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Why I Make Protest Art

Arlette Jassel

I used to paint flowers; lush colorful blossoms, usually very life affirming and joyful. They were always large and fleshy, not at all like Georgia O’Keefe’s elegantly understated blooms. However, the constant barrage of offensive and untrue information and statements from the highest places in our government eclipsed my beautiful life-affirming blossoms exactly the way an ocular migraine can cover the scene you are looking at. It is a gray mass that works its way across your field of vision. There is no physical pain but you cannot see.


In order to regain clarity, I had to create new images that expressed what I was feeling. The new images were disturbing and called me to witness my anger and acknowledge my despair. A government I had grown up trusting albeit with lots of flaws, some awful, like Vietnam, police brutality, degradation of women; and consistent poverty, poor education and lousy health care, still had a compact with me to honor the essentials of the Constitution.


That compact is now shattered and I have had to look at the world’s art to find imagery that is capable of expressing the rage and fear and sadness I am feeling. This is not a unique moment in history but it is true that the losers never get their real protests saved for history. So, I have chosen to elaborate and repurpose images that can express my feelings. 


Don’t be fooled that it is easy for an artist to express their rage. It is terrifying. The artist fears for her life. Will I be attacked for painting criticisms of our government? These paintings are not frivolous cartoons. We remember what happened in Paris when a cartoon offended a religious terrorist and he went on a murderous shooting spree. And when an artist posted a nude drawing of Trump with small genitals after the Access Hollywood Tapes were aired. Her work was banned from Facebook and she was attacked and beaten outside her studio by paid thugs.


Still, given the fear the need is stronger. Therefor, I and all the artists who are engaging in protest art continue to make work. We make it to discomfort even our friends; not expecting to change a single mind, but hoping to focus with a laser beam, the real essence of the outrage. 


Each one of us has a peculiar take on what is happening and it is through these singular expressions that a genuine picture of the effects of this government is made. If I work hard enough I will find the single moment of truth that cannot be dismissed as jest by false-eye-lashed press secretaries or buried by embalmed leaders of the Senate.


Protest Art protects our precious country by eliminating apathy and enlisting people to work for a better government.

From the Artist

My painter and sculpture bona fides are well documented but my writing is not. I have always relied on my imagery to tell the story starting with the paintings I made after JFK's assassination while I was an art student at Hunter College in NYC. My passion for feminist art and revealing the life of a woman artist resulted in a museum show in Kalingrad, Russia of small sculptures I had to transport as part of my luggage in 1992.
Recently, two drawings I made for "What is Feminist Art" are on view in the Smithsonian Archives, National Portrait Gallery through 2021.
For many years I chose the flower to reveal my thoughts about feminism.
The Coronavirus has trumped my focus on feminist issues and my recent work flows from my protest art of the past 3 years.

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“All Aboard” 2020

40” x 48” acrylic on canvas

“Follow Me” 2020 

 38” x 56” acrylic on canvas

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