big brother painting by essie somma

art x activism

Art as social practice has the power to alter our political landscape, especially on an individual level. Drawing on conceptual tools used by Dadaists, my work encourages new ways of thinking by recontextualizing the issues that affect our communities most. Whether it’s a visual juxtaposition or employment of a familiar object, controversial topics are stripped of their severity, creating a space that promotes education and discourse.

A desire to understand alternate viewpoints informs my art practice. Through conversation and curiosity we find common ground on issues that affect our world most. This understanding, and a willingness to lean into empathy, allows us to cultivate an understanding of one another.

Color Me Insurrected

Someone born in the summer of 2001 began their life with 9/11. The Iraq war started when they were 2 and ended a few months after their tenth birthday. The following year, Sandy Hook Elementary was attacked and 20 children under the age of 8 were murdered. Two months later, Trayvon Martin, 17, was stalked and murdered. By the time they entered 8th grade, the global mean warming had reached 1 degree Celsius above that of preindustrial times, the warmest in 11,000 years. They also witnessed the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. When they entered high school in 2016, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. When it came time for them to graduate in 2020, they celebrated over Zoom at the height of the CoVID-19 Pandemic.

Those events, spread over 19 years, are only a sampling of what has happened in one country.

It’s hard to believe anyone would be surprised by the events of January 6th, 2021. It’s time to recognize the world we’re raising children in and the role we have in the disappearance of ‘childhood’.

Color Me Insurrected asks what is acceptable to show children, and brings to light the impact world events have in their lives.

Let's Get Informed

Let’s Get Informed is a pocket sized guide to the candidates, their platforms, and other miscellaneous topics relating to the 2020 U.S. Election season.
Each week a new chapter, or series of topics was added. You can still find the a free downloadable PDF of the original project here.
This project was designed to provide a way of informing those around you by presenting thoroughly researched, unbiased information and one-to-one comparisons of the candidates. It was in no way aiming to persuade voters to one side or the other.

Please download, print, and assemble this zine and keep it handy in your backpack or pocketbook as a tool for spreading information and encouraging political action through education.

Chapters include: (1) Meet the Politicians, (2) Courtroom Drama, (3) Conspiracies, (4) Cop Talk, (5) What type of Socialism are we okay with?, and (6) How is our election being undermined?

Supplies: printed PDF, scissors, and a stapler

Directions for assembly: 

    1. Print the two documents front and back
    2. Cut the off the white space/margins
    3. Cut the remaining image in half horizontally, dividing the top two pages from the bottom two
    4. Stack the two pieces so that the "Lets Get Informed"  title page is visible
    5. Fold the stack in half and staple the booklet in the middle

Hindsight is 2020

Let’s Get Informed became Hindsight is 2020. The final form of this project is a coptic bound pop-up book.
The book was not designed with the intent to make multiple copies or be sold. Instead, the whimsical nature of pop-up books places a playful lens over the information inside. Combining collage, popular culture references, and political rhetoric, the absurdity of the 2020 presidential election is recreated.
The election infiltrated all of our lives. It broke voter turnout records and took over our social media feeds. Once Joe Biden was declared the winner, the turmoil of the past four years suddenly disappeared. The tweets that kept us up at night became funny. The press conferences and crooked lawyers no longer induced anxiety now that they had an expiration date.
In a year that had been condemned, a little light has shown through. In hindsight, 2020 was a year for radical change.

All American (the Good ol' Boys)

Trigger the Conversation was a year-long grant funded research project created between 2017 and 2018.
The project was self guided, with a chosen topic of gun legislation and culture in the United States. The funding was awarded shortly after the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas in 2017. In response to this news, I began looking into the backgrounds of multiple mass shooters as well as interviewing non-violent gun owners.
From this research, I put together a set of 20 baseball cards with the ‘stats’ of each subject on the back. The cards featured a photo of the subject and a description of their personality and relationship with gun culture.
10 cards featured violent offenders, such as George Zimmerman, Nikolas Cruz, and Stephen Paddock. The remaining 10 took a look at 10 non-violent gun owners.
In an attempt to gain perspective, I befriended an avid hunter who took me to a shooting range where I learned how to shoot a gun. We shot pump action shot guns, rifles, and handguns, including a Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver. I kept all of the remnants of the excursion, including casings and clay disks.
The project was originally presented as an installation at the Glass Box Gallery in Santa Barbara. The baseball cards were scattered among shotgun shells, bullet casings, and empty ammunition boxes spilling off of a pedestal.

Trigger the Conversation

After the works first showing, it quickly morphed into a bipartisan, interactive piece aimed at ‘triggering’ a conversation.
Rather than manifesting as a gallery-style installation piece, it became a deck of 52 playing cards. Each one of the numbered cards has a statistic on it or poses a question, some of which are shocking and uncomfortable to read. The face cards feature Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the parkland shooting and activist, and a still from Donald Glover’s video for This Is America, a work highlighting America’s use of black celebrities as a distraction from the violence it forces on its black citizens. Ultimately it’s up to the player if they want to engage in a conversation or keep playing without.
With the remaining grant funding, I manufactured 100 decks. I began giving the cards out to local bars and coffee shops, left them in bookstores, on restaurant tables, and other public locations. The idea was to take something inherently harmless and interactive and use it as a vehicle for political discourse.

Science Fiction x Propaganda

Politics and popular culture have always been intertwined.
History has always been, and will always be, cyclical.
During the first year of the Trump administration, I was introduced to the use of American cinema as a form of anti-Soviet propaganda. Along with familiarizing and analyzing 1950’s and 60’s film, I began looking at dystopian fiction. The overlap of the two, particularly between science fiction films and novels like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, reminded me of our current political climate.
In both, oppression and fear of the other set the stage for a new cult of personality.

This realization led to two products; (1) Big Brother, Acrylic and Oil on canvas, and (2) Science Fiction and Propaganda. Both works aim to draw a connection between Trump and the Cold War.