Interview with Revolutionary Artist Dread Scott:
J20 Art Strike, Other Stirring of Resistance in the Arts, and the Fight to STOP the Fascist Regime
January 9, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution/revcom.us recently talked with revolutionary artist Dread Scott. This is an edited excerpt from the interview.
Revolution: A call has come out from prominent artists and critics calling for a January 20 Art Strike against Trump’s inauguration. You are one of the signers. Talk to us about this call.
Dread Scott: The J20 Art Strike is an idea that does have a lot of well-known and respected artists as well as critics and historians that are calling for museums and galleries and other art institutions to shut down on inauguration day. And it’s thought of specifically in the context of J20 actions, disruptions that are called for by various groups around the inauguration. So it would be a very good thing if cultural institutions did decide to shut down or participate in other ways and weighed in to say, NO!, we are not going to normalize this fascist regime coming into power. So the thrust and intent of what the call is something that’s right on time. There’s a call for a strike, and if that happened, that would be good, a very good thing.
That being said, some people in culture put out this call—but then there’s the question of transforming this idea of a relative handful but well-known artists and people in culture into actual action. I think that’s the question. And it’s also related to Refuse Fascism. Here’s a call that is very sharp in calling out what this Trump-Pence regime is about. It has very well-respected signatories and has activists organizing around it like mad, furiously, to bring millions of people out into the streets to say, we don’t accept this regime and we will stay in the streets. And yet there’s a gap between that call and those millions—and people are working to close that gap.
With the Art Strike call, the fact that people like Cindy Sherman and Richard Serra have signed on is a very good basis with which to go forward. But then it does have to go forward and not just be a statement, but get some of these institutions to actually take this up.
Revolution: And the vision of the Art Strike call is for these different institutions to shut down or take other actions, and making an impact society-wide?
Dread Scott: Well what it says is, J20, an act of non-compliance on inauguration day. No work. No school. No business. Museums, concert halls, galleries, studios, art schools, colleges, close for the day. Hit the streets. Bring your friends. Fight back. So it’s an anti-fascist cultural front. So the idea is to have these institutions close. Their thinking, some of the initiators of it, are on two tracks. One, get the institutions to want to close. And two, they believe that some of the people who work at the institutions might have more of an interest and desire to close them than the leaders of the institutions. They think that if the leaders of these major, major museums won’t close them, what if the staff decided to not show up—then they’d be forced to close.
Revolution: Recently there was the controversy around St. Louis Art Museum loaning an art work for the inauguration, and then an artist and art historian led a protest against that.
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Dread Scott: Yeah, that was significant. The St. Louis Art Museum wasn’t making a lot of hay about loaning this piece but when word got out, lots of people said, why are you supporting him? In particular, the piece in question, the title is The Verdict of the People. It’s a historical painting that shows the counting of ballots. When people found out about the loan, there was a petition signed by a couple of thousand people, started by somewhat prominent artist and art historian, and they said what business does the St. Louis Museum of Art have to loan its legitimacy and stature to this fascist regime. And they had called on the museum to not loan out the work. This was significant.
The way fascism works is that all sorts of institutions have to change and support it. Or not—people have a choice to make. The people at the tech company Oracle, when their CEO said he’ll work on the Trump transition team, one of the prominent people at the company said no, I’m not supporting Trump. The CEO had said to Trump, we’re at your service. And this other high-level manager resigned and said, I’m not here to support Donald Trump—I’m not going to help build a data base of Muslims. That spirit of non-compliance and defiance needs to be widespread throughout society. So what’s being called for by this artist and art historian is, why should this museum praise this racist, fascist xenophobe warmonger? Why should that be normalized and accepted and promoted?
Revolution: What other types of resistance are you aware of among artists and in the cultural sphere?
Dread Scott: Part of what I’m aware of is what is on revcom.us and Revolution newspaper. The section you have on Voices of Conscience in the Time of Trump-Pence is actually very important. It’s the most sweeping thing I know that’s out there like this. It’s a compendium that people should check out. A lot of it is an aggregator of resistance. But it’s very helpful to get an understanding of what’s there.
Some other things: In talking to people around Refuse Fascism and its call, there are a lot of artists, reflective of broader society that are deeply anguished and upset about what’s going on, and are looking for ways to act. Some are acting, others are looking for ways to act. There are a lot of women artists that are going to the day after the inauguration women’s march. And people are very, very angry. There’s an art show called #PussyPower in Brooklyn, which I haven’t seen, but it’s got both young and older feminist artists that are furious that this misogynist bastard, the embodiment of rape culture, is about to be in the White House.
I know artists are starting to make art for some of the demonstrations coming up. Many artists are trying to find out how to make posters for people to carry in some of the demonstrations. There’s an artists collective called Justseeds that is working with a foundation called the Amplifier Foundation to produce art for the women’s march. Some of the artists are radical anarchists, feminists, they’re trying to figure out how to respond in this moment. Artists are running the gamut from trying to figure out how to make work for this moment, to figuring out how to make their public voices be part of stopping this move toward fascism. I think it’s not all worked out yet. People are trying to figure out ways to act.
There are artists who are increasingly signing on to the NO! statement from RefuseFascism.org. Including I just heard recently that an artist named Simone Leigh, who’s very well-known, signed the call. Couple of months ago she had a show at the New Museum, which is a medium-size non-collecting museum in New York. As part of that show she did a public series of events called “Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter.” It was a very defiant—using that institution to challenge murder by police, which is running rampant in this country. She’s a very well-respected, not young but not old, Black woman artist who just a couple of months ago very publicly was calling for an end to mass incarceration and murder by police. And she’s now saying we have to sign this NO! call, and calling on people to be out there.
Simone Leigh added her name to the signers of the NO! call that includes many in culture broadly. In the visual arts alone, signatories includes very significant artists: Charles Gaines, Dawoud Bey, Julie Mehretu, Danny Simmons, and me. I’ve signed this call and am organizing artists to sign it and take up the spirit of it, because it is urgently needed. The Call begins, “In the Name of Humanity,” and this really is an important point of departure. As a revolutionary and communist, I really appreciate that this call starts here and then in a very bracing way calls out the fascism that is at the heart of the Trump-Pence program and calls for mass defiance and resistance to stop it—BEFORE it starts. There are millions and millions of people all over the world, including many in this country, that are counting on us to not let Trump-Pence bolt fascism into place. No walls. No deportations. No racism. No pussy-grabbing. No science denying. No suppression of dissent. No nukes.
There’s the Degenerate Artists Against Fascism that Ted Sirota, the jazz musician in Chicago, has got going, as part of RefuseFascism.org.
There’s a lot of stuff percolating. And when you have people like Richard Serra, who’s probably the most significant postwar American artist signing a call for an art strike—this reaches into all kinds of places, from art school students to other major, major artists, people trying to figure out what to do, how to act, from art shows to demonstrations to using their public voices. It’s a very good basis with which to go forward.
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