Off the Wall: We Need to Talk

By Emily Conklin, Staff Writer

The arts represent a field of creative minds on the front lines of political discourse and activism, embodying the principle of free speech and expression. Some are also taking the lead in the opposition to the hate and questionable ethics of the recent election of President Donald J. Trump, exhibiting their frustration and steps towards action in the show “We Need to Talk” at the Petzel Gallery.

Hosting one of the most prominent Trump reactionary exhibitions on view yet, the gallery displayed raw, emotional works by artists reacting to the recent election and the slew of hatred left in its wake. Exploring a vast variety of themes from corruption – honored with a wall of hand drawn portraits of business barons from the Koch Brothers to the President himself – to women’s rights, immortalized by neon lights inquiring “What if women ruled the world?”

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Photos by Emily Conklin.

The pieces, diverse and nontraditional, make visitors think about the election in new ways and shed light on how the political shift has already affected our nation’s electorate.

What seems to be unique about this presidential election is its affects on the arts and the first amendment rights of the American people and artist communities at large. Now more than ever, artists, writers, comedians and other creatives are reaching out for sustained support, so that their work is not only seen but shared. Politically charged art today, as exhibited at “We Need to Talk,” is about sharing ideas and telling stories.

Pieces in the gallery space are bold, with no intent to be subtle or overlooked. Acrylic canvases announcing “LIAR” or red letters stating “another country” meet eyes with unflinching strength and a piercing message that viewers interpret alongside their own experiences and reactions to the country’s current politics. The artists in this space are reaching out to people unlike themselves in the hope that we as a society can learn from each other and find mutual respect and sympathy for the individual lives affected by the onslaught of Executive Orders, congressional legislation, defunding of government programs and education cuts. These creatives just take a different approach to resistance than lobbyists in Washington, taking up brushes and ink.

While we may inhabit the same city, have a similar complexion, or work the same jobs as the people that surround us, no two existences are the same. “We Need to Talk” implies in name and content the necessity of facilitating conversation, of acceptance, of love. If America can make attempts to unite in the fight for free speech, expression, and productive creative outlet against hate and silence, these artists will be on the front lines of the battle, pens and sketchbooks at the ready.

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