During this second civil rights movement which fights to defund the police and for justice for victims of police brutality, I have been trying to find ways in which I can support the movements from my home. There was an Instagram post from the account @broobs.psd that simply said “Bring Your Skills to the Revolution.” The post communicated that we all have our different strengths and capabilities to bring to the revolution whether that be organizing, protesting in the streets, contacting governments or in my case, making art.
Art helps bring attention to society’s need to change. I focus on creating pieces that combine activism and art; I use my creativity and artistic voice to fight for justice.
In late March — about a week into the Black Lives Matter protest marches — I decided I wanted to make some prints to support the movement and donate to BLM organizations. The prints are titled “1312,” the numerical rendering of ACAB: All Cops Are Bastards. I recently became introduced to this phrase and have been learning about what this phrase truly means.
I am able to say ACAB loudly and confidently because I understand that all cops, regardless of whether they are good or bad people, contribute to a justice system that oppresses and targets minorities while they make a career out of working for a racist system.
I used skeleton imagery for the cop as a way to symbolize my desire for the end of the police system. I was inspired by tattoo styling, so my sketch is influenced by the [descriptor] nature of tattooing. Making the ACAB prints was very therapeutic for me, to say the least. I was — and still am — very angry every day when I wake up and see more examples of police brutality towards Black people and protestors across the country. I channeled these emotions into this piece. The prints were very well-received — from the very first day, when I posted a rough sketch of my progress, I already began receiving messages from those interested in purchasing the prints once they were complete. I sold out, which felt truly amazing; not only because it was my first time selling and distributing my work to people outside of my house, but also because I was able to help out the National Bail Out collective with proceeds from the sales.
“It Comes Unadorned” is a painting not only commemorating the legacies and impact of the three women depicted — Anglea Davis, Nina Simone and Toni Morrison ’55 — but celebrating all of the Black women activists whose work to bring justice and liberation to their communities is not often acknowledged. The piece is titled after one of Toni Morrison’s poems and can be seen comprising the body of Toni Morrison’s profile on the left hand side of the piece.
Mixed media work has always appealed to me as a way to convey multiple emotions and messages through texture and layers in a piece. Using this collage technique harkens back to my previous work that involved a lot of digital manipulations of images to create collages in photoshop. I decided to reconstruct the subjects’ bodies using images from different photoshoots or captured moments to create a visual representation of the multifacetedness of the individuals.
I was inspired to make this piece after news of Ahmaud Aubrey’s murder gained attention in May. I watched a virtual talk with Angela Davis and she spoke of her experiences as a Black Panther and her views on the Black Lives Matter movement as new instances of murder and police brutality against the Black community seem to be recorded everyday. Hearing this revolutionary activist that I had looked up to for years speak on issues that I am currently living through inspired me to think about the often overlooked and unrecognized women activists who contributed to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. My love for music led me to Nina Simone, the voice of the Civil Rights Movement, who sang about the assassinations of black men and women — her music still rings eerily true. The notable novelist, poet and essayist Toni Morrison, not only deeply respected and valued within the Cornell community but globally, for her writings of the black female experience, is depicted as a figure who has greatly guided me through her writing.
Art serves many; it is my form of outward expression and a documentation of my life at a particular time. I feel so fortunate to be able to study art by actively creating in and out of Tjaden’s studio spaces. Having art ingrained in this part of my life means that it is constantly evolving and changing forms as much as I am. I look back to the work that I did back a year ago and I notice that it reflects a different set of intentions and motivations behind my creativity that is not the same as it is now. I am very excited to see my progress in the future as I continue to learn more about the art world and myself!
Aside from learning new technical skills that have helped me grow artistically, I think the thing that has changed the most about me as an artist is my consideration for how my voice speaks through my work. This was something I was really forced to think critically about after the first photography studio course I took at Cornell. Every critique, I was always asked some variation of “what does this work say about you?” Obviously a ‘voice’ will not just magically speak inside my head and tell me what my work should mean and what it should look like, but the way my work interacts with who I am is now something that I consciously consider before taking a photograph or making a print design.
Isabel Padilla is a sophomore in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning. She can be reached at [email protected], and her work can be found here.