Prefiguring Justice through Art

Spoken/Unspoken exhibition series uses art as a tool for change

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Eleven galleries across Santa Cruz County joined a collaborative exhibition series called Spoken/Unspoken, which illustrates many forms of protest art. Each gallery takes a unique interpretation of this theme by choosing its own concentration, allowing for different perspectives on resistance and social issues.

At UC Santa Cruz, the Porter Sesnon Gallery named its show Spoken/Unspoken: Forms of Resistance, focusing on protest art produced by women.

Nearby in the Porter Faculty Gallery is Spoken/Unspoken: Art as Response/Art as Catalyst, an exhibition featuring work from local artists created as a reaction to the anger and sadness felt after the 2016 election.

Spoken/Unspoken: Forms of Resistance

Angela Davis’ wanted poster welomes guests at the Sesnon Gallery. Academic, author, prominent counterculture activist and radical of the 1960s is juxtaposed with other prints in the show. The photo captures the broader message of the exhibition: the power of women’s art.

Some of the topics presented in this collection included farm workers’ rights, migration, female empowerment and indigeneity.

“You will see work that speaks to a question of women, or the way that black and brown bodies are brutalized by police, the collection offers really diverse perspectives,” said Betty Avila of Self Help Graphics, the organization partnering with the Sesnon Gallery for the exhibition. “What you have here is this collection of women’s voices that are speaking to different lived experiences.”

Avila is the co-director of Self Help Graphics, an East Los Angeles-based print studio, gallery and community center, that worked with Sesnon to create the exhibit. The Spoken/ Unspoken gallery employs art as a tool, because it’s nearly impossible to enact social justice without mobilizing art as resistance, Avila said.

Through collaborating with Self Help Graphics, which promotes prints and other art media by Chicanx and Latinx artists, curator of the exhibit Shelby Graham was able to pursue a particular vision. Though some of the pieces date back to the 1970s, all were chosen for their poignant messages about marginalization, which remain relevant to today’s political climate.

“I had the group down there help me curate forms of resistance, and all women artists,” Graham said. “It was time to do a variety of: how do you speak about resistance?”

Spoken/Unspoken: Art as Response/ Art as Catalyst

Just a few feet away, from inside the Porter Faculty gallery, a passion for social justice following the Trump election meets feelings of community that emerged in opposition to the Trump administration.

“[The election felt] like somebody came and pulled not just the rug from under us but the whole fucking house came down,” said Santa Cruz-based artist Cynthia Rand-Thompson, whose work is currently on display. “It was really like a punch to the gut.”

All of the artists in the concurrent Spoken/ Unspoken: Art as Catalyst/Art as Response exhibit are affiliated with the local organization Artists Resist and Respond Together (ARRT). The group was established about a year ago by founding members Betsy Anderson, Sara Friedlander and Myra Eastman — a UCSC alumna and retired art teacher for Santa Cruz City Schools.

ARRT is a loose affiliation of individuals addressing concerns facing their community in an artistic way, Eastman said. Their hope is to catalyze positive change in the post-Trump world.

Like Eastman, Rand-Thompson was also overwhelmed by the 2016 elections. She expressed the need to address this issue because it seemed like no one else would, but seeing similar artistic expression soothed Rand-Thompson. The receptive feelings of like- minded individuals gave her peace of mind.

“Art is important for social justice because everyone takes something away from an image,” Rand-Thompson said. “The other thing is that art grows on you. […] It bubbles away in your subconscious. Also it gives people a sense of community because I feel like anything that I am thinking or feeling, someone else has probably thought or felt.”

Those who have their art pieces on display are not only developing a community among their fellow artists, they are bringing together the many individuals who view and are inspired by art as well.

The series will be on display at the Porter Sesnon Gallery until March 17. It is free to the public, and it is open Tuesday through Thursday from 12-5 p.m.