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Six Indy creators protest Trump with art

Makers, designers, spoken word artists and more use their creative forces in the resistance

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Nathaniel Russell's "Resist Fear, Assist Love" drawing that went viral after he posted it on Instagram. - ALL IMAGES ARE SUBMITTED BY THE ARTISTS
  • All images are submitted by the artists
  • Nathaniel Russell's "Resist Fear, Assist Love" drawing that went viral after he posted it on Instagram.


"While we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us." — Audre Lorde

The United States now looks to Indiana in a way that it never has before. Our controversial former governor Mike Pence stands behind President Trump: as he signs executive orders attempting to halt people of an entire religion from entering the country; as he appoints an attorney general with a long history marginalizing voters based on their race; as he eludes to legislation and orders that will remove any hope for protection based on sexuality and gender; as he works to revoke healthcare for those who need it most. The rest of the nation watches to see what solutions Indiana can provide: because we've fought this before ­— and Indy's artists are no different.

In the following pages you will read about six creators who use their creative force to direct attention. For some, it's to show solidarity. For others, their art spreads a message of hope. And for some, they create to disturb the status quo. These artists — like Audre Lorde — are not rendered immobile by the fight that's ahead.


Lori Leaumont, the curator

Like so many of us, Lori Leaumont was chatting with friends trying to figure out what to do next under the new Trump reality.

"My friends and I have been talking about different actions that we can take," says Leaumont. "The last few weeks have been kind of scary. I was just personally thinking what my strengths were, and what I have done in the past. How I can use my artwork and organize something or take some kind of action?"

So she posted on Facebook, asking who would be interested in an anti-Trump group show. What she saw was an outpouring of support. She is still accepting submissions, but has a healthy list of visual artists, musicians and poets already booked.

Lori Leaumont, curator of the Resist art show
  • Lori Leaumont, curator of the Resist art show

"I hope the show can really center groups of people who are really marginalized... ," says Leaumont. "The initial response was huge. ... I have gotten a lot of things related to the march in DC. We got a submission from a jazz group, Premium Blend. The video that they submitted was a collaboration with Theon Lee, whose poetry relates to Black Lives Matter [and] the violence of police corruption."

This isn't the first time that Leaumont has curated a show — she used to put them together regularly at her family's business Garfield Eatery before it closed. Her own work is primarily functional work in clay sculptures, although lately, she has taken to watercolor and charcoal. Activism has become a vital element of her art.

Artwork by Lori Leaumont
  • Artwork by Lori Leaumont

"I think it's really important [for artists to speak out]," says Leaumont. "I think for me, personally, it's a way to process the way that I am feeling about what's going on around me. It's a way to communicate with other people and to express your ideas. I have been making more artwork in the last few weeks than I have made in the last year. I think it's necessary.

"I absolutely think there is a heightened responsibility," says Leaumont. "... I feel like there were a lot of people who weren't involved in activism in the past, or weren't involving their art in those subjects, now feel like it's not an option to be quiet anymore."

Martine Locke, the maker

Two weeks ago, Martine Locke was on her way to the Department of Homeland Security for an interview, fingerprinting and eye scans to prove that she and her wife are indeed married.

Locke is an immigrant, originally from Australia. Almost two decades ago she came to the U.S. on a visa. Since then, she met and married her wife, thanks to the removal of DOMA.

Locke has a green card, but there is a two year "transitional period" where they have to prove time and time again that they are still married.

Martine Locke is a resident maker at Ruckus
  • Martine Locke is a resident maker at Ruckus

They do that by keeping careful note of their marriage. They save every financial document that has both of their names on it. They make extra copies of leases that bare both of their signatures. They have to ask friends and family to sign sworn affidavits saying that the two of them are indeed married. They keep a stack of photos, birthday cards to one another and as many documents as they can possibly collect to validate their love is real.

"There are so many hoops that you have to jump through to be here," says Locke.

While it was music that brought her to the U.S., Locke has since started making leather bracelets and cuffs as a maker-in-residence at Ruckus. Her designs bear a signature copper plate with stamped phrases like: "nasty woman," "#resist," "we go high" and "nasty women make history."

