Damaged - Shepard Fairey
November 11 - December 17, 2017
Library Street Collective is looking forward to the upcoming LA exhibition with artist/activist Shepard Faireyin his most ambitious show to date, aptly titled DAMAGED. It’s been nearly 10 years since Fairey’s last solo exhibition in his hometown of Los Angeles and the iconic HOPE imagery he created for then Presidential candidate Barack Obama. For an artist so committed to social progress, it seems fitting that 2017 would bring about reflection, a constant stream of inspiration (or more appropriately, instigation), and a deep desire to try and make sense of it all. In this unprecedented political climate, Fairey’s message has changed from hope to purpose: "DAMAGED is an honest diagnosis, but diagnosis is the first step to recognizing and solving problems. I definitely think that art can be part of the solution because it can inspire people to look at an issue they might otherwise ignore or reject.”
Of late, Fairey has shifted more towards making artwork based on critical issues and less on distinct figures as he has in the past. DAMAGED still contains the portraits we know and love, but the people he illustrates are representative of diverse Americans most affected by current policies and social issues, rather than recognizable personas of prominence. Despite the fact that it’s harder than ever to be heard - and definitely because of it - citizens and residents alike have been the loudest voices this year. Advocacy is something the artist has always encouraged through his artmaking and his many social, political and humanitarian platforms: “When greed and indifference are the status quo, it’s time for conversation. Our system of democracy alienates people, yet it is the system we have and the only way to change it is through the system itself. You have to participate, but so many people don’t want to come to terms with that reality - that they would have to interface with a flawed system would seem like a compromise...”
DAMAGED also takes aim at another hindrance to reformative communication: social media. For what should be the most meaningful platform for important discussion ever created, discourse has fallen secondary to self-indulgence and celebrity. The most prominent work addressing this idea is Media Target, which shows a fractured image of Kylie Jenner obscuring that of George Washington. Their faces are spun together as if one in the same, with the text ‘Media Disintegration’ hovering underneath. Jenner is symbolic of the unrelenting assault of celebrity noise that competes with and obscures issues of merit and meaning for our lives. Though cutting, Fairey isn’t exactly pointing fingers at the media alone; as part of a capitalist system, news and tabloids are simply supplying what we demand.
This sentiment has always been at the root of his OBEY campaign, and its aim to encourage people to question everything they are inundated with still unifies his work. The recognizable visual language that has spanned Fairey’s career - and goes as far back as his undergraduate days at the Rhode Island School of Design - is present in an increasingly subtle and nuanced manner. This modification may be as much an aesthetic decision as it is a conscious choice to imbed this concept deeper into his work, as hidden and yet as present as the Big Brother it was born to evoke. Over time, even the messages made to stop you in your tracks can fade into the background as they become familiar and ingrained; Andre as a more subtle inclusion reminds us of that, and in turn gives it more power as an idea.
There are a few pieces created for DAMAGED that stand out for their particular relevance in today’s political climate by advocating for people who have been robbed of more respect, support and basic rights in the last 12 months than in the last 12 years. As with his We the People imagery - which was so prevalent during the Women’s March - Ideal Power focusses on discrimination and double standards toward women in the wake of lost access to birth control, equal wages, and what could have been a momentous victory for women everywhere: the election of the first female President of the USA. “I think the prejudice is so insidious and pervasive that most people only recognize the most inflammatory instances of sexism if they recognize it at all,” Fairey says. “As a husband and father of two girls, I want to see women treated with equal dignity and respect, with access to the same opportunities and wages as men.” Welcome Visitor and Target Exceptions call out the travel ban and issues surrounding immigration, DACA, and the increasing obstacles on the path to citizenship. Bias by Numbers addresses racial bias in policing, criminal justice, and media culture. This bias in policing and criminal justice has a long history, but studies have revealed evidence of the pervasiveness against black citizens. From being five times more likely to be stopped and searched; four times more likely to be subjected to unnecessary use of force; and four times more likely to be killed by the police when unarmed, African Americans face a deplorable degree of police bias in relation to whites.
Fairey’s mastery of collage means that these portraits are layered with text, imagery, and stylistic variations that reference current events as well as the past. Combining ideas in a single piece that pull from different eras of injustice demonstrate how little things have changed, which might be the most shocking message of all. We forget that history repeats itself because new conflicts are always depicted as unique - connected but different from those that came before. The truth is, what we see every day in the news is really just more of the same - conflict generated and exacerbated by decades of failure to make necessary, meaningful change. It’s this realization that makes our responsibility as catalysts for change more imperative than ever. While words are crucial, they are less tangible and must be revisited in order to maintain their strength. The role of visual art as a stimulant is in its immediacy; once you understand its signifiers, its many layers of information are available to you at a single glance.
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Shepard Fairey's work and practice disrupts the distinction between fine and commercial art. He has become widely known since the 2008 US presidential election for his Barack Obama “Hope” and Inauguration poster that hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Fairey rose to prominence in the early 1990s, through the dispersion of posters and stickers that were labeled as “Andre the Giant has a Posse” which would later relate to his Obey Giant Campaign. Today the work is now regarded as an international phenomenon, having changed the language between art and the urban landscape.
Fairey sits on the advisory board of ‘Reaching to Embrace the Arts’, a nonprofit organization that provides art supplies to priority schools; and in 2007, he joined the board of the ‘Music Is Revolution Foundation’, a nonprofit organization that supports music education for public schools and for which he created a logo. In 2014, Fairey painted a towering mural paying tribute to Nelson Mandela and the 25th anniversary of the Purple Rain Protest in Johannesburg, overlooking the Nelson Mandela Bridge. He has always been open about controversial social and political topics and often creates or donates artwork in order to promote awareness for various social issues.
Fairey's works have been exhibited in numerous public and private institutions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.
Sara Nickleson | Library Street Collective | firstname.lastname@example.org