Art for Black Lives

Tahoe Activist Artists joined Black Lives Matter Tahoe for a peaceful rally and march from the commons last Friday. We had painters, singers and sculptors come out to use their art to amplify the message that we support our brothers and sisters in the fight for equality and justice.
 
Art for Black Lives is a call for a creative response to the protests in support of our black community.
 
#blacklivesmatter. Every person has the ability to stand up, be heard and spread #love. 🖤
 
Photos by Sheilah Boohthby for MakeTahoe.com
Art by Hailey Hutchison. Follow her on Instagram @hhartandprints
Artist Delena Britnell at Art for Black Lives. Instagram @delenabritnell http://www.delenabritnell.com/

 

 

Protest Sign – George Floyd. This piece will be auctioned to benefit Black Lives Matter Tahoe

 

Jessica Risconcente painting the names of 300 black people who have been killed by police into the Black Power symbol of a raised fist
I was working on a portrait of Fredrick Douglass during the event, bearing his words, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”
Art by Hailey Hutchison. Follow her on Instagram @hhartandprints

Posted by Annie Davidson on Sunday, June 14, 2020

Annie Davidson singing “Sweet Lord” at the rally

Matt Kauffmann (left) and Hailey Hutchinson – Art for Black Lives fundraising.

Human Trafficking Campaign (2018)

Myth of Choice (2018) Graphic Design by John Bollaert, Artwork by Shelley Zentner

 

The Tahoe Activist Artists ran a campaign during the SuperBowl this year in South Lake Tahoe. SuperBowl Weekend is the highest volume time for Human Trafficking in our community. We posted these signs on the back of restroom doors throughout the casinos, sports bars, gas stations, and grocery stores throughout the town. We were sponsored by Tahoe Douglas Rotary Club and Whittel High School Interact Program.

 

Know the Signs (2018) Graphic Design by John Bolleart, Artwork by Ellen Nunes

What is human trafficking?

According to The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000:

Sex Trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is indu- ced by force, fraud, or coercion. or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; and

Labor Trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can be at risk. Mostly girls, but also boys. Traffickers are expert manipulators, and prey on vulnerable young people. Contrary to what you might assume, it isn’t just vulnerable homeless or addicted people who can be trapped into modern slavery.

One method traffickers use is to recruit attractive young men nicknamed ‘Romeos’ to seduce young girls. This seduction or ‘grooming’ can happen via social media, websites like Craigslist, at sports events, or anywhere teenagers hang out unsupervised. The perpetrators often romance their victims, making them feel like they are entering a relationship, making them feel loved. They make promises and buy expensive gifts.

At some point the money ‘runs out’ and the victim is asked to ‘earn’ the money back, perhaps by stripping or having sex with someone. They are trapped.

What can I do to protect myself, my friends or my children?

Learn the signs and educate yourself about human trafficking.

Some of the signs that a person is being trafficked:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in

Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

PROTECT – PRevention Organized To Educate Children on Trafficking

PROTECT is a human trafficking prevention education program that was developed in 2015 through a coalition of three nonprofits (3Strands Global Foundation, Love Never Fails, and Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives), in partnership with the Office of the Attorney General for the State of California, the California Department of Education, Cisco Systems, and the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State University. Through this program, teachers and students are learning about red flags, protocols, and ways to prevent exploitation through an online curriculum that provides all classroom materials necessary.

To learn more, visit https://vimeo.com/protectnow/introvideo

3 Strands Global Foundation sponsored legislation which requires California public schools to teach California’s school-age population how to avoid becoming victims of exploitation, help them understand the problem of human exploitation and learn ways to address the problem through service initiatives.

In January 2018, The Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act became law.

“In my 26 years of teaching, this is the first of its kind that I’ve ever encountered as an educator. I feel I’m now more empowered as an educator and a protector of children.”

– Ed M, Teacher, Vallejo City Unified School District

“When we moved from Las Vegas to a sleepy suburb of Sacramento, I never dreamed our family would be directly affected by this heinous crime. However, our 17-year-old was taken from the local grocery store, driven to a motel in the Bay Area, drugged and pimped out through ads on craigslist and repeatedly raped by men looking for sex with underage girls.”

– Vicki Mead, Co-Founder of 3Strands Global Foundation, Mother of a Survivor

 