Martine Locke's handmade leather and copper cuffs
  • Martine Locke's handmade leather and copper cuffs

"I can't believe how many orders" — more than 35, she says — "I have gotten in the last four days for #resist and #revolution," she says. "It's mad."

The cuff-making began five years ago when a friend gave her a sheet of copper from her roof. Locke stamped a quote from The Little Prince onto a small piece of the metal and fastened it to a leather cuff for her wrist. Friends started asking for them, and now it's a full time business.

"Words have such a power over me — to encourage me, to kick me in the ass or soothe my soul," says Locke. Right now the word "resist" resonates more than ever. (To her, it means: "To push back against what's going on and not just sit down and be silent.")

"That's all I am making at the moment — politically-charged things," says Locked. "That's who I am. Even though I can't vote in this country, I can't sit back with this last election. Particularly with how vicious it's been and damaging it's been, not only to my family but thousands of other people like me, who are immigrants, in gay and lesbian relationships and you know, I'm a woman. It's a three-pronged approach."

Jacob Gardner, the muralist

Last week Jacob Gardner was wandering the aisles of Home Depot, looking for wood to build a frame for the next piece in his newest series — a drawing of Mike Pence in drag.

"I think I am just going to the whole cabinet in drag," says Gardner. "I feel like maybe they will either touch themselves late at night about it or their reaction will send them to the hospital."

The completed Pence piece, entitled "Mike Pence is Fabulous," is on display at the Indianapolis Art Center as part of their show About Face. Gardner is also the mind behind the Trump-as-clown mural that now graces the corner of 4th and Roming in Lafayette, on The Spot. He was asked to paint it the day after he posted the image on Instagram.

Yes, this is Mike Pence in drag. It's titled "Mike Pence is Fabulous" by Jacob Gardner.
  • Yes, this is Mike Pence in drag. It's titled "Mike Pence is Fabulous" by Jacob Gardner.

"The reason why I made it was just venting, I suppose, getting something out," says Gardner.

The mural was a one-day project; first printed in grayscale, then painted and mounted with wheat paste. He anticipated that the printout was going to be in color, so Garner didn't bring any paint with him to Lafayette. So he made do with what was around ­— a children's paint set.

"You know like you would use in first grade art class," says Gardner. "So we had these little tiny brushes on this six foot piece."

He also just wrapped up a portrait of Sean Spicer, with the neckline of Edgar the Bug from Men in Black.

"Maybe [it's] to piss some people off," he says. "Maybe to get people talking. Maybe to get a dialog going. Obviously it's not going to be a positive kind, but as far as this whole experience is going I don't think it's been a positive experience for most people."

Jacob Gardner's mural in Lafayette of Trump as a clown
  • Jacob Gardner's mural in Lafayette of Trump as a clown

Gardner is down to earth about his perspective on politics. He doesn't expect his mural to remove Trump from office.

"I don't think painting a giant picture of a clown is going to solve anyone's problems or change anyone's mind or anything like that," he says. ... Maybe it will teach a couple of people about property rights and freedom of speech.

"I guess as far as what the purpose behind this is, the only thing that it's going to do for me in the long view of it is just get people talking," says Gardner. "I think in this whole presidency, if there is anything positive to come from it, is getting people more politically engaged. It's blatantly in their face. ... As much as this shit is being forced down our throats, it's naturally going to be on the palette of most artists."

Sarah Anderson, the poster-maker

"Are Hoosiers bigots?

"KNOPE."

Sound familiar? That's because you may have seen it on protest posters around Indy. It's creator, Sarah Anderson, sees posters as an artist's key to making Indy a place that protects women's rights.

Sarah Anderson's poster design
  • Sarah Anderson's poster design

"I feel like posters can be very impactful, because it's a strong pairing of image and text," says Anderson. "When you put them together you can move and unite people."

Anderson made the Leslie Knope poster — featuring Amy Poehler in her ultra-positive role as a Hoosier parks and rec director on Parks and Recreation — after Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Her designs are reminiscent of the WPA-era posters and propaganda. So when the Women's Rights march rolled around, Anderson knew it was time for a new design ­­— one based on Lady Victory.

