Protest as Art
SoLA, Los Angeles
Written by Genie Davis
Making protest into art, SoLA is currently exhibiting a graceful, poignant, and fierce show, Protest in Place, at the gallery through August 15th. The beautifully curated 60-poster exhibition is passionately of the moment, and at the same time, transcends it.
Gallerist and curator Peggy Sivert says “The George Floyd murder was so wrong – an urgency to act came upon me as a curator.” With the gallery closed because of COVID-19 restrictions, she felt there was an opportunity to continue the energy of the protests there.
“I had a vision of protest posters floating in space between the walls, like quiet ghosts of the actual energy of the collective protests that recently had so dramatically dominated our country and the world. This was a spontaneous idea put into immediate action because of our need to do something in support of this historic movement,” Sivert relates.
To find the artists, the gallery put out an open call posted to a variety of sites on Facebook and Instagram. “We spread the call by word of mouth, and had about a week to collect the posters and prints. Tatum Hawkins [co-curator] found artists with a soundscape and video of the protests to play in the background of the exhibition.” Sivert used “just about” every poster that came in, and continues to call for more work created by Black protesters.
Among the most meaningful works, according to Sivert, are posters simply stating “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police.”
“These statements combined to represent the entire BLM movement, which is a decentralized movement in the United States advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against African-American people,” she notes.
Other powerfully affecting posters include a silhouette of a Black woman with a single word, “VOTE;” and “a simple sign that has two numbers, juxtaposing the killing of George Floyd, 846, with the beginning of Slavery in the U.S., 1619.” There is also a beautifully painted portrait of Breonna Taylor. “It says so much about the injustice of an innocent young girl who was killed by the negligence of police — and to this day, none of the officers have faced criminal charges.”
The exhibition richly extends the message of Black Lives Matter, and Sivert points out that “All of us must do something to make a difference. We cannot stop working to eradicate the injustices that triggered these massive protests around the world. And as the late John Lewis said, ‘Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.’”
The show has been purchased by the LA County Department of Arts and Culture for future exhibitions, and SoLA is continuing to add to the collection of protest posters carried by Black protesters.
“These used posters may not be fine art or archival, but they are nevertheless of great value, both historically and for their urgent message to facilitate long overdue social and political change in our country,” Sivert says.
As a gallery located in South Los Angeles on the edge of the Crenshaw district, SoLA continues to create an artistic and socially relevant forum that focuses on innovative ways to assist the community. Their mission statement expresses their aim to “positively impact its local and greater Los Angeles communities by providing a dedicated space for contemporary art programs, services and exhibitions, serving as a cultural anchor and advocating for change by encouraging empowerment and risk-taking to artists and communities most impacted by economic, racial and social injustice.”
The Slauson Avenue gallery serves a predominantly Black community. Sivert adds “We are building relationships through outreach, collaborations and bringing in curators, new staff and board members who are from the neighborhood.”
Despite multiple threats from COVID-19 and to democracy itself, she says “The sensitivity of artists has been dramatically impacted by urgent social and political topics. We expect that contemporary artists will continue to make art that is socially relevant, even artists who would normally not be working in this vein.”
With that in mind, one of the gallery’s current projects is a Community Quilt project, “We Are Home.”
“Our goal is to collect as many blocks for the quilts as possible to be exhibited at the SoLA gallery and participating organizations.” The works will tour, and then be auctioned to benefit homeless organizations. “Anyone can contact us for guidelines to donate quilt squares that will be combined into a large quilt exhibition and fundraiser,” Sivert asserts. She asks that those interested in participating contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org
Protest in Place will be open for masked and socially distanced viewing from August 1-15; and will be collecting additional posters Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.