Call the National Helpline number: 800-373-788 anonymously for help

I see you

Working on the Pieta today. It’s the most emotionally wrenching piece I’ve ever attempted, and that’s saying a lot. My early work was all about the difficult emotions.
I know that I’ve been avoiding the most difficult parts of this painting. The more I work on it, the more I notice. Small details that give clues to the horror that brought us to this moment. I’ve been avoiding looking at what’s under the blood soaked t-shirt covering the boy’s chest, his flayed ribcage. I thought I might start with the boy’s foot. How bad could that be? But it’s dirty and damaged, he’s been barefoot a lot. How long? My heart hurts.
I woke up this morning knowing I just had to roll up my sleeves and confront this. I flung off the sheet that covers the painting while our 6 year old is in the house, and stared it down with my hands on my hips.
This father’s grief is what hurts the most. His face and hands tell so much about his pain. Eyes squeezed shut, mouth contorted into a grimance that you can barely see because he’s burying his face in the bloody t-shirt. I said to myself, that’s where I need to start.
Music on, tea gulped, caffeine starting to kick my brain into a zone I associate with nightclubs, running and pulling down hard on rock. Depeche Mode guiding me through the difficulty, as always. “Where’s the Revolution? Come on people, you’re letting me down..”
I managed to keep it together until Spotify decided I needed to listen to Miss Sarajevo. “Is there a time for high street shopping, to find the right dress to wear?” Realised I couldn’t squint as I measured the angle of his face anymore because I was crying.
I wondered to myself, why am I doing this? This is causing me some substantial pain. My chest hurts and I can’t sleep. Then I thought about a paragraph I read in ‘I am Malala’ last night, where she talks about how the media helped spread words and stories around the world about the tragedies unfolding in Pakistan under the Taliban. That people were shocked by footage of men beating a teenage girl in the street because she was looking at lipstick in a market. It’s stories like this that open our eyes to what’s going on outside of our cozy lives in ‘safe’ countries. Donations and aid increased after the world saw that video.
For me, it’s not just about trying to increase empathy and compassion for refugees and people stuck in war zones, it’s about acknowledgment. It’s about saying, “I see your pain, I see you.”
A friend and I was discussing our parents yesterday, and how they can’t acknowledge difficult events in our lives. We’re told not to ‘drag up the past’, or ‘blame’. Growing up around damaged people and alcoholics, there’s so much guilt and shame experienced by all parties, that understandably, no-one wants to stand up and say, “Tell me how you feel”, because no-one wants to hear the answer. We’re chastised and blamed for admitting to having demons, so the cycle continues. More resentment, more blame, more covering up.
Maybe it’s the legacy of two World Wars, and the coping mechanism handed down through generations is still the go to solution. Keep calm and carry on. Ignore it, and it will go away.
The trouble is, though, that those emotions never really go away, no matter how old you are, or how many miles you flee, and the deeper you try to bury the trauma, the more it finds insidious ways to rear it’s ugly head in your life. It’s PTSD. It’s cancer. You smack it down in one place, it comes back in another.
To heal your history, you have to see it – all of it. Because you can’t heal until you grieve.
So, to paint this grieving man cradling his dead son, is my small way of acknowledging the pain of the millions of parents who have lost a child. It is my hope that people who see the painting will also see him, and other refugees like him, with open eyes and an open mind, and find the strength to open their hearts, and say, “I see you”.

The Bigger Picture

I hated history class is school. Really hated it. I think it had more to do with the uninspiring teacher we had than the subject itself. He would simply dictate from a boring textbook, and we had to transcribe all of it for the entire lesson. That was it. No discussion, no insights. We were more fascinated by the love bites on his neck that appeared anew almost every class.
After I left school, something happened to my mind. I was a pretty crappy student, in large part because I was struggling with massive depression and a very unstable home life. Then I left home, found people I could relate to, and cool things started to happen in my brain. At college, and then university I was exposed to excellent teachers, who introduced me to a world of ideas that opened my mind to a range of academic disciplines. Metaphysics, sociology, politics, philosophy, theology, linguistics, feminism, history and more. I’m reading my B.A. thesis again right now, tracing back ideas I didn’t consciously remember, but have been underpinning my work for over 20 years now (subject of another post, too big for this one). I’m just happy I can still understand it. Mostly.
I discovered Freud and psychoanalysis through my love of the artists Salvador Dali, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt. They then led me to read about late 19th century Vienna, and then World War 1. Then World War 2. Then post WW2 reshaping of the Middle East. And on it goes, laying the foundations for the chaos of today. It was like chasing a thread through a weaving.

Kathe Kollwitz, Self Portrait with Pencil (1933) Charcoal on paper

Now I love history. Really love it. I even taught college level Art History for 8 years, ploughing deeper into my subject every time I taught the class, fleshing out the context of art with politics, ideologies and events which shaped the images we looked at. It’s like time travel.
My favorite lecture was the first class of Art 101, which took us on a journey through our human origins. I’ve never formally studied paleoanthropology, but after 8 years of fine tuning the lecture, I learned enough to want to know more. One of the most compelling aspects of this lecture for me, was the development of a spiritual instinct, and how that manifest in our earliest creativity. The discovery of the remains of the first shaman (that we know of, so far), was fascinating to me. Here she is:

Dolni Vestonice, ca 26,000 BCE Head carved from mammoth ivory showing a woman with an asymmetrical face. Found near the remains of a woman with the same disfigurement. Believed to be a Shaman due to the type of burial.

