On Tuesday, November 15, I made plans with a friend to visit Bluestockings, the indie bookstore on Allen Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, for the opening of OCCUPIED: Occupy Wall Street Art Show, which promised to feature “art and culture from and for the 99%.”
While Bluestockings bills itself as a “bookstore, fair trade café and activist center,” attending OCCUPIED was the first time it really felt like an activist center to me and considering I’ve been there for many radical events and dialogues, I think that says something. If you get enough of us together downtown these days, everything feels like an activist meeting. I overheard two people loudly discussing who I assumed was a mutual friend: “Well, she should come down to a GA [General Assembly] and see what it’s really about.” I haven’t casually overheard conversations like this anywhere, really, since my super-activist-oriented college days. But things are changing, and communities in New York are being stirred by Occupy Wall Street, or OWS as people like to say.
My “dropping by” OCCUPIED is kind of symbolic of my attitude thus far toward the Occupation. During the first week, I walked around Zuccotti Park (which I had never heard of before OWS) and observed the scene. I considered interviewing the construction workers who were staring at the protesters, but my recorder was out of juice. I snapped some images and posted them to Twitter. Then I left.
It’s funny how you can casually support something — in this case OWS — until someone threatens to take it away from you. After the OCCUPIED art show I went on a cupcake date with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time and then returned home to watch movies. As I checked the computer before going to sleep, Twitter was abuzz with the news that Zuccotti was being raided. I watched a number of different livestreams and welled up — two days before the two-month anniversary! On November 17, I joined a rally at Foley Square in support of the movement and promised myself to be more active.
The general vibe I’ve been hearing from a lot of people is “I don’t totally agree with the OWS protesters but … ” and then some message of, well, agreement. I have been feeling the same way, but deeply passionate about the space OWS has opened up for dialogue: political, social, economic and artistic.
As cultural critic Jay Smooth said, “It’s just specific enough to catch that basic sentiment that so many people share, and it’s just vague enough to let many people come to it with many different shades of that sentiment.” The OCCUPIED art show is a little like that.
From political posters of all sorts to handmade signs (like those seen at Zuccotti and in the streets) to more traditional art pieces, OCCUPIED was clearly the result of an open call for submissions, which is, obviously, appropriate. Unfortunately, without labels, the only artist identities I knew were those I could garner from sight, like the handiwork of Bedford-Stuyvesant-based illustrator Cristy Road.
I was really taken with this moving portrait, painted on a fictional “People’s” newspaper proclaiming, “30% of U.S. Workforce Toils for $8 Per Hour or Less”:
I also enjoyed this text-based piece which reminded me of a mash-up of William Powhida’s recent works from his Derivatives show at Postmasters Gallery and Loren Munk’s painted maps. Using the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, this artist — which I know from a past Hyperallergic post is Rachel Schragis — created a muddled map of the myriad grievances and causes that instigated the Occupy movement:
As OWS has inspired these and many other pieces, among tons of clever signs, Occuprint is creating a digital archive of posters from the movement to be printed out and used practically. Issue four of the Occupied Wall Street Journal is also a poster folio with a circulation of 20,000, meant to be posted about, further occupying public space and encouraging dialogue.
OCCUPIED will continue until December 8 at Bluestockings (172 Allen Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan).
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.