‘We Barely Won’: 12 Artists and Collectives on the Challenges Culture Will Face After Donald Trump’s Presidency
Although there is a general mood of optimism, some artists are holding onto their skepticism.
With Joseph Biden’s win in the US presidential election secured, artists are now starting to look forward to what happens next.
Some are optimistic, especially about Kamala Harris’s historic win as not only the first woman, but also the first person of Asian descent and the first Black person to become vice president.
But there is also a healthy amount of skepticism in the air, especially in light of President Donald Trump’s contestation of the election results and his attempts to stall the transfer of power.
We asked a dozen artists about their feelings, and here’s what they had to tell us.
Gretchen Andrew, artist
Well, first off, you’re welcome. Having manifested the Next American President I personally wanted, it is not the first time my vision boards have transcended the canvas and Google and ended up real.
But more important than the president-elect, I see Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as a real-life vision board. Just as in my work I visualize and create futures that have not yet happened, her election helps millions around the world visualize and see a future for women and women of color they previously had to rely on their imaginations to hope for. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek nature of her comment that Joe Biden had to have “audacity” to select a woman as his VP. Clearly, it was something that both believed was possible, and now we all get to benefit from a vision moving from hope to reality. It’s exactly the sort of energy my practice depends on.
Robin Bell, founder of Bell Visuals
I think in some ways we’re not out of the woods. Until Trump is actually out, we still [need to be] vigilant. On the ground here in Washington, DC, we’re not taking any of this for granted. They’re going to do whatever they can. I still think we barely won. There are so many people who voted for Trump, it shows how much we have our work cut out for us.
We were doing projections before Trump and we’ll do them after. But we’re still in the middle of something. I’ve been thinking about the New Objectivity [movement], after World War I. It was right after the pandemic in 1917, and I feel like that’s similar to the feeling I have now. Historically thinking, after pandemics, because of economic crashes, countries go to war. So I think we’re going to have to shift from going against a Trump world to creating an anti-war movement. The next step is going to be hard to visualize. It didn’t start with Trump and it’s not going to end with him.
Diana Weymar, artist
The election of Joe Biden does not resolve the many challenges this country faces. It’s the same car with a new driver. How will he drive? How bumpy will the road be? What are the conditions under which he is leading? How important will it be to protest the Biden administration? I see art continuing to fight for awareness and self-expression. It has become a habit for so many. This impulse to react with creativity will continue to be important. The greatest concern I have, and I hope art will address, is that we have stopped understanding each other. That will not change with Biden as president. With Trump out of the spotlight, I hope we can take a deeper look at each other and ourselves. I can easily see art going inwards, addressing the systemic challenges we face. We will have to reach across the aisle as well. Can we make art that is less polarizing? Can we have more empathy?
INDECLINE, artist and activist group
We at INDECLINE understand the vital importance of accountability and precedents. We know what happens after the celebrations are over and incoming administrations continue to push the agendas of the ones they replaced. INDECLINE is committed to holding not just these politicians accountable for their actions, but also the people responsible for voting them into office.
Oftentimes, people in power find themselves in a position to create and implement new precedents, but INDECLINE has always been vigilant and committed to killing those precedents when the time arises using resistance art as our weapon. Voting may be the easiest thing you can do as an American citizen, but it’s not the only thing you should do. The first step does not complete the journey. Keep fighting.
Susan Chen, artist
I’m feeling incredibly inspired and empowered by this election! We have our first female vice-president elect! And of Blasian decent! Seeing is believing!
There have been many studies that show what a large positive psychological impact there is when you’re able to see more of yourself, especially for young kids. It’s a beautiful moment for young girls across the country and world.
I believe Kamala is going to help us adjust the way we view women in power in a positive light. Girls no longer just wear pink and play with dolls, nor boys only in blue with Legos. This is a time for us to be open to tossing traditional gender norms. Girls can be anything they want, including president!
What Joe Biden did by choosing Kamala is an example of how he used his position of white male privilege to bring someone else up with him, and this is really important. If we can all bring someone in a more socially disadvantaged position up with us, we are bound for a more socially just world, which, I think, is what human evolution is ultimately all about.
Andres Serrano, artist
I hope everything goes in the right direction, that is to say, the opposite of Trump. Donald Trump was allowed to say everything that popped into his head, no matter how vile or criminal. He and his cohorts were treated with impunity. In our quest to right his wrongs, I hope we don’t do the opposite and go after our own. Freedom of expression is not only for those in power, it’s for everyone. Art is not the enemy. It never was.
Guerrilla Girls, activist group
Art in the US will always thrive because artists can’t be held back. But the US art system won’t change until museums give decent wages and benefits to all their employees, develop meaningful diversity policies, stop trying to bust unions, and kick corrupt billionaire donors off their boards of directors!
Marilyn Minter, artist
I always wonder how people can fall for dictators, especially unhinged ones like Trump and Hitler. Doesn’t it feel like we learned nothing from fascism in the 20th century? It seems like every generation has to learn all over again, from firsthand experience. And we are still not out of the woods yet.
The whole world is going to change when we come out of the pandemic [and enter the] post-Trump era. Hopefully, we learn to be kinder to the planet, as mother earth has shown us that she fights back.
[John] Baldessari said that “great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings.” I agree.
Deb Kass, artist
For those of us whose work engages with political realities and the unfinished work of imagining full equality, a more perfect union, and E Pluribus Unum, the work continues. For the first time in four years, democracy and everything we hold dear, including our lives, is [not] on the verge of total annihilation because of a dumb spoiled brat, the depraved failure named Donald Trump, a man who, in the most extreme way imaginable, embodies the corruption and pathology of privilege.
Take a step back from the edge. Breathe. Be as terrified as you should be and never forget how close we came. Complacency is not an option. The work goes on.
Hank Willis Thomas, artist
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to be humble and not to project too far into the future about what other people might do. One love.
Judith Bernstein, artist
At this moment, I think people will just want Trump to [disappear] so we don’t have to hear about him anymore. But unfortunately, he’s not going to evaporate. Trump won’t let it happen, and neither will his reactionary supporters.
Biden’s win doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods. There will be many continual problems with the coronavirus, with the economy, and with systemic racial inequality. The Senate and Congress and the courts will have a stranglehold on current events. And the big elephant in the room will continue to be Trump, literally and figuratively. Like Dracula, Count Trump could resurface. There’s already talk of him running in 2024. It’s important that artists stay vigilant and keep this from happening.
Michele Pred, artist
Before the 2016 election, there were very few artists actively creating political artwork. I started making “Vote” purses in the spring of 2016 to encourage women to vote in the election. At the time, there was barely any “Get Out the Vote” art messaging. This year, everything changed. Thousands of artists, designers, musicians, etc., have been encouraging people to vote. This level of engagement thrills me to no end.
I believe more artists understand the impact their art has on creating change in our society and world, and there is much more collaboration between artists. I have seen the effects of the parades I’ve been organizing for the last four years, and now I’m collaborating with the Wide Awakes to create an even more significant impact nationwide. As artists, we now understand that we are cultural first responders, and it is our civic responsibility to respond in real time. Art must be democratic and accessible to all people.
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