I’m a transgressive artist. I created a billboard with Obama’s glowering face in the middle, mushroom clouds on either side of it, and ISIS flags on the far ends. Really makes you think.
Sure, my art installation might not sound revolutionary, but check this out: I drew clown faces in the mushroom clouds and replaced the Arabic script of the flags with swastika-looking dollar signs. Because money is bad.
The design took less than 20 minutes to slap together in Photoshop, but the purpose of art isn’t to demonstrate skill. It’s to provoke a reaction.
Outdoor advertising is less expensive than you’d think (especially on Grand Avenue) so I talked a gallery into putting up my billboard for a few weeks to challenge the bourgeois attitudes of corporate puppets and middle-class commuters. These people wouldn’t be caught dead in an alternative art gallery. Hell, they don’t even know their Jenny Holzer from their Shepard Fairey.
Before you accuse my Obama/Mushroom Cloud/ISIS billboard as somehow being divisive, on the back I wrote “UNITY” in sign language. I’m all about bringing people together.
But for some reason, people missed my nuanced message of solidarity and hope. Mobs on social media are calling me a Nazi and a devil worshiper. I’ve stopped checking Facebook and Twitter because of all the death threats. Even the businesses under the billboards are receiving threats. Which is weird because social media is usually so reasonable and polite.
The backlash is sad, but it’s hardly new territory for a transgressive artist like myself. Some people just can’t handle thoughtful political critiques.
As a grad student in the ’90s, I made a billboard bravely calling President Clinton a liar. That design took 45 minutes, since my first version stating “Bubba Clinton is a big, fat poopyhead” was rejected by the gallery. In those dark days, even the transgressive art community was afraid to speak truth to power.
Nevertheless, it’s my right under the First Amendment to express myself. I had a real fear of the direction of the country under Obama. The mushroom clouds subtly critique his Iran deal, while the ISIS flags symbolize the power vacuum left in Iraq when he abandoned it. And the dollar signs? Well, money is bad.
But this violent reaction to art is just uncalled for. We’ve gotten to a point where people can’t hear an opposing viewpoint without issuing death threats. What happened to the civility of public square where I could make my policy preferences known and opponents would calmly reply, “No, Obama isn’t a secret Muslim communist who was born in Kenya.”
I think a lot of people feel this way about him and I’m just trying to express what I think is on a lot of people’s minds these days. Something that really concerned us was this idea of a dictatorship where things were going in a certain direction. Some of these issues are so important you can’t not speak out.
Freedom of expression is a thing, you know. It’s high time America got back to a place where a transgressive artist could put up a billboard of a president with mushroom clouds and ISIS flags and swastikas without all the divisiveness and hatred.
We should celebrate art that only requires the ability to cut and paste images from Google search. Not only that, taxpayers should fund billboards that mock their beliefs. That way, I won’t have to con some alternative art gallery into paying for my ad space.
God knows I’m not going to use my own money. Because money is bad.