Inspired by the fact that the suffragettes communicated via chalking, I readily accepted an invitation to be part of the inaugural Pacific NW Chalk Fest. My idea to revisit Public Debt to the Suffragette was to bring attention to the current attack on voting rights. Across the country, politicians are engaged in voter suppression. They are creating obstacles to registration, limiting early voting and requiring strict voter ID, including requirements that weigh heavy on communities of color. Then as summer hit, the president pushed his mythical voter fraud claims to a new high by appointing the voting rights suppressor in chief Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to lead the voter fraud commission, Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
In late August, several women dressed in Victorian era white costumes joined me in Redmond at a new chalk festival organized by Terry Morgan of Modern Enterprises. We created a 16’ wide chalk drawing that included a flag with a cut out of the US filled with pictures to tell a history of voting rights. We drew images of historical voting rights advocates while talking with visitors about their roles in preserving the right to vote. Several young girls were shocked to hear that women weren’t able to vote before the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote in 1919. Young boys of color were also surprised to hear that they were kept from voting until 1975 when the Expansion of Voting Rights removed many limitations.
It is a long tough battle that is still being waged (or raged). I invited the League of Women Voters of Washington to join us and they set up a booth to register voters. They also ran a mock election for children to vote for president, Wonder Woman won. The Chalk Festival ran three days and broke all records of visiting public to Redmond Town Center.
Thank you suffragettes Jamie Peterson, Maura Donegan, Teresa Getty, Lisa Myers Bulmash, Anna Macrae, Jane Speleers Herrera, and Alison Farmer for your dress and creative drawing skills. And thank you to Bridget Kruszka of the Washington League of Women Voters for organizing your contribution.
I create artwork in response to the social climate. In this version of Public Debt to the Suffragette we take to the streets with chalk. I engage a cohort of diverse women artists to promulgate the right to vote through drawing and social engagement at the Pacific NW Chalk Fest (concept drawing above).
With limited funds and technology, the suffragettes used chalk to write messages, slogans and to disseminate times and locations for meetings. Inspired by the Suffragettes practice of chalking, we chalk to draw attention to current day issues of voting rights. The suffragettes of 1917 are transported to 2017 to reaffirm this basic right, currently under scrutiny by the newly formed “Election Integrity” Commission. Clad in white Victorian dress, we will engage the public in conversation while we chalk a patriotic drawing that features key figures from voting rights history, such as Susan B. Anthony, John Lewis and Frederick Douglas. The images appear within a map of the United States, within the US flag. We will actively register people to vote while creating our painterly tribute.
My fantastic performing artistic partners: Alison Farmer, Anna Macrae, Esther Ervin, Jane Speelers Herrera, Lisa Myers Bulmash, Maura Donegan and Teresa Getty.
Join us at the Pacific NW Chalk Fest at Redmond Town Center August
Thank you Seattle Office of Arts & Culture! I’m thrilled to be on the new Public Art Roster. And not to forget ArtsWA. Looking forward to creating art with the state too. You can see some of my work at the Public Art Archives here
The vulnerability of our nation is woven into our emotional relationship with the flag.Through time the 2nd Amendment has been re-framed to fit individual arguments. Today’s legal interpretation is but ten years old. While it’s come to be understood in many circles to support individual gun ownership, this is a very recent interpretation. As time passes, context changes, as we do as a people. This is the full content of the 2nd amendment. History is story telling. The truth is illusive.
Disunion is about the state of the nation. We are a nation in disunion. While the flag is meant to represent unity, divisions have claimed it and shroud it in disparate meaning. This work literally presents the full text of the 2nd amendment, a short two sentences that has been reinterpreted through time to meet individual agendas. My intent here is to question our assumptions, to look at everything in context. The amendment, laid bare, is up for individual interpretation. Surrounded by barbed wire, the flag puts forward a question of boundaries, borders, self-defense, and entrapment. The split stars reflect our partitioned thinking as a nation.
Currently the NRA is winning the narrative battle over the 2nd Amendment. They have created a story-line that would have you thinking that the 2nd amendment means that every citizen has the right to own a gun. If you ask a historian to explain the amendment, you would find that this historically has not been the interpretation. In fact over time there have been several Supreme Court cases that have gone against provisions based on this ideology. Our current acceptance of this narrative is less than 10 years old, based on a 2008 Supreme Court case ruling, the District of Columbia vs Heller.
The amendment itself is similar to a living organism. It’s meaning morphs and adapts to meet the popular narrative and to match our personal values. In a split court, this 5-4 decision protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected to militia. One hundred years ago this would have been a stretch in thinking. What the framers were referring to is a right and responsibility to have guns to protect the community from other powers. The colonies rejected standing armies and held that instead, by holding citizens at the ready, they could come together to defend a society from outside forces, like Europeans. These weapons were muskets and could be reloaded to shoot three musket balls per minute. Today an assault weapon can be reloaded to shoot up to 150 shells per minute. Everything in context.
Woodie Guthrie wrote This Land Is Your Land in 1940 as a sarcastic response to the overplayed God Bless America by Irving Berlin. The original lyrics included two lost verses. The song was recorded and released in the early 50s, during the days of McCarthyism, and the lines were excluded, a decision made by others. In solidarity with women across the nation, this is my sarcastic response to these times, to claim our position of equality in this land. During this time of upheaval and division, Guthrie’s words remain timely for many reasons. This land is your land, this land is my land.
“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me.”
“One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God Blessed America for me.”
KISS FEAR is a multimedia exhibit with poetry, sculpture, video, and performance by poet Daemond Arrindell and artists Mary Coss and Holly Ballard Martz that presents touching, powerful and sometimes darkly humorous ruminations on America’s weapon of choice, guns. Supported in part by a grant from 4Culture.
Thank you Big Freak Media for writing an Artist Spotlight on Mary Coss and KISS FEAR You can read it here