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Art for Action

03/11/2014

Last fall during the National Day of Dignity and Respect, diverse families pasted rainbow-colored hearts on the doors and brick façade of Philadelphia’s office of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Pig-tailed children waved posters of monarch butterflies spray-painted with the rallying cry “Migration Is Beautiful.” Others read aloud touching poems asking Congress to keep families intact and stop deporting illegal immigrants.

Images of the iconic butterfly posters were broadcast on national television and splashed across the covers of print publications. Interdisciplinary artist and social activist Favianna Rodriguez, who visited RISD in early March, provided organizers with the stenciling that made it possible to reproduce the positive propaganda on the cheap. “That’s the power of art,” she explains to a small group of students gathered in the Printmaking department. “Those paper cut-outs and butterflies completely transformed the exterior of this building, which is normally a symbol of fear and oppression for most undocumented immigrants. We turned it into something beautiful that people could rally behind.”

A first-generation American born to Peruvian parents, Rodriguez doesn’t muffle her opinions about US immigration policies. In fact, the Oakland-based artist founded CultureStrike, a grassroots organization dedicated to producing visual work to educate the public about discriminatory legislation targeting illegal immigrants. The influential coalition also organizes lectures, festivals and concerts to empower and mobilize communities across the country to rally for social change.

“Migration is a natural part of evolution – humans have been doing it to survive for thousands of years,” notes Rodriguez. “Undocumented immigrants are here to stay and people just need to get over it.”

In addition to championing immigrant rights, the outspoken artist creates powerful posters and graphics promoting social justice issues such as women’s reproductive rights, economic inequality and gay marriage. For instance, some of her most popular prints are “pro-slut” posters that demand “white boy Republicans” stop waging war on women’s access to contraceptives. “I am fed up,” says the artist. “Patriarchy is destructive to society. It’s a form of violence against women and there is no place for it in contemporary culture. We have to call it out when it happens.”

Rodriguez was in Providence for an exhibition opening featuring artwork by CultureStrike artists at Brown’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, where she gave a lecture on the importance of social activism. The artist then spent two days at RISD working with students and conducting a printmaking workshop with Senior Critic Brian Shure. A small group of RISD students helped the outspoken artist roll out a series of abstract monoprints inspired by female genitalia. As a final touch, they stamped each of the geometric pieces with woodblock plates.

“We live in a very phallic culture that bows down to patriarchy,” explains Rodriguez as she uses an ink brayer to swipe a streak of canary yellow across a print. “I want to show that images of women aren’t only to be used to sell makeup and lipstick. We’re here to f*** shit up. We’re dangerous.”

Pamela Chavez 15 IL was thrilled to meet with an “unapologetically fierce” fellow Latina artist gaining significant attention in the contemporary art world. “I have been an avid fan of Favianna for some time,” she says. “Her artwork is prolific, especially in the California Bay Area. As a queer Latina migrant, I felt it was important for me to participate in her call to action.”

A proponent of depicting “real women,” Catherine Cole MFA 14 PR says she’s deeply moved by Rodriguez’s work, which she describes as an interesting contrast of “formulaic and improvisational. It’s so refreshing to hear from an artist who isn’t completely enwrapped in the gallery scene,” Cole explains. “She’s making work intended to encourage change and challenge opinions. I’d like to move in that direction, too.”

Abigail Crocker

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tags: Brown, social responsibility, Printmaking, diversity

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At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.