In Brief

Artist Receives Death Threats Over Her Anti-Trump Billboard

One side of artist Karen Fiorito’s billboard depicts a scowling Donald Trump flanked by fiery mushroom clouds and symbols that merge the Nazi swastika with the dollar sign, while the other features a message of unity.

Karen Fiorito’s billboard of Donald Trump (photo via Instagram/@karenfiorito)

There are many adjectives that a new billboard an artist installed in Phoenix, Arizona immediately bring to mind, but “subtle” is not one of them. Now looming over local businesses is a massive photograph of a stern-faced Donald Trump, flanked by fiery mushroom clouds and symbols that merge the Nazi swastika with the dollar sign. A closer glimpse reveals a pin on the president’s lapel in the form of a Russian flag. The piece was installed over the weekend by California-based artist Karen Fiorito as a commission by Beatrice Moore, a local arts patron credited with transforming the neighborhood, Grand Avenue, into a thriving arts district. Across the street from the explosive image is one of Moore’s buildings, La Melgosa, which houses a number of art galleries.

According to KNPX, the billboard went up at the start of a the city’s annual Art Detour event and will remain there for as long as Trump remains president. Since the billboard was installed, Fiorito (and her husband) has received numerous threats, from being called a communist and a Satan worshiper to being told that people intended to rape and murder her, as she told AZ Central. But she has no plans to remove the piece. She has long made billboard art, from an ongoing series that highlights the issue of drought in her home state to another political piece in Phoenix from 2004 that depicted officials of the George W. Bush administration alongside the words, “Dear America, we lied to you for your own good. Now trust us.” The Trump display, though, is easily her most incendiary.

As AZ Central reported, Moore had reached out to Fiorito to design a billboard soon after inauguration day. An initial idea was to portray Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, but the pair finally landed on the doomsday image, which incorporates symbols created by the New York-based artist Hugh Gran. On his Instagram account, Gran describes the graphic emblems as “a visual point to the history of big business and it’s [sic] cozy relationship to fascism throughout history to now.

“Now it has found new life as part of a work of art by Karen Fiorito,” he added, “a scathing design and billboard-sized critique of our current situation.”

Those who were quick to lash out at the artist may have failed to walk around to examine the billboard’s other side. To do so would reveal a much tamer message, one of inclusivity and acceptance: the word “UNITY,” spelled out in letters and also in sign language, as shown by an array of diverse hands.

“It’s more of a form of resistance, a form of protest,” as Fiority described her work to AZ Central. “I feel that I’m really just speaking for other people who might not be able to say anything, or speak out, or may not feel safe in doing so. Part of it, the back of it, is a call to unity. It’s a call for people who feel like they’re in the minority to come together.” More broadly, it’s also a lesson about taking a closer look at things beyond just a surface glance, particularly in this age of “fake news” and clickbait headlines.

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