 

She was ritually buried under a pair of mammoth scapulae, arranged like a bridge over her head. She held a fox in her hand and her bones were covered in red ochre, a mineral that has been associated with ritual burial. This natural earth pigment was one of the most commonly used in paleolithic art, and incidentally one of my favorite range of pigments for oil painting.
“The use of ochre is particularly intensive: it is not unusual to find a layer of the cave floor impregnated with a purplish red to a depth of eight inches. The size of these ochre deposits raises a problem not yet solved. The colouring is so intense that practically all the loose ground seems to consist of ochre. One can imagine that the Aurignacians regularly painted their bodies red, dyed their animal skins, coated their weapons, and sprinkled the ground of their dwellings, and that a paste of ochre was used for decorative purposes in every phase of their domestic life. We must assume no less, if we are to account for the veritable mines of ochre on which some of them lived…”
Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1968. The Art of Prehistoric Man in Western Europe. London: Thames & Hudson, p. 40.
She had a facial disfigurement, which was carefully described in her portrait (above). The carving was found near her body, making it the oldest portrait (that is, a confirmed likeness of a specific individual) known to us.
Both the ritual burial, and the portrait, indicate that she was a high status individual. She was an older woman, likely a matriarch of the tribe. The deformity and the burial makes it possible that she was the first shaman of this period, as it is “not uncommon that people with disabilities, either mental or physical, are thought to have unusual supernatural powers” (Pringle 2010).
We can therefore assume that women had a higher status in human society before the Neolithic Revolution. It’s been speculated that when people started to settle in one place during the dawn of agriculture, that women’s status declined, because it was suddenly easier to make the connection of how babies were made. Women were no longer mysterious life givers. Men started to understand their role in breeding. Then we start to see the first images of ‘holy men’, grasping the magic stick:

Urfa man, known formally as the Balikligöl statue, is the oldest human-size statue of a man yet discovered in the world.
10th – 8th Century BCE. Limestone. Found near Göbekli Tepe, Turkey
Interesting, eh? I love this stuff. History helps us to start connecting the dots between the past and present, and sheds a light on why we are the way we are. To ignore history is to cut ourselves off from a vast wellspring of insight into the foundations of the world, and ourselves.

“Know Thyself”

Know thyself’, is an ancient aphorism that probably came from ancient Egypt. Beginners were only allowed to enter the ancient Luxor temple after proven worthy and ready to acquire more knowledge and insights. One of the proverbs of the External Temple is “The body is the house of God.” That’s why they said “Man, know thyself”so that they could connect with god.
The Greeks attributed much of their wisdom to Egyptian sources, so they took up this idea with enthusiasm too. The Romans assimilated pretty much all Greek culture, and spread it all over Europe when they attempted world domination. Then the Europeans colonised vast chunks of the planet, taking their culture with them. If we want to truly know ourselves, we have to know our personal and collective history.
So “History” is really the history of humanity, and it’s the human stories that are important, in my opinion, not the propaganda (although that’s pretty interesting in itself too). History is written by the victor, and so a lot of what we’re exposed to in the history books is an admixture of cultural idealism and “facts” that have been cleaned up or rewritten to cast the actors in a more favorable light.
I like the primary sources, the historical artwork and personal writing, the archeological photos and accounts. I’ve been reading more biographies lately than usual, to research my portrait series. What I’ve been struck by by the most, is not just the incredible achievements of people like Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and Malala Yousafzai, but their humanity. The flaws and idiosyncrasies that make them relatable people. The hardships and setbacks they endured, but still carried on regardless. The pursuit of a vision, a goal they felt passionate enough about to commit to with a fierce determination. I also love the window into the worlds they lived in, the bigger picture. That’s what history gives me, the bigger picture.
Now that’s inspiration. I’m already making mental sketches for the next painting.

 

Sierra House Mural (2015-2016)

The Pollinator Mural at Sierra House Elementary School, South Lake Tahoe

I was asked to paint a mural at my daughter’s school in 2015, on the theme of the decline of the pollinators. The school has a strong connection with nature, healthy living and science. They have growing domes on site, and use them to teach the kids about all aspects of the food chain. At a time when farming has become a highly mechanized, chemical agrobusiness, and many people have lost their connection with nature and where their food comes from, Sierra House’s program is a great example of how consciousness is shifting. The mural was funded by UC Davis CALFresh Program.

The mural took months to complete. It’s located in the Multi-Purpose Room, so I got to see lunchtime, music practice, and indoor sports whilst I was working. It was fun to be around all that energy, but I did wear headphones quite a lot – those kids are loud!

The painting features melting honeycombs to represent global warming, bats, mosquitoes, ladybugs, honey bees and monarch butterflies which are dying out because of neonicotinoid use in agriculture. I also added local medicinal plants, flowers and fruit. Portraits of actual kids from the school and staff felt like a great way to personalize the mural, and make it relatable for the kids. 

I wanted the mural to be cautionary, but optimistic. It is, after all in a school full of very young children. However, I’m just starting work on what I regard as a ‘grown-up’ version of of the same theme, for a private client in Heavenly Village. It has been dubbed the ‘Monsanto Mural’, and will feature much stronger, darker visual language to protest the status quo in our food industry. We will be live streaming the creation of this mural starting early 2019, on a dedicated website. Follow our progress via my blog on this website, Instagram and Facebook Page.