For their annual SOS ART 2021, the Kennedy Heights Arts center is presenting a retrospective of the past five years of SOS shows. In a nutshell, SOS ART showcases artists who work for change, and who advocate for peace and justice with their work. This five year retrospective includes eighty nine local artists who fall into this category. Artist and curator Saad Ghosn’s SOS ART is always an inclusive and open collection which gathers artists and their voices rather than imposing curatorial intent.
Julie Broxic’s “Stop The Madness !!! (after John Tenniel) is essentially a large format political cartoon which satirizes figures of the first Trump impeachment as characters from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Nancy Pelosi is Alice, and she is surrounded by Republicans in the Trump orbit circa 2019. Perhaps most cleverly lampooned are Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Recalling their bumbling antics two years ago seems like an episode from a simpler time compared to the chaos and tragedy which would befall the country in a few short months. Trump himself is shown as the Queen, parading with a pink flamingo in hand. Rudy Giuliani depicted as the March Hare is truly prophetic given the detached madness he would display in the waning months of 2020. Mitch McConnell standing on a tombstone reading Pluribus Unum is apt, but his appearance is often derided as being similar to a turtle. To attack McConnell for his appearance has always seemed somewhat facile to me. A cruel and harsh partisan he may be, but he is not slow or stupid- and his appearance has to be the lowest of hanging fruit. Broxic’s mimicry of Tenniel’s illustrations is brilliant, and her placement of the 2019 MAGA firmament is very clever if to some extent a few characters seem shoehorned. Still, the most jarring impact from “Stop The Madness !!!” is how that wonky cast of characters were at the helm as the nation sailed into 2020.
Kevin Muente’s ability to stage natural settings is undeniable to anyone familiar with his work. His realist landscapes often include painstaking use of multiple photographs to create a tableau featuring models posed in an outdoor location to symbolize an idea or reference classic works. “The Sleep of Reason” is no exception. In this composed setting, under an azure sky, a stubble field hosts a young girl in virginal white. The earth has been harvested of its crops. The tree has been felled. It is now autumn, and green has left nature. She is covered in white with a blank expression that implies death. She clutches a skull and antlers of a deer. The girl seems placed in a Hudson River School landscape. But she is as dead or in repose as the environment around her. In this case, “reason” is clearly been sleeping as the natural environment has been sacrificed for short term profit and gain. The past year has shown us, certainly, the folly of this exchange. Climate change and pandemics have been spurred by our ceaseless invasion of and disregard for the biological balance of Earth. Muente’s ability to use a landscape as a narrative work is again on display with “The Sleep of Reason”, a talent for which he has utilized more and more. Again, as with Broxic’s Lewis Carroll spoof, “The Sleep of Reason” likely presaged the events of 2020 and was prescient in its warning.
Empire Citizens, a street art movement, proclaims its goal as “Sowing Seeds of Malcontent”. They employ paste-ups, stickers, T- shirts and prints to spread iconographic commentary on contemporary American society. Their paste-up “The End Is on Sale” depicts a grim reaper wearing a sandwich board which combines the common fundamental warning of Armageddon with a corporate retail sale advertisement. They describe it as being a reaction to anti-intellectualism and a warning about the profits over environment policies in corporate America. Certainly the criticism of corporate America profiting from the destruction/sale of the harm to the environment is rich soil. There is no doubt that even the last year has seen corporate profits and shareholder value skyrocket as public physical and mental health has suffered. Anti-intellectualism is perhaps not addressed in this work though it has certainly been a large component of the post- Buckley conservative movement. As the right wing became divorced from “coastal elites” and non- conservative-Christian religion, intellectualism has been seen a gateway to socialism and a host of perceived societal dangers. But “The End Is on Sale” concentrates more on corporate profit of destruction, whether a religious doom or an environmental catastrophe. We only have to look at the recent plight of Texans living under a deregulated energy grid to see the confluence of corporate greed/environmental catastrophe that has been on sale in this country since at least the Reagan administration.
Clearly, SOS has given a voice to artists who, through the Trump era, have predicted the tragic and violent end to those years.
SOS ART Retrospective: 2016-2020
Kennedy Heights Arts Center
6546 Montgomery Road