Art is struggling in this time of Covid-19, but its power and necessity are appearing in unexpected places, such as the US presidential campaign, as a beacon for values and morality. Please welcome Hanita Elizur, a guest contributor to the art blog.
Following the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States and Kamala Harris as his deputy, the traditional media and social networks have made extensive use of an iconic American artistic image painted in 1964 by American artist Norman Rockwell. “The Problem We All Live With” depicts Ruby Bridges, the first African-American girl to desegregate an all-white elementary school in 1960. Ruby was daily accompanied by marshals on her way to school, for fear of being harassed.
Norman Rockwell – perhaps the artist most identified with American culture – succeeded with his paintings to address the open wounds of American society, as with this painting, which became a symbol of the civil rights movement and racial equality in the United States.
This is a wonderful example of how art can touch the most painful and deep points in a nation’s life and culture.
Sixty years later, Kamala Harris, vice president elect, shatters the glass ceiling not only as a woman but as a woman of colour. Rockwell’s iconic painting is now being used in an image that has gone viral, showing Harris walking resolutely and vigorously, casting a shadow on the wall behind her that is none other than the silhouette of Ruby Bridges. This is a powerful illustration of the long way women of colour have come since Ruby needed to be guarded on her way to school. The power of the artistic image is wonderfully illustrated in this case.
Another powerful image has appeared as a “graphic triptych” featuring Kamala Harris , The painted figure of Ruby Bridges and also the image of Rosa Parks, with the caption: “Rosa sat, so that Ruby could walk so Kamala could run.”
Historical note: In 1955 Rosa Parks, another iconic figure in the fight against racism in the United States, refused to vacate her seat on the bus to a white man, in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks was tried, convicted under local law and fined. An appeal to the Supreme Court, led by Martin Luther King, has led to a ruling that local law regarding racial segregation in buses is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution and should be repealed.
America the beautiful
Art has further been used in association with the Biden-Harris election. Last week, the video America The Beautiful was released as part of the Democratic campaign. The video shows Americans of all genders and ethnic groups in diverse locations across the United States. The video draws inspiration and paraphrases an artistic performance work from 1983 titled: “Art Is…” by artist Lorraine O’Grady who gave her blessing for the reference.
O’Grady’s performance piece from 1983 took place during a parade in Harlem on the occasion of “Afro-Americans’ Day”.
O’Grady and a group of 15 young Afro-American and Latinos marched dressed in white, carrying empty golden frames, “framing” figures from the audience as momentary works of art. The work dealt with the definition of art, its place and role in society and also with the issue of the lack of ethnic inclusivity in art. Over the years, photographs from the original exhibit have been presented independently.
The current campaign film continues the work of presenting and “framing” ordinary American men and women of all ethnic backgrounds as the true heroes of “The Work,” which is the American nation.
Note: According to publications, in March 2021 a retrospective of O’Grady’s work will be displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
And finally, on a personal note – while art (and culture in general) is forced to fight for its place during Covid-19. Art has power and is necessary as part of the development of every nation. It reflects and documents, it is a tool for cultural expression (personal and general), and it also has a role as a beacon of values and morality
And if anyone still has a doubt, refer them to Kamala’s silhouette.
Hanita Elizur – independent curator.
Graduate of the Technion’s curatorial studies and holds a master’s degree in political science and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from Tel Aviv University.
The credit to the fantastic artwork in the post banner featuring Ruby Bridges’s shadow and Kamala Harris belongs to wtfamerica2017.com . It is a Collaboration of designer @briagoeller and @goodtrubble.