One of Sarah Anderson's designs at the Women's Rights march
  • One of Sarah Anderson's designs at the Women's Rights march

Her most recent poster — which are a mix of handdrawn and digitally rendered designs — shows the top of the Soldiers and Sailors monument bannered by the words "Hoosier women unite." When she posted the image on the Indianapolis march's Facebook event page, it quickly gathered thousands of likes. So, she decided to release the file for free and sell a printed poster, — the profits going to Planned Parenthood. So far, she has raised over $700.

"[Posters] get across the message in such a strong way — in such a relatable way," says Anderson. ... It's a good medium to get across my activist tendencies I guess."

That activism can be hard to maintain, especially in a state that passed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country and in a country where the elected leader has a long history of misogyny. Anderson draws her motivation from moments of collective solidarity.

"For me the Inauguration Day of Trump was a pretty sad day, a pretty awful day for a lot of people," says Anderson. "Then, to have the women's march be the next day, that Saturday, just to go from feeling so down to feeling so empowered and united. I don't think I have ever smiled so much as I did at that march. ... I feel like art is the same way. It can unite people and bring people together so we can make real change."

Tatjana Rebelle, the facilitator

Tatjana Rebelle is one of the curators that you can thank for Indy's burgeoning spoken word scene. Rebelle created Vocab, one of Indy's first spoken word events that now runs at White Rabbit Cabaret. Her own poetry often delves into race, sexuality and identity. We chatted about her role as an artist in the revolution.

Emily Taylor: How has your art changed since the election?

Tatjana Rebelle:
The election has changed me completely as a whole. I have found that it has motivated me to speak my truth even more and use my platform to allow people to do the same.

Emily: Why has it changed?

Tatjana: It is in this time that I have found more than ever that being open and honest affords us the strength to unite. My experience has shown me that it is when people connect on a human level, that we find the strength to fight against our oppressors. It is times of civil unrest that art is necessary to make people pay attention.

Tatjana Rebelle, founder of Indy's spoken word series VOCAB
  • Tatjana Rebelle, founder of Indy's spoken word series VOCAB

Emily: What role do you see yourself taking in the resistance?

Tatjana: I see myself as a facilitator. I know that I can use my platform as an artist and especially as a promoter, to allow people the space to speak their truth. It is the moments of people being vulnerable and honest, that we find the bonds that unite us.

Emily: What impact can Indy have? What about Indy artists specifically ?

Tatjana:
I think Indy has a unique and sad opportunity to show the rest of the country how to take a stand. As the home state of Pence, we've been fighting this battle for years. The things that are hitting the national stage now, are things that we have been fighting under Pence for years. Some battles we have won, the others we have lost but gained experience to do what is right this time around. I think as artists that have weathered this storm before, we can be vocal to teach the rest of the nation on how to be successful.

Emily: How has the political climate impacted your creative process?

Tatjana: I honestly have had a bit of a block, in trying to wrap my head around what our current state is. I have allowed myself to take the time to use my platform as a promoter to allow others to speak their truth, while I find the words to do so myself.

Emily: In a time when it feels like we are at war, do you see art as still vital? Why?

Tatjana: Art is vital because it forces people to pay attention. You can not deny seeing a painting that confronts police brutality. You cannot deny the validity of a spoken word artist speaking their truth as they are combating a government that denies their family based on sexuality. Art tells the true story of what is going on in the lives of the people. Art is the reflection of who we are in our human existence. It is through art that we hear the struggles of the disenfranchised. Art is history and undeniable.

Nathaniel Russell, the doodler

When Nathaniel Russell wrote the words "resist fear, assist love" in his notebook he had no idea it would be the sketch heard around the world.

This message, along with a single, line-drawn fist, have popped up on nearly every continent at this point. And how it began was Nathaniel Russell, running errands the day after the election.

"I think, like a lot of people, I was pretty shocked and frozen; I didn't really know what to do with myself," says Russell. "One way that I have always felt with frustration or other emotions is to do some drawings in my sketchbook sometimes. Social media is a great way to share those."

Russell drew the image on a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of paper, in about 10 seconds. He snapped a picture of it, and posted it to Instagram.

