Democracy in America?
Group Show Curated by Gutfreund Cornett Art, New York, USA
As the de facto (although unsolicited) policeman of the world, the government of the USA likes to promote its values and encourage democracy. Yet, is the USA, itself, even a democracy? Frankly, no. For proof we can simply look at the House of Representatives (the part of the US Congress that is supposed to represent the people while the Senate represents individual states). 80% of these Congressmen are white (only 62% of Americans are white); 80% are male (only 49% of the USA is male). White men, by the way, only constitute 31% of the US population. 92% of the entire Congress is Christian (72% of Americans are Christian) and 40% of House representatives are lawyers (as opposed to 6% in the entire USA). Therefore, if you are a white, male, Christian lawyer, your Congressman will return your email or phone call. You are the guy whose experience is represented in the USA.
This system producing white, male, Christian lawyers, who control the government of the people, is partly the result of the fact that the number of Congressmen is set at 435. So as the population rises, each Congressman represents more people. Right now each Congressman represents about 700,000 people. The cities of Detroit, Seattle and Denver, for example, have fewer than 700,000 people – so this is not real representation. When one representative covers so many voters, the representatives of the dominant culture will find it easier to dominate the Congress. If you take any random chunk of 700,000 people in America, with America being 62% white, a simple majority of voters will probably be white and elect white people. The existence of minority folks in Congress may only be due to the fact that America is a very racially divided country with African American, Latino and Asian folks often segregated into their own large areas of cities.
So ironically, it is probably urban racism that even allows for any representation of people of color in Congress. That we have white, male, Christian lawyers running things also has to do with the need for money to become a Congressman. The corrupt career politician who represents me in Queens, New York City (he is a white, male, Christian, but a non-lawyer) seems to generate about $2 million every two years for his election campaign. He is so powerful, however, that nobody ever dares run against him. Yep, I am lucky enough to have a Prince or Duke representing me, apparently. No need for competition. So if nobody ever runs against him, where does the $2 million from his corporate sponsors go? Welcome to America, the land of opportunity.
I mention all this because I saw an amazing show curated by Gutfreund Cornett Art, which is “a curatorial partnership which specializes in creating exhibitions in venues around the U.S. on themes of ‘art as activism’ to stimulate dialog, raise consciousness and create social change.” The show I saw at the Phoenix Gallery at the 548 W. 28th street building in Chelsea was called “What’s Right, What’s Left: Democracy in America” and was juried by Dr. Kathy Battista. It contained pieces in the gallery by 21 different artists along with a slideshow feature of several more amazing works that could not be fit into the gallery. Since I cannot touch on all the great pieces in this show, the link to the online catalogue is below. Click on the link and scroll down until you see ‘catalogue’. You should take a look at everything.
Among the pieces actually at Phoenix, Nic Abramson and Justyne Fischer deal with the chronic police abuse to which African Americans in the USA have been subjected and which has caused numerous protests recently around the country. Abramson wants to focus on what “Black Lives Matter” means to most people and perhaps what it should mean. It is not a matter of just stopping the police from routinely shooting black men under various pretexts, it should mean a reorientation in which the inequality embedded into the system, causing huge prison populations of black men and continued black poverty, is eliminated. I am convinced that racism comes from the top down, and when you have a Congress dominated by white males, police abuse against black folks will definitely follow. Fischer focuses more precisely on the case of Eric Garner, the black man who was killed by several police (all exonerated of his murder) because he was selling cigarettes publicly in NY City. She has created a social memorial to highlight the tragic absurdity of this man’s death, a death made possible by a miasma of racism that permeates American cities.
Ransom Ashley and Victoria Helena Mihatovic both focus on the Occupy movement, Ashley showing one of the reasons New York City’s billionaire mayor was so eager to break up this peaceful gathering at a public park: the man holds a sign advocating love and not greed. Mihatovic presents a spent canister of tear gas that was shot at the protesters in Oakland in a display case usually used to display autographed baseballs – perhaps equating America’s past-time to a prevalent American apathy while challenging this apathy at the same time with a symbol of violence against questioning youth in the USA.
Michael D’Antuono’s piece highlights the fact that the National Rifle Association is able to ensure that Congress takes action in opposition to the will of 90% of the American people. Cat Del Buono highlights the callousness of the media and male politicians toward issues of rape and reproductive rights. Lindsay Garcia references the Hudson River School and Robert Smithson to focus on how politics in America has led to environmental devastation. Monika Malewska presents disturbing images of prisoners (alleged terrorists I am guessing) in stress postures to illustrate how horrific situations can be justified through appeals to ‘democracy’ and how images can desensitize us to the true horror behind them as they are presented by dominant news outlets. Gina Randazzo highlights the fact that women only hold 19.4% of the seats in Congress and focuses on the apparent lies that are told to young women in the USA about equality of opportunity.
Sinan Revell’s series DoppelgANGER involves two views of the artist representing how we become divided from each other through economics and social class in the USA. Kate Negri presents two of the white, male, Christian lawyers who run the USA engaged in a passionate kiss on a pedestal. The pedestal represents the separation of the politicians from the people while the kiss might represent the need for politicians to ‘kiss and make up’. Eike Waltz shows the symbols of the two American political parties copulating, indicating that they are, basically, in complicity with each other in the debasement of true democracy. Dan Tague’s piece implies that virtually every politician can be bought and that it is money and not the will of the people that drives our law-makers. Laura Sussman-Randall uses charcoal, pastel and carbon to create a torn American flag, the coarse materials adding a sense of anger over ‘greed, obstructionism and prejudice’. The torn flag represents how torn apart we, as a country, are.
Emily Greenberg deals with the issue of government surveillance through a simple old fashioned telephone (which was much safer than the internet or our cell phones). You pick up the phone and hear how easily the government can collect data on you and violate your privacy so readily through your cell and laptop. In a similar vein, Nick Hugh Schmidt actually just leaves his smartphone in the gallery for anyone to access. The horror we feel at the thought of doing this with our own phones highlights just how much and how deeply our privacy can be violated by our government. Shreepad Joglekar created a video involving a man carrying another through a desert to highlight the difficulties that even legal immigrants face in the USA. Shawna Gibbs uses an image from a gay pride parade in San Francisco from 2003 to demonstrate the progress that has been made in regard to gay rights through hard lobbying efforts over a very long period of time. Ruthann Godollei focuses on our new reliance on drone strikes, which has become quite popular for our Nobel Prize winning president, and Godellei mentions in her statement that to the folks who operate drones, ‘perhaps everyone looks like the enemy.’ Gracie Guerro-Bustini pays homage to the 19 Democratic Congressmen who protested the abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. Finally, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch used tampon applicators to create a model of an AK-47 rifle (feminine protection – get it?) to protest the proliferation of weapons and to “Stop the FLOW of violence!”.
Again, I cannot do justice to all the amazing works in this show with one review (as much as I want to) so please check out the catalogue by clicking the link below (it has the works from the gallery as well as the slideshow works – some really amazing pieces). Kudos to Gutfreund and Cornett for putting all this together.