Protests are rampant here in the United States. They’ve come in forms of marches, assemblies and flag burnings. But a picture is worth a thousand words. So is a dance, a movie, a song, a poem and a mural. People often forget that one of the most powerful forms of protest is art.
Movies such as Wall-E and Avatar are said to have helped influence the environmental habits of families. Songs expressing homosexual persecution have moved us to tears. Books and first-person recounts of refugees have altered our perspectives. Cinematographers, musicians, authors, artists understand the powerfully emotional influence of art and have been able to use it to change the world around them. Believe it or not, many of these artistic political activists live right here in Salt Lake.
Veronica Perez is a Mexicana artist who has helped make murals around South Salt Lake. She creates powerful depictions of indigenous Mexican cultures and incorporates them with current and relevant issues. One of my personal favorites is her painting of a chained hand lifting a human heart out of flames. To me, it represents modern Mexico lifting the heart of its people out of the destruction of the government. It’s beautiful and moving, and thanks to websites like Etsy and artistveronicaperez.com, she is able to spread her voice beyond mural sites.
Oscar Amaya is another Mexican artist who currently lives in Utah and specializes in metal work. His inspiration comes mostly from Utah wildlife.
Kim Martinez is an art professor here at the U and she’s run several art projects around the city. She’s received several awards and is even a part of a program called REALIA (Research Engagement for Associative Learning in Arts) that allows anyone to create a mural, which can be a beautiful and effective form of protest. They’re exposed for all to see. When a whole community comes together to create a piece of art that they all can enjoy and put a piece of their stories into, anger and rivalry can start to cease. Not to mention, murals can turn something bare and mundane into something beautiful and inspirational. Some wonderful murals that REALIA has created include “Nexus,” the mural of hands holding the apple in the Peterson Heritage Center dining hall that is supposed to be about the “elemental breakdown of everything that surrounds humans,” and which has inspired me, personally, to eat healthier. They’ve also created a beautiful mural at Primary Children’s Hospital that has inspired creativity and imagination among children.
Sometimes we don’t even realize that art changes us. We walk around the city, notice it without much thought, often subconsciously interpreting its message. Art can fight censorship and ignorance of climate change, patriarchy and even war. It’s inexpensive, safe, powerful and fused with passion. It can express feelings in ways we can’t articulate every day. In the words of Robbin Williams of Dead Poet Society, “medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.”