Wynwood art sends political message

Posted February 21, 2017


At the intersection of NW 23rd Street and NW Fifth Avenue in Wynwood, resides a large mural of a Gorilla grasping the Statue of Liberty by the neck, with words above reading, “Come on, what do you have to lose?”

The mural (titled after the words above it Come on, what do you have to lose?) was created by the New York-based artist group The Buschwick Collective. The collective creates art and street graffiti, using multiple artists from around the world. Its mural in Wynwood has seen rampant changes since the election of President Donald J. Trump.

The gorilla replaced an image of Trump with Batman’s arch-rival The Joker’s makeup on his face and him holding a knife jetting into Lady Liberty’s neck. What was once a piece of art that stood as a perfect example of a silent yet powerful protest to the turbulent administration in power, has become just another wall in the famous art district.

Buschwick used its First Amendment right to speak on how it feels Trump is, and was going to, affect the United States. However, for them to change and alter its “protest” shows a deeper insecurity with how politics and art should mix, in stark contrast to political art’s history.

Political art’s existence has coincided with the existence and expansion of the arts. Everything from posters, to picket signs demonstrates the ability and effect political art has on the world, whether it be negative (i.e., Nazi propaganda in the early 1930s) or positive (i.e., “The Kiss” on the Berlin Wall). The artists have the ability to capture societal messages and ideas in unique and distinct ways.

In fact, political art is nothing new and one of its niches is political cartoons. James Gillray’s “The Plumb-pudding in Danger,” created in 1805, is one of the most famous political cartoons in history. It depicts former French Emperor Napoleon and former British Prime Minister William Pitt, carving up the world at a dinner table.

Gillray was emphasizing and demonstrating the issue of the geopolitical power struggle between these two leaders. Thus, proving that art, even when humorous, can provide its audience with important issues and societal problems.

Modern political art has transformed to go as far as making naked statues of the current U.S. President. Harold Golen, who owns the Harold Golen Gallery, hosted one of several famous naked Trump statues on the gallery’s roof.

The statue, which Harold said, “captured many crowds while it was on display,” was put in place by developer Moishe Mana who has spent more than $300 million on developing Wynwood and its properties the past couple of years. Mana had invited the art collection behind the statues, INDECLINE, to host the statue on the property due to his distaste of Trump, as seen on his personal Facebook page.

However, shortly after being put it up in early September, the statue (labeled as Emperor has no Balls) was stolen. The stolen statue was eventually brought into the Miami Police station with its head chopped off and poorly reattached. The thief, Pedro Rodriguez, was not prosecuted, due to the lack of pursuit by the land-owner, Mana. Mana’s lawyer explained that the work of art was put there to bring awareness of the arts and the politics surrounding it. In fact, having the statue stolen only increased interest for the $50,000 work of art.

Golen is a strong believer in political art, that it allows us, “to be aware of controversy and allows those who are complacent to these controversies to ‘wake up’ and help effect the cause.”

Whenever he sees a powerful piece he makes sure to pick it up and add it to the gallery. Currently, the gallery holds two large coins at its front, holding the faces of President Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Golen believes that the next four years will include an increase in political art with the hopes that this version of a non-violent protests captures the attention of those who remain passive in our society.

“He is a cartoon character, ridiculous and capable of anything,” Golen said when asked about Trump. Golen envisions Trump cracking down on political art that the president may find demeaning, similar to Trump’s current witch hunt over the media.

However, Milly Cardoso, the gallery director of the University of Miami Gallery in Wynwood, doesn’t believe Trump will go that far.

“No I don’t believe he will go to that extreme,” she said.

While UM’s Wynwood gallery currently doesn’t host any political art, it has in the past and is not opposed to having more in the future. However, some see arts role in politics weakening because of the current disorder the administration and the media are in.

“Art almost has taken a back seat, as if our role of raising awareness has been diminished,” said Kyle Trowbridge, a senior lecturer for UM’s art and art history department, as well an artist himself. Trowbridge believes that the media, and the 24-hour news cycle, has over-saturated the population with information.

“People now want art to be a place of escape…nothing to do with politics. Artists are burying their heads in their own work, using it to escape or hide out,” Trowbridge stressed at the fact that political art carries important societal messages.

He believes that this unprecedented political atmosphere has caused a recent retraction of these messages. The correlation of art and escapism is something that political art and political artists must factor into their future projects and the future of political art itself.

While some believe that we will see an increase in political art over the next four years, others believe art may be headed in another direction. The influences of society, the government and this current administration may dictate whether art conforms to other medias as a diversion or continues its long history of providing a message and a way of protesting the injustices of the world.