Indiana University Students Politicize Visual Artwork

Students in a printmaking and social action course feel encouraged to use art as a medium for activism

Two women in printmaking class.

Last June, history was made when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. This did not elicit universal acceptance: Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis began withholding marriage licenses from couples who wished to marry following the ruling. Though she was jailed for contempt of court after ignoring a court order to issue licenses again, she was released within days and hailed as a hero by many high-profile conservatives.

Michael Kopp, digital art and interactive media senior, was inspired by this spectacle to use his art as a political tool. In his own words: “I never was one for politics. I’ve always kind of steered away from it because I don’t really like the system. It wasn’t really until the whole Kim Davis and marriage equality issue in the past year that I wanted to get more involved in my community.” With a rented computer, projector, and an extension cord in tow, Kopp drove to the Rowan County office where Davis works.

“I created a rainbow flag in Photoshop, since it’s the symbol of gay pride. Then I hooked the projector up in the back of my car and popped the trunk open. I mapped out the whole side of her building with the flag. It was exhilarating,” Kopp said describing his intentions. The image remained projected for about twenty minutes until a landscaper on the property called the local sheriff because Kopp was using the building’s outlet to power his projector.  Though he was informed he could not keep using the building’s power, Kopp was informed that he was welcome to return with a generator.

Other students in the fine arts department of Indiana University Southeast have also been contributing their artistic voices to socio-political discussions. Assistant professor of fine art. Susanna Crum says that her printmaking and social action course facilitates this kind of expression for students. Of her course, Crum says, “I’m interested in the power of all forms of art, whether it’s visual, music, or writing. They enable people to ask questions and to hear or learn about people’s lives that are different from their own. There [are] opportunities to participate in the public sphere with printmaking that [are] unlike many other forms of art.”

Graphic design student Stephanie Hensen was immediately taken with the class, particularly the social action portion of it. She is currently working on an Andy Warhol-style self-portrait that she plans to display alongside a sign with an Instagram hashtag, encouraging people to take and post selfies with it. Fellow student Kacey Sloane is similarly encouraged, noting that printmaking opens doors for getting artwork seen quickly.

Fine arts senior Chelsea Markuson describes the process of creating as, “being isolated, like the lonely artist in the studio. It starts that way because you have to learn your own artistic language and your own voice as an artist. I think in order to have a stable projection out into the world of humility, kindness and being a good person, it’s important to have that self-awareness.”

Markuson believes that political activist in art “ultimately wants to be a catalyst for change.” These students are an inspiring testament to the importance of speaking about important issues in any medium available, whether that be a social media hashtag or a powerful piece of artwork.

Kopp’s next piece will focus on gay rights in Uganda. “There’s been a rise in homophobic legislation in the past decade in Uganda. It’s been propagated by American Evangelical Christians. So this piece is highlighting the fact that crimes against humanity are being inflicted on homosexuals. It’s just this perpetuation of hate-based bigotry,” Kopp says of the forthcoming project. The piece will be on display this April during a university exhibition.

Some of the artwork shared by students can be viewed here.

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