News

Art Activism Takes Root at #OccupyLA

by Abe Ahn on October 5, 2011

An #OccupyLA banner (all photos by the author) (click to enlarge)

LOS ANGELES — Four days into #OccupyLA, a small community is growing near the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, where protesters have set up camp. The site contains first aid and media tents as well as stages for performers and speakers. In the afternoon, some protesters screen printed clothing while others worked on paintings for a public gallery. The scene in Los Angeles is a flurry of activity with artists working together to build a more visible movement.

Near the sidewalk, members of the Print Media Committee screen printed designs on donated clothing and passed out shirts which read slogans like “The 99 Percent” and “You can’t arrest an idea.”

“This stuff is all free,” said Jesse Dodson, an artist and screen printer. “The idea is to wear a piece of clothing and elicit conversations with other people. Since people often get very defensive, it opens up the conversation about what’s going on here from the other perspective. They ask you instead of you having to preach.”

A view of the #OccupyLA encampment at LA City Hall. (click to enlarge)

The previous night, spoken word poets and musicians performed on several stages as organized by the Arts and Entertainment Committee. Others put on performance pieces like a human Monopoly game or a mock counter-protest of billionaires making statements like “Corporations are people, too.”

Artist Hydrangea Darling holds one of her drawings in progress.

Hydrangea Darling, a gallery and comic book artist, is a head of the Arts and Entertainment committee. She and her co-chair Rob Fisher plan on acquiring a projector to show videos and on allowing bands to perform on amps once the city grants them an amplified sound permit, which they expect to happen on October 6. They are also developing a gallery to show work by protesters at the scene and supporters who cannot be at the protest.

“I feel like it’s really important to have an arts committee here. For one thing, it does really keep the morale up,” said Darling as she was completing a drawing of her own. “People are more likely to sympathize with something if there’s an emotion invoked somehow, and art does that very well. Somebody might see a message in art that they might not have been hearing from a speaker.”

Near the sidewalk, artist Alex Schaefer worked on a plein air painting of the Los Angeles skyline, depicting skyscrapers in the financial district as engulfed in flames. In September, his painting of a burning Chase bank in the San Fernando Valley attracted negative attention from police before being purchased by an anonymous German art collector for $21,200. Schaefer wanted to symbolize the criminality and destruction of financial institutions.

Artist Alex Schaefer paints the Los Angeles skyline on fire. (click to enlarge)

“Even in the face of harassment by the police, I’m still doing it,” said Schaefer. “What people need to do is start expressing this common feeling. You can feel like ‘Am I the only crazy person? Am I the only one who doesn’t have a job or who can’t pay my mortgage?’ No, you’re not. A lot of people are feeling exactly the same way and there’s a feeling of strength from that,” Schaefer said.

Occupy LA continues and it has a website, occupylosangeles.org, and Twitter hashtag, #OccupyLA. Tune in.

Some signs on the lawn of LA City Hall. (Click to enlarge)

Members of the Print Media Committee prepare screen printed clothing. (Click to enlarge)

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