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Art of Democracy

An Exchange of Political Posters between artists from the Bay Area and artists from Puerto Rico

In the past eight years, we have seen America steered wildly off-course: Abu Ghraib. Guantánamo. The Patriot Act. The War on Terror. An erosion of environmental policy. We voted in the candidate for change, the candidate that repudiated the Bush Doctrine, but where does that leave us? What is the state of our country, our democracy, our politics? The Art of Democracy is a national art coalition that aims to expand the dialogue on these questions.

The exhibition at Misión Grafica, at the Mission Cultural Center, is just one of many exhibitions and events occurring around the country with Art of Democracy. This particular show, An Exchange of Political Posters, brings together the views on what our democracy has become from artists from the Bay Area and Puerto Rico, with also a sister exhibition in Puerto Rico as well. Most of the posters are screen prints, though there are photographs and line drawings as well.

Galería Zapatista is housed within the Misión Grafica screen printing studio. As a working studio, the gallery space is small and informal, giving an almost subversive feel to the exhibition, but the nature of it lends itself well to the subject at hand as the tone of the show is one of anger and dismay.

Not a single one of the 30 prints portrayed anything positive about the current state of democracy in the United States; it is seen as a farce, a misnomer and aligned with violence and infringement on human rights. These international posters, from Bay Area and Puerto Rican artists clamor for change to something honest and fair.

These artists see that our politics have become something other than this. Take, for example, Eunice Solo-Ralat’s poster: a childlike print of an elephant’s feet and tail with, underneath, in child-like script, “Democracy: or something extinct of which we only remember the feet and tail.” Simply and plainly, Solo-Ralat comments on how far we have moved away from democracy, and the word, having been over-employed by the last administration and this election, has lost its meaning now.

Art Hazelwood backs this up with his image: a large man and his raised arm impressively fill the background; the man holds a marionette, dwarfed by the size of its manipulator and a few, even smaller, people gather in the corner, looking up at the marionette. It calls to mind, specifically, the Bush administration, though offers, also, a more generalized taste of government: we see so little, and what we do see and can know of it can be manipulated.

Many images highlight the association between violence and democracy, destabilizing the idea of democracy, showing that what we have is forced, coerced. Military tanks, handguns, machine guns make their debut in these images. Perhaps the most eloquent, José “Tony” Cruz’s simple line drawing shows the scene of a military tank pointing its gun directly at the head of an unarmed man from three different vantage points. His poster posits the democracy that we have as the tank, giving just two choices: to do what it wants or have your head blown off. The show continues in the vein, with simple portraits and angry protests, but only one offers any respite from the anger.

Rafael Baez Melendez of Puerto Rico made a very simple poster, very much in theme with this year’s election season, on hope through change. A series of short sentences outline the edges of the rectangular paper, leaving the center area blank, as if it were full of potential. Each of his sentences he took from speech by Luis Fortuno, a Puerto Rican congressman, inspired by his speech on change: “The time has come for change. This must change!...” In the spirit of Obama, the show ends on the potential for the future, for democracy in general and our country in specific.

Art of Democracy
Runs at Zapatista Galería, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts through Dec 13th
Gallery hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-5pm