Although the transition of power to the new administration is officially complete, there are many questions and frustrations still lingering since the inauguration in January.
In the face of this uncertainty, our recent exhibition, Transition of Power: 2017, has served as a catalyst for some important conversations about the nature of activism and the future of democracy in America. Over the course of the exhibition, which ran from January 21 to March 11, many members of our community came to the gallery to voice their opinions and fears about our current political situation. We greatly appreciated the stories and perspectives that these exchanges contributed to this exhibition. Although Transition of Power: 2017 closed last week, we hope that visitors to the gallery will continue to add to the community we have developed here.
Community was one of the central themes of a talk on Saturday, February 25 given by Jessie Rossman, staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, and architect Carl D’Apolito-Dworkin, as part of our programming for Transition of Power: 2017. Rossman and D’Apolito-Dworkin engaged everyone in the overflow crowd with their insight and passion; their spirited talk was certainly one of the highlights of the exhibition.
Rossman began by providing some helpful perspective. Although we now see oppression in every part of our lives, from airport detentions to bathroom bills and the restrictions on media access, Rossman reminded us that resistance can become a part of our daily lives as well; we can find ways to protest with our everyday actions. Rossman spoke about the many stages of involvement that we can have in federal, state, and local governments. Each level of government offers unique opportunities to speak out, protest, and organize.
At the state level, Rossman emphasized the importance and pride of Massachusetts becoming a leader for the rest of the country. One example she provided was the legislative fight over ICE detainers, which are written requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that require law enforcement agencies to hold people without providing due process so that ICE can begin the deportation process. The ACLU in Massachusetts is arguing that these ICE detainers violate the state constitution because they prevent the ACLU from being able to give their clients the best legal representation they can provide due to the threat of deportation. Hopefully Massachusetts will be able to continue to be a leader in civil rights for the rest of the nation by fighting these harmful immigration holds, regardless of the federal precedent.
Beyond specific cases, Rossman emphasized the importance of getting involved in local government and local communities. One way that local government can stand up to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration is to become a sanctuary city. Currently Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Newton are sanctuary cities, and Arlington is considering the measure as well. According to Rossman, becoming a sanctuary city sends an important message that we as a community value the safety and contributions of immigrants and refugees.
Above all, Rossman reminded us that the most important thing to do is simply to show up and be present. The sheer number of people who protested the first travel ban issued on January 27 demonstrated how strongly that ban violated our core principles as Americans, and gave force to the court decisions that halted the executive order. We must continue to stand together as a community and voice our passionate dissent when we feel an oppressive government attempts to restrict our civil rights.
D’Apolito-Dworkin continued the talk by speaking about the increasing importance of politics and community in the realm of art and architecture. Although traditionally architecture has been primarily concerned with design elements such as light, form, and space, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the impact that architecture has on politics and protest. Many architects are shifting away from older modes of thinking that insist on a separation between art and political engagement. D’Apolito-Dworkin asserted that architecture is art that plays out in the political realm: it provides the civic space that we use for protest.
D’Apolito-Dworkin offered numerous examples of architects who are finding new ways to bring communities together through architectural design. He cited architect Teddy Cruz, who believes that citizenship is not simply belonging to a particular nation-state, but rather the creative act of investing in the community. The Breathing Lights project is one example of a creative community endeavor that sought to reinvigorate cities through artistic collaboration. The project involved lighting the windows of abandoned structures in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, New York, literally bringing light and warmth to forgotten places in those communities.
Architect Alejandro Aravena made another powerful political statement through his installation at the 2016 Venice Biennale. He constructed the entrance rooms to the annual art fair entirely out of waste materials from previous biennales. Aravena’s entrance rooms drew attention to the amount of waste that the biennales generate, and successfully used architecture to make a political statement about how to thoughtfully use building materials in order to generate less waste. Through these examples and many others, D’Apolito-Dworkin demonstrated that architecture is becoming more politically-minded and community-focused.
Rossman and D’Apolito-Dworkin showed us the many ways that we can invest in and contribute to our communities through art and political engagement. We hope that Transition of Power: 2017 helped to expand and strengthen the important dialogues that we must have as a society so that we can continue to defend our rights and the rights of those less privileged than us. Transition of Power: 2017 highlighted a range of political perspectives, demonstrating the myriad ways that Trump’s administration affects us and our communities:
Asia Kepka’s work exposed the grief and suffering brought by insufficient health care, while Dimel Rivas offered a pointed critique of President Trump’s assertion that he would “drain the swamp.” Ted Ollier focused on the hard facts of the election, visualizing the exact difference between votes for Trump and Clinton in the popular vote. While eBay’s darkly humorous take on Trump’s relationship with Putin is difficult to misconstrue, John Campbell offered a more allegorical take on politics through his representation of Sisyphus and the Ship of Fools. Transition of Power: 2017 was our small act of resistance in response to the shock of the 2016 election. We hope that you will also find ways to resist yourself and with your community.