As November’s US presidential election draws near, 15 artists have come together to produce original, wearable artworks to galvanize voters into action.
Barbara Kruger, Juliana Huxtable and Shepard Fairey are among those taking part in the “Artists Band Together” project, which has released a collection of designed bandanas via eBay.
The campaign will run through November 1, with proceeds going to three non-profit organizations — Mijente, Rise and Woke Vote — that work to sign up young and new voters, as well as people from communities of color that have historically been disenfranchised.
For participating artist Marilyn Minter, whose design repeats the word “Resist” in dripping paint, the project is particularly pertinent in what has been a tumultuous election year for America.
“There is so much injustice in the country right now and it’s getting more entrenched daily,” she said over email. “Art galvanizes young voters and makes people pay attention.”
Fairey, the artist behind the famous 2008 Obama “Hope” poster, said his bandana design, “is about the future of America being in our hands.”
“This is no time for apathy or complacency,” he said in an email. “The art (on the bandana) is a mandala that weaves in issues I care about like voter participation, green energy, taking an active role in shaping the future and nurturing potential.
“Mandalas represent harmony, a lofty aspiration, but a functional democracy with robust civic participation gets us closer to harmony,” he added.
Turnout for US presidential elections reached a two-decade low in 2016, with less than 56% of eligible voters casting their ballots — down from the 63.7% that voted in the 2008 runoff between Barack Obama and John McCain.
Over the years, multiple campaigns have urged young and minority voters to show up at the polls, including Diddy’s celebrity-laden and highly publicized 2004 “Vote or Die” effort.
Some experts fear that the Covid-19 pandemic will reduce turnout on November 3, with a number of states adopting hybrid voting models that include mail-in voting to help people safely participate in the election.
‘Symbols of unity’
The 15 bandanas in the “Artists Band Together” project are filled with messages alluding to participation and solidarity. Celebrated African American artist Hank Willis Thomas opted for an all-black design marked with the phrase “Allies Matter,” while US-based Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s bright orange bandana reads, “Do We Dream Under the Same Sky.”
Artist Christina Quarles said the detail on her bandana design came from a painting she did in May, “in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and directly after the killing of George Floyd.
“It contains this sense of a simultaneous ascension and descension,” she said over email. “I was interested in exploring these two directional pulls — what it is to find ourselves in the depths of grief or in the heights of hope and how we can rise up from being held down.”
One of the project curators, Nora Halpern, said in a press release that bandanas have potent political associations, calling them “symbols of unity” and “wearable markers of alliance and action.”
As Minter also pointed out: “The bandana is a perfect cover-up for demonstrating during the pandemic.”
The late Venezuela-born painter Luchita Hurtado, who passed away last week at the age of 99, said that her design and slogan, “Together Forever,” embody the sense of unity she was hoping to promote.
“‘Together Forever’ is a slogan of our time that confronts racial inequality, environmental advocacy, and united survival during a global pandemic, all in just two words,” she is quoted as saying in the project press release. “I don’t think there’s anything more important; that’s what the human race needs.”
Bandanas have a long, varied role in social and political history. The cloth accessory was worn by American mine workers fighting for their rights in the 1920s, and by fictional icon Rosie the Riveter as she inspired women working in factories during World War II.
In the 1970s, gay men used bandanas to form the “handkerchief code,” signaling their sexual preferences in a clandestine manner. More recently, Argentinians have donned green bandanas to support abortion rights, echoing the country’s Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo movements, which used white bandanas from the 1970s to protest the illegal stealing of children during Argentina’s military dictatorship.
Top image caption: Bandana artwork by Christina Quarles.