"I thought about the words a lot when I was walking around, driving around, earlier that day," says Russell. "The words were intentional. I was really trying to come to terms with a way to proceed that was sustainable. For me, personally, I can't walk around angry all day. I can't walk around sad all day. I have a family, I have things to do and people to take care of. I can't live off that. So I was trying to find a way to move forward. I don't want to say thinking positive is what I was trying to do, more like thinking productive."

To him that productivity begins with posing one's mind for positivity.

"Today I am going to try to do good," he says, almost like a mantra. "Today I am going to try not to give into fear."

One of Nathaniel Russell's political posters
  • One of Nathaniel Russell's political posters

"'Resist fear' is implying, to me, some faults," continues Russell. "Like, if a watch is water-resistant it's not waterproof — it resists it. I will give into fear every day but I will try not to.

"With 'assist love' ... it's a lower-pressure, in a way. I can tell myself, today I am going to try and help. I am going to help someone, even if it's being nice to someone that I wouldn't normally be nice to. ... That's what it's all about, this mindfulness practice.

"It was a personal sort of revolt or reminder," says Russell. "It's resonated with a lot of people."

"A lot of people" is an understatement. The signs have popped up at the campus protests at Berkeley, in crowds at the women's marches, in storefront windows, in Brazil, Australia and more. Russell is humble about it all.

Russell — whose resume touts art clients' like Vans and Facebook — comes from a printmaking background, something that he sees as a deeply democratic medium. It's a historically cheap way to get imagery out in times of unrest.

"I am really against profiting from that monetarily," says Russell. ... "Not that people shouldn't be paid for their time, I'm not saying that... Because that image resonated with thousands of people, it became really important to me to become a steward of that image."

Nathaniel Russell
  • Nathaniel Russell

So he released it to the world. Russell will send anyone the image on one condition — that they promise not to make money off of it.

He was very hesitant to make t-shirts himself, but he decided to give 100 percent of the sales to non-profits. With his last batch he was able to raise $5,000; half went to the Julian Center and half went to Planned Parenthood. LUNA Music, a longtime collaborator, volunteered their staff's time to help pack and sell shirts.

"That's really important for me to, to make it available for whoever wants it, whoever puts meaning on it, whoever it's important to," says Russell. "I want it to be democratic."

It's been downloaded hundreds and hundreds of times that he knows about, and likely more.

"The world of art right now, there are a lot of different worlds you can exist in," he says. "You can be a gallery artist. You can sell paintings, make prints... But there is this weird boundary that I am trying to walk. It seems like whenever there is this huge tragedy or huge world event. ... I don't want to turn these things into an opportunity or self-promoting. ... I am trying not to do that. Of course, it is self-promotion, for people to know who I am but I'm not trying to hashtag my name on it. ... It's hard for me to say this without sounding like I am not knocking other people, but I do have a problem with the appropriation of political imagery, traditional political imagery and turning that into a t-shirt that you sell for $40 and keep all the money. That seems exploitative to me."

This is hardly the first time his work has been political. Many of Russell's posters, book covers and prints have a tongue-in-cheek attitude. And right now, he feels like there is no option but to speak out about what he sees.

His motivation? The hope that his 3-year-old won't grow up in a very dark world.

"It makes me so angry that there are people in charge who do not value kindness, decency, our natural resources," says Russell. "... That's what it all comes down to — money and power. I am afraid of this extreme [kind] of American capitalism that I find disgusting and gross," he says. "It's the complete opposite of all my values."

Russell mentions that his family will lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

"I truly don't think they care if people die," says Russell. "Why should they care? Their families are taken care of for life. ... I really believe that anyone in this administration — or Republican congress, President Trump, Vice President Pence — all of these people, I don't think they care about people."

The question of what to do next lingers on Russell's mind.

"I don't know if it's storming the gates," he says.

So he controls what he can: resisting fear and assisting love. He says that he will continue to make work that hopefully resonates with others. To him, resistance artwork is not an option.

"I don't see how you can not reference something because it's happening and it's real," he says. "If you are going to look back on this time in 20 years and see no difference in your artwork when this insane event — almost catastrophic world event — is happening, are you going to be that person who kept painting flowers? At the same time, maybe painting flowers is a political statement. ... It's how you live with yourself."

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