The Art of Resistance

In the last few weeks, artists have gotten involved in creating signs, banners, and other creative march accoutrements for the Women’s March on Washington, as well as at least 240 other domestic and international cities. Artists such as Shepard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena Montejano, donated their time and creativity, offering free poster downloads like these. These ten prints were seen in many shapes, sizes, and iterations at marches worldwide. – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Women’s March 2017" featuring one of Shepard Fairey’s “We the People” downloadable prints as a sign at the Women’s March in San Diego, CA | by Bonzo McGrue is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Cover of “Resist!: A Woman’s Place is in the Revolution” during production | Photo courtesy of
Resist!, 2017.

Artists, writers, and academics have gotten involved in other ways too. Françoise Mouly, art editor for The New Yorker, and her daughter Nadja Spiegelman, a writer and graphic novelist, started Resist! in the wake of the United States’ November election. They released a call for visual submissions and created an art-packed paper that a team of Resisters distributed during the marches. The tabloid newspaper is filled “political comics and graphics by mostly female artists” who submitted art in the name of resistance.

Women’s March 2017" (I’m with Her.) at the Women’s March in San Diego, CA | by Bonzo McGrue is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Historians and archivists like those at the Smithsonian, Bishopsgate Institute in the UK, Oxford’s History Workshop Journal, and many other institutions are all actively archiving this historical march as well, collecting posters and other ephemera as well as first-hand accounts from people at marches worldwide. In the History Workshop Journal’s call for submissions, Hannah Elias summarize the importance of the day and emphasize the necessity of preserving these “histories of the present”:

“January 21, 2017 witnessed the largest one-day protest led by women that the world has ever seen...We want the spirit of this historic day to be acknowledged and preserved, so we can continue to be inspired by this beautiful expression of grassroots democracy, peaceful protest, and collaboration between all ages, faiths, sexualities and races.”

Artists have also been rallying together to organize events and action plans in response to the current administration. In Los Angeles, Clockshop has organized the Counter-Inaugural, “a series of talks addressing the misogyny, hate speech, and climate change denial that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign.” Internationally renowned journalists, artists, activists, and academics including Laura Penny, Neelanjana Banerjee,Lynda V. Mapes, mark! Lopez, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Robin Coste Lewis have come together to address the toxic issues underlying the Trump campaign. Klowden Mann gallery has been hosting an ongoing series of conversations and artist actions in response to the election as well.

Dread Scott | “A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday,” 2015. ©Dread Scott.  Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Journalists and media have also been taking note of artists involved in the resistance movement. A recent Artsy editorial featured “20 Artists for the Trump Era,” highlighting those visual artists they saw as being political movers and shakers, including Ana Teresa Fernández, Dread Scott, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Kerry James Marshall, to name a few.

Last week, Emily Eakin wrote a recent piece for The New Yorker, asking “What Can Artists Accomplish by Saying No to Trump?” In this essay, she outlines various artistic reactions to and refusals of Trump, while questioning what their ultimate effect (if any) has had on the President. However unsure she might be, though, she ends with a rally call for artists, noting that “the challenge for artists will be to remain vigilant against each new threat, and, where warranted, to meet it with a refusal as energetic as the last.”

In the wake of rumors that the Trump administration plans to defund the National Endowment for the Arts (in addition to defunding the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), it is no surprise that artists are continuing to take note and respond visually. In the coming days, weeks, months, and years, it is artists who will be physically documenting, commenting upon, and perhaps protesting, the changes around us. May we continue to support and appreciate their art and struggle.

Ernesto Yerena Montejano | “
We the Resilient”, Courtesy of the artist and the Amplifier Foundation, 2017.


Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and educator.