Mariah Harris

Fighting the one-two punch

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid twin crises, arts and social awareness mix and meld and come together

IT’S BEEN A WEEK TO PICK OURSELVES UP, DUST OURSELVES OFF, START ALL OVER AGAIN: The one-two punch of pandemic and racial injustice has kept the culture on the ropes even as some of the contenders take a premature victory lap. The United States has solidified its dubious distinction as the epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in the face of a rudderless national response is the closest thing we have to a national leader on the issue, warns that if Americans don’t get serious about the threat we could be facing 100,000 new cases a day. While the nation gradually and sometimes not so gradually reopens, the numbers of infections and deaths have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered that people wear masks in indoor public settings in every county, a directive that many, even those assigned to enforce the law, feel free to flout. 

The designer Milton Glaser’s final project. miltonglaser.com 

Culturally, in the past week the nation’s lost two towering figures. The great comedian Carl Reiner, who with the likes of Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks helped shape a stream of antic and sometimes subversively open American popular comedy, died at 98. And Milton Glaser, the graphic artist/designer/entrepreneur/American hybrid, died on his 91st birthday. Glaser’s touch was all over the culture, from book and album covers to concert posters to restaurant designs to the iconic “I (Heart) NY” logo that’s been copied by cities from here to the farther moons of Pluto, or so it sometimes seems. At the time of his death he was working on a new cultural connector to bridge the divides of troubled times: a distinctive image of the word “Together.”

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Accounts to follow: Documenting protest and celebrating community

Instagram accounts of Oregon photographers who are documenting current protests and celebrating Black experience

This is the third  in a series of stories about outstanding Oregon-based artists to follow on Instagram. The series focuses on accounts that are regularly updated with high-quality images that allow followers to engage with the content regardless of location. Curated by the artists themselves, Instagram accounts offer the opportunity to view completed and in-progress artwork and to get a glimpse into the artists’ ideas, process, and studio practices.

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“We affirm our humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” This is just one of the many rallying points of Black Lives Matter, “a Black-centered political will and movement building project” that Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founded in 2013. Current protests in support of Black Lives Matter have been going strong for a month, their momentum and visibility strengthening and expanding existing anti-racist critiques of many facets of society. In visual art, this often takes the form of challenging the power structures of art museums and galleries, arts publications, and the art departments of educational institutions.

Police violence ignited the current wave of protests, but more broadly, Black Lives Matter aims to dismantle all forms of white supremacy and anti-Blackness.  It is about transforming society, including “creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy.” The Instagram accounts of Portland photographers Saman Haaji, Joseph Blake, and Mariah Harris are three spaces where the ideals of Black Lives Matter, the specificity of local protests, and the rich breadth of Black creativity converge.

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