. “A year on, we are more determined than ever. The communities’ support has empowered us to stand up not only for the Arab and Muslim communities, but to stand together with all communities that face oppression and discrimination. There is no mistaking that xenophobia is on the rise and we cannot sit silently by and observe.”
In the audience at last year’s Notes Against the Ban premiere was Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, who invited the ensemble to perform an abbreviated version at her 2017 State of the City address in November. (Just this week, Schaaf made headlines by declaring that she would be willing to go to jail to defend Oakland’s sanctuary policy, which helps protect immigrants from ICE raids and deportation.) In addition to A Musical Refuge, the group will perform Notes Against the Ban once more, in Palo Alto in Februry.
Mango says she and her colleagues are hopeful for the future. “By creating a unified resistance to the backwards policies of the current administration,” she says, “we will be able to amplify our voices so that our call for social change and justice will be heard far and wide. We are growing, we are growing stronger, and our voices will be heard.” —Gabe Meline
In some ways, it’s been a great year for Jon Proby. An ardent supporter of Donald Trump, the 38-year-old California native continues to make outspoken political work from his home base of Oakland.
One recent piece of which he’s particularly proud is Modern Warfare, a painting which illustrates what Proby sees as the political and spiritual conflict going on in the United States. Portraits of Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Trump and other hardline political figures face off on the stormy canvas against the likes of Angela Merkel and Pope Francis — “people who have negative things to say about Trump,” Proby says.
We profiled Proby last year when he participated in a pro-Trump art show in New York. And though he’s not currently able to make a full-time living as an artist — he works construction to pay the rent — Proby does make money through commissions and selling prints.
Yet in other ways, the past year hasn’t been easy. Proby relies heavily on social media to market and sell his work, and says he’s “undergone heavy censorship” on social platforms. The artist says Twitter shut down his account after the 2016 presidential election (“I had to start from scratch and I’ve never recovered from that”), and Facebook has repeatedly banned his account for 30-day stretches.
Proby says that though his sales are likely to take a hit, he’s planning to move his operations to Gab, the social media platform popular with Trump supporters which touts itself as “a social network that champions free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online.”
He’s also had it with California. Proby says he’s nearly ready to move to Texas, where he feels the political climate is more friendly. “I feel like I’m in the wrong place here in California,” he says. “The Bay Area especially is backwards and resisting the changes Trump is bringing to this country.” —Chloe Veltman
When we caught up with him this year, he’d just delivered 4,500 posters to Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. for their respective Women’s Marches on Jan. 20. This year, he plans to be in Oakland and San Francisco distributing his posters by hand and protesting the current administration, which he calls “anti-democratic, autocratic even. We need to take back control of Congress.
My efforts are aimed at preserving our democracy, which is a very basic American core issue.”
For his part, Sperry vows to continue to create art for marches and other resistance activities until the current administration is removed from power. And he knows he’s not alone.
“I have been encouraged by the commitment of people who have spoken out strongly and in no uncertain terms against the ignorance, corruption and bigotry of the government in power,” he says. “The party in power has so debased its own values that there will be a reckoning from the common-sense American voter. We need to keep on the offensive, be seen on the streets, and heard in the media.” —Rachael Myrow