The 2016 U.S. presidential election has spurred a considerable about of tension across the world. People are waking up, becoming more politically active, expressing their opinions. From scrawlings and slogans, to informational wheatpastes and large-scale murals, a flood of politically-charged graffiti has hit the streets. Here, we highlight just a few iconic examples of resistance art making waves online, and a few piece of graffiti that have been documented on the streets of Portland recently. City municipalities across the U.S are reporting considerable spikes of graffiti, but usually the "hate graffiti" such as swastikas are dominating the news. As expected, in times of political and social strife, people from all walks of life are using public spaces as message boards, a way to spread and amplify messages.
In February 2017, street artist Pegasus portrayed Trump in a wheatpaste as Hitler captioned with, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” An aphorisms originated by American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952). A powerful message paseed down over generations, drawing upon historical narratives of the hostile dictatorships and sharply applying it to the current political situation in the U.S. A few days after the piece went up, Pegasus informed the Huffington Post that he had received death threats due to this image. His response towards the intimidation was, “I will never give into fear mongering, nor will I ever be censored—I am American and I believe in freedom of speech and artistic freedom of expression.”
TABBY, a street artist from Austria, has created an entire series of anti-Trump pieces. TABBY’s, “Don’t Feed The Trolls” depicts a clan of Trump trolls with golden toupees flying off to the side. When asked about the piece TABBY stated, “Trump is everything that’s right and wrong with America and the world—He’s the American dream of being super wealthy and saying what you want, while being totally out of touch with reality.”
Another common theme is Trump embracing himself, or Vladimir Putin. Harkening back on Banksy’s famous “Kissing Coppers” and the Berlin Wall mural of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker locking lips, artists today are utilizing this iconic and provocative imagery.
Pieces like these symbolize a challenge to gay stereotypes (by depicting strong authoritative male figures in ways not typically not seen in mainstream media), comment on legal controversies (like gay marriage), and with TABBY's piece, sharply criticizing Trump's narcissistic tendencies.
In a similar vein, projection light activists have displayed the image of pregnant Trump being cradled by Putin, promoting the message of 'love through hate.'
One of the more iconic and lasting pieces we have seen during the 2016 election cycle was the “Dump Trump” mural painted by American punster Hansky on Orchard St in NYC in August 2015. Here, Trump is depicted as an emoji-like pile of shit.
Hanksy and his pose even took a cross-country #DumpAcrossAmerica trip protesting Trump. His team went as far as getting into a rally and got Trumps attention. When Trump realized there was a disturbance and saw the protest signs, he remaking “What is that? A potato?”
Hanksy also offered the public free downloadable versions of his work, allowing the image to be replicated and used for protests all around the world. When interviewed by ArtNetNews about the piece Hanksy stated, “I painted that silly Trump mural in NYC late last summer a few weeks after the wigged one announce his presidential run. The mural was a joke and so was Trump. Unfortunately, the punch line never came and it’s scary as hell.” The mural was later buffed, and in response Hanksy said, “It was a shit mural anyway, however, if anyone has a nice giant wall, preferably in direct view of 725 5th Ave [Trump Tower], I’d be happy to paint it again.”
Street artists aren’t just sticking to walls, Miami graffiti artists, TESOE, SHINE, and CRIS, took over a billboard and painted over an American flag with a “DEPORT TRUMP” message. Little has been said about this piece, but its message is clear and taking a stand on Trump’s anti-immigration political actions.
INDECLINE, an American anarchist art collective made up of several artists and supporters from different states. INDECLINE first spray-painted Trump with a red ball gag covering his mouth and the words “¡RAPE TRUMP!” at the Tijuana Mexico/United States border with specific instructions on how to travel to the White House from there. This was INDECLINE’s response to Trump’s inflammatory statement: “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
When the anonymous creative director of INDECLINE was interviewed by VICE about the piece he explained, “We don’t honestly expect anyone to crawl over the border and follow the instructions and find Trump and rape him, but we want to raise awareness about the horrible shit he said. Controversy works better than something subtle.”
In August 2016, five identical statues of a completely nude and unflattering depiction of Trump appeared overnight on street corners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, and New York City. This unique street intervention was also done by INDECLINE and was titled "The Emperor Has No Balls." INDECLINE told the Washington Post, "like it or not, Trump is a larger-than-life figure in world culture at the moment. Looking back in history, that’s how those figures were memorialized and idolized in their time - with statues." These installations captured viral attention across the world in just a few hours after they were erected in the street corners across the U.S. When asked by MMC The Monitor about the meaning of the lude installations, the collective responded, “Donald Trump, our modern day emperor of fascism and bigotry is never installed in the most powerful political and military position, the man goes out of his way to ridicule everybody, he deserves it.”
Approaching the current political situations from a different angle, L.A.’s Shepard Fairey, (well-known for the iconic OBEY logo and the “HOPE” poster during Obama's candidacy), launched his “We the People” project. This series of posters consisted of Muslims, Native American, Latinos, and African Americans along with the first words of the U.S. Constitution, “We the People Defend Dignity,” “We the People Protect Each Other,” and “We the People are Greater Than Fear.” Fairey wanted to focus on the essence of what “We the People” represents to the public. Unlike his previous “Hope” posters, Fairey choose to challenge the president-elect by depicting powerful images from the “communities that the conservative white right wing can’t bring themselves to treat equally.” With the help of a very successful Kickstarter campaign, leading up to the Inauguration Day Women's March, Fairey and his team purchased full-page color ads in the Washington Post to be distributed to 600,000 people across the U.S., distributed the images at Metro stops, via moving vans, and at drop spots in Washington D.C.
Randomly encountering these striking and provocative images while we go about our daily lives resonates in ways common media and news cannot. Reminding us of the dire situation at hand - the clear and present threats to democracy, liberty, and justice for all. Throughout history, graffiti has always been a tool for the disenfranchised and disillusioned. These street campaigns give voice to the communities that feel threatened, all while shining a harsh light on deeply rooted prejudices and privileges.
Arguably, some of the best art and graffiti makes us feel uneasy, challenges us to think differently, ask questions, provokes our emotions, and pushes ourselves beyond our daily routines. In the best-case scenario, resistance graffiti makes us feel like we are not alone, perhaps giving us the courage to stand up for ourselves and even better, launch into real action. Graffiti has, and will always be a powerful voice from beneath; a cry, scream, and demand.
The seeds of uncertainty have certainly been sown over the past few months. We are in uncharted waters. Use this manure as a fertilizer - to grow, sprout, and spread seeds of resistance.
More images of Anti-Trump graffiti...
SPECIAL THANKS TO LOURDES JIMENEZ FOR CONTRIBUTING TO THIS ARTICLE