Slice of Life

Syracuse artists take action in the age of Trump

Taylor Rogers cut off an entire ponytail of hair in order to look more like President-elect Donald Trump — or Donny, as she calls him.

When Rogers finds something she truly cares about, she fully commits.

As part of a final project from an art class last semester, Rogers, a sophomore studio art major, created a video in the style of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” a film that condemned the rise of Adolf Hitler and what he stood for. Roger’s version uses the same speech from the film, but she does it dressed as Trump, her now short hair slicked back and with fake tan all over her face.

“I wanted to show people the similarity between Hitler’s rise to power and how Donny has risen,” Rogers said.

Many artists with a left-lean have become hyperaware of issues within the United States since Trump first began to gain traction in the political sphere. As the disbelief of his election begins to calm, more artists, including those who never identified as political, have reacted through the means they know best — art.

The first piece Rogers created that included Trump was a canvas with a background made up of the torn up pieces of significant U.S. documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence and famous speeches by figures like Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony.

On top of the words is Trump’s face painted with a thick red paint, his hair giving off a bright sheen from the gold spray paint.

“I told myself, okay, that one is the ‘one and done’ because he’s not going to become president.” Rogers said.

Four Trump-related pieces later, Rogers doesn’t see an end in sight. She is currently working on remaking and perfecting her version of “The Great Dictator” with the intention of it garnering viral attention.

While Rogers said she doesn’t have any plans to create more Trump related pieces, she is sure throughout his time in office something will happen or will be said that will bother her enough for her to react with an art piece.

But just creating art isn’t enough, said Natalie Boucher, a sophomore studio art major. In the Trump era, artists have to push themselves to show their work publicly rather than just exhibiting it in private galleries and shows since doing so would only reach a very specific audience.

A few weeks after election day, Boucher put up a memorial piece on the Syracuse University quad commemorating the shooting that occurred over the summer at the Pulse gay nightclub on Latin night in Orlando.

She recalls with a break in her voice the fear and loneliness she felt when she heard the news for the first time.

Boucher was working at an Irish pub in her Massachusetts hometown when the news started running across the television screen. Given the town’s conservative tendencies, as a queer individual she couldn’t be “out” at work and didn’t have anybody to talk to after the shock of the news.

“This was the first time that I actually truly felt scared for my life,” Boucher said.

Her dad lives in Florida and when she visits him, she frequents gay clubs. She said she could directly see herself as having been one of the victims of the shooting.

With the increase in hate crimes since Trump’s rise in political popularity, Boucher knew she not only had to make a reactionary piece, but also that it had to be big and public enough that people would be forced to listen to her message.

The piece is composed of three white canvases placed side by side with rainbow paint splatters streaking down. The length of the splatter represents the length of the life organized in ascending order.

The painting took over eight hours to complete. She spent about 10 minutes on each name, with 49 in total, making sure to take her time and reflect on the life of that person.

Boucher’s pieces had never been so accessible to the general community, but the election changed that.

“It pushed me to go outside of what I usually do, which is making my art very personal, and make it public and make it other people’s business since that’s what they’re doing,” she said.

Boucher and Rogers both noted that since Trump began to gain power in politics there has been a necessary rise in art activism.

Rogers noted that artists are a necessary part of activist movements.

“I feel like we’re wallflowers because we look at things differently and are able to bring (issues) to life so people can visualize it at and feel it,” Rogers said.

Outside of SU, politicized art created by local artists has been spotted around the city of Syracuse.

La Casita Cultural Center, a Hispanic cultural center in Syracuse created by the College of Arts and Sciences at SU, houses a mural in its indoor balcony. The mural was created by Juan Cruz, a Puerto Rico native who graduated from SU in 1995 and is now the artist in residence at the Near West Side Initiative.

When Cruz was asked to paint the balcony he was told to do whatever he wanted, so he decided to take the opportunity to make a political and social commentary on the crisis in Puerto Rico — a topic widely ignored during the election and rarely spoken about by Trump.

When people see the painting they notice a colorful sky, clumps of palms and a Puerto Rican monument called “El Morro.”

Cruz said his mural is a reflection of what people want to see. They notice the beauty and not the realities that are happening. The meaning of the mural is hidden similarly to the situation in Puerto Rico — in full view behind many beautiful things, he said.

The only way he could complete the wall was if he could integrate his feelings on his homeland.

“The reason, nobody knows, that the sky is very red as a candle is because in my theory what is happening in Puerto Rico … is like hell,” Cruz said.

The two palm woods also take part in the message of Cruz. There is one that stands still and the other is folded, as if it were carrying a heavy weight.

Although patrons have contacted Cruz to see his beautiful paintings, he said he no longer paints for the beauty of it.

“I left that a long time ago. I now try to express how I feel and to put symbols in everything I do,” Cruz said. “It may look one way but it means something else.”

Carrie Valenzuela, a printmaking artist and owner of Amaranth Press and Bindery, has taken a more direct approach in spreading her reaction to politics, specifically since Trump won the election.

For months she felt a queasiness that she couldn’t get rid of as she saw Trump’s ideologies become more popularized, and the feeling peaked when — to her disbelief — he was elected.

Less than a week later she went to her printmaking studio and created a print with the words, “The enemy is indifference, speak out before it’s too late.”

One by one she had inked each print, marking up all of the bright paper she could find around the studio.

After cranking out more than 50 in a single day, Valenzuela put up the prints in her apartment building and workplace and gave some to her friends and family. She hopes her message inspires people to take action in any way they can.

“I had to do something,” Valenzuela said. “This is what I can do. I can put a message together in the form of a print to help some tiny bit because action has to come from each individual person.”


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