“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” – John Lewis
In times when passions and fears run high, it is inevitable that art must emerge; it speaks to our hearts in ways that words may fail us. The 2020 election may be forever remembered as one of the most divisive and fraught in our lifetimes. News cycles amplify threats of foreign interference and voter suppression and create larger and larger barriers between citizens and the voting box.
Artists, deeply influenced by culture, respond on all fronts, and the issue of voting is only one of these fronts. Sometimes we forget that, because a person writes a beloved song or acts in a favorite movie, he or she is not precluded from having feelings or opinions and issues that drive them forward. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” Picasso’s “Guernica,” and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, begat Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World,” Keith Haring’s “Ignorance = Fear,” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’, The Water Dancer. This year, artists across the globe are using their mediums to urge all citizens to use their hard-earned right to vote.
“Remember This”, 2020 by Amir H. Fallah via the New York Times
In California, the Institute of Contemporary Art San José is utilizing its otherwise-shuttered building as a polling location. Not only will this allow the public to see the art inside, but it will also highlight a piece commissioned by Iranian-born artist Amir H. Fallah. His 50-foot vinyl mural, titled “Remember This,” includes text like: “REMEMBER MY CHILD NOWHERE IS SAFE,” “THEY WILL SMILE TO YOUR FACE,” and “NO GODS NO MASTERS.” Fallah said that, as people enter the polling place, “I want them to think about what their vote means, how it affects everyone and everything around them.”
Americans for the Arts Action Fund created a “Make Your Vote Count” campaign using artwork designed by Shepard Fairey. He designed voter fact sheets for each state and U.S. territory that provide deadlines and guidelines for in-person voting, early voting, and voting by mail. The non-profit organization realized that, between COVID-19 dangers and changes in the voting system, voters should be encouraged to know the rules and the candidates that affect their state and district. Fairey said, “…art connects people to their true humanity and their best selves, allowing them to express their unique vision and connect with other humans.”
Fairey is also involved in an initiative called Artists Band Together, which invited 15 artists, including Alex Israel, Xavier Schipani, Christine Sun Kim, and Jenny Holzer, to create limited-edition bandanas – with 100% of the proceeds supporting organizations that educate, register, and mobilize voters. The artists’ designs are meant to target young people, first-time voters, and historically disenfranchised communities of color. The bandanas will be released exclusively on eBay and can be bid on through November 1, 2020.
A non-partisan initiative called Plan Your Vote, in partnership with Vote.org, invited artists to create images encouraging citizens to show up to the polls or otherwise get involved in the political and voting process. The two organizations formed an alliance of artists and organizations to create a digital library of voting materials and artwork – what they are calling “voting advocacy artworks.” Their database includes information on how to register to vote, where to find your polling place, and offers tools to utilize on social media. The site lets visitors set reminders for important dates – specifically election day. The library of artwork, including pieces from Katherine Bernhardt, Michael Stipe, the Guerilla Girls, Patti Smith, and Sam Taylor Johnson, is free to download and ready to use on websites and social media platforms.
Art, poetry, and literature can touch and move the human heart in ways that nothing else can.
As Gerhard Richter expressed in 1982, “Art is the highest form of hope.”