Thursday, February 2, 2017

Art and the current climate

At a talk I gave the other day, someone asked if, given the current political climate – my artwork was going to become engaged in a wider political discussion about the United States. I answered in a rambling and tentative way (that I wasn’t particularly proud of), which led me to realize how important it was that I accurately articulate my position and thoughts on the glaring issue.

The first thing I want to discuss is my geographical location. I live in Australia. Social media has intimately connected me to a large community of artists living and working in the United States. So much so, that I’m physically compelled to respond to their calls to action – phoning senators, joining protests, etc. I believe in an increasingly global world, and while Australia isn’t as seemingly far away as it used to be, we are still isolated, which prevents me from joining in on action in the aforementioned ways, unless of course I buy an expensive ticket to sit on a plane for 20+ hours.

In light of this forced inaction, it feels insensitive to go about my day-to-day life as normal. I’ve been making work in my usual ways, but it feels flippant in the face of the large, looming darkness that feels oh so close 15,000 kms across the ocean. Making work is usually the way I most successfully communicate, however it’s fallen short in comparison to my lived feelings these past few weeks. In a catch 22, trying to make overtly political work about Donald Trump doesn't feel right, either.

I am struggling to define what I can do in Australia, as an artist, as a cis white woman who is concerned with the state of the world but too far away to physically join in on the thunder of protest taking place that is driven by people I admire and see working tirelessly through the lens of my Instagram.

For me, making token political work directly about America’s current situation feels insincere because I am so far away, and I don’t know what it is like to be living in the United States right now. I don’t know what it feels like to be directly persecuted by my government, and I do not know what it feels like to be a person of colour, an immigrant, refugee, or part of the LGBTQ+ community under Trump’s regime.

Because I don’t know what this feels like, and many Australian people like myself who consider themselves allies to these groups, can not fully understand either, the first important action we can take is to listen more closely and sensitively than ever – on social media and within whatever outlet those directly affected are generously voicing their experiences.

From there, I think it is also vital to use the gained perspective on global injustices to consider and take action in regards to issues that are closer to home. Due to my privilege I have been lulled into complacency with the ineffectual presence of our government in comparison to the bombastic visibility of leadership in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the issues apparent on our home turf are eerily similar to those occurring overseas, and Australian politics is in a similarly dire situation, particularly in regards to refugees, racism, and the treatment of our first nation’s people.

My plan is to use the pent up energy I have from being unable to physically participate in actions across the United States to partake in equally important causes that need attention in Australia. However, I will not disengage with global politics. I will use social media to listen and share, when appropriate; the lived experiences of those grappling with persecution by leadership in the United States, and the actions that can be taken against these by those able.

Finally, in answer to the actual question I set out to address, I will not be making directly political art that is concerned with the Trump administration. For the previously mentioned reasons, it does not feel sincere due to not being able to draw upon a personal lived experience. I do not want to make art that could be construed as tokenistic, insensitive or exclusive of those actually suffering. However, I will continue to exist as a politically engaged artist, make a conscious effort to take action against political and social justice issues that exist closer to home, and use social media to remain involved with those wider than Australia.

It is true that the worst thing any of us could do would be to stop making work and abandon our artistic narratives. While I will not be making overtly political work, as such, I not be silent out of fear. I will still be painting, drawing, collaging, and posting the results on Instagram, with all of the above paragraphs considered.

Artists in the United States may be struggling to produce at the moment in the face of persecution, mental illness, and emotional exhaustion. For artists in Australia, we must be sympathetic to this and use our privileged position of distance in order to keep creative thought alive. In opposition to feelings of triviality regarding the artwork I will continue to produce, I must remember that now, more than ever, as artists we must make work with inclusion and diversity in mind, and with social justice and human rights at the forefront of our necessity to push forward and continue on our artistic trajectory. It is this that will strengthen and sustain us while isolating those against us.

Minna Gilligan, Are you done with that?, 2017, acrylic and collage on paper.

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