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Art Basel: Politics and Protest at Art Week

Given how consumed everyone has been by the politics of the U.S. presidential election, the shortage of politically or even socially inspired art at Miami Art Week is a little surprising. (Yes, it's an international event, but plenty of folks around the world are concerned with the consequences of a Trump administration.)

One exception is the Makaya Gallery, which is showing work in their Wynwood space and their booth at the Scope satellite fair with a strong social and political point of view.

"This show arose from what's going on," said Makaya co-owner Patrick Glemaud. "It's like a piece of history is being written now."

There's an opening Friday night at Makaya, but among the pieces that will stay up after Art Week are a number by Knowledge Bennett, including "Mao Trump," which superimposes Trump's face on a replica of Warhol's portrait of the repressive Chinese communist leader.

Knowledge Bennett's "Mao Trump"

There are pieces from Miami artist Stuart Sheldon's "Banned in America" series. (Sheldon has also done a mural near Panther Coffee in Wynwood where people are invited to write in whatever they want "Freedom of" and "Freedom for.")

Makaya also has works from "Divided States of America," a series by Chor Boogie, a top street artist who began writing graffiti in San Diego in 1993, at age 13. In "Mi$$ America," a nude Lady Liberty is draped in an American flag, with a real $100 bill taped across her mouth. 

​Chor Boogie "Mi$$ America"

Chor Boogie (real name Jason Hailey) says the series was originally commissioned by a patron in the pharmaceutical industry who switched from being an Obama to a Trump supporter.

"I asked the guy who did he think was going to win, and he said "Trump, no doubt about it"," Hailey says. "There was something in his voice that scared me. It was like they were serious about making this happen. And I said I gotta get this message out there."

"I have no fear in speaking truth, as long as I have two hands, heart, mind, body and soul to express the freedom that everybody all over the world deserves."

Glemaud said fears that some have expressed about censorship and curtailment of civil liberties make this a good time for protest art.

"We view it as a time of great opportunity," he said. "People are more awake when there's danger. This is a wake up call to people with a social conscience, that maybe things are not as nice as we think they are."

The anti-Trump bus created by activist artist duo Mary Mihelic and David Gleeson, who spent much of the past year driving it around the country as performance protest art, got attention after being rejected by satellite Red Dot Art Fair. They've since been taken in by the Conception Art Fair. The Herald has covered them, and a team from Fusion had profiled the pair, after seeking in vain for other protest art projects.

Mary Mihelic and David Gleeson's "Desecration Flag" at Conception Art Fair

Conception director Rachel Wilkins says she's seen little political work from the art world. "I wonder if people are afraid," she said Friday afternoon. "He [Trump] did just say that people who burn the flag should get their citizenship revoked. I hope artists don't react that way."

Mihelic and Gleeson's exhibit includes the "Desecration Flag," a giant flag Mihelic embroidered with quotes from the candidate's infamous "grab them by the p----" recording.

"I thought 'what would Betsy Ross think of Trump?'," Mihelic said Friday. "One woman told me "you shouldn't put that on a flag!" and I told her "you shouldn't put that in the White House."

They're also showing a red-stained bed impaled by a sword, inspired by Trump's "blood coming out of her wherever" remark about Megyn Kelly, and a comment his second wife, Marla Maples, made about his "swordsmanship" in bed; a giant paintbrush equipped with a telescopic rifle scope (which security did not allow them to bring to the protest area at the Republican convention, although the gathering was full of people carrying guns) and an antique ballot box filled with buttons with a black swan. In the financial industry, a black swan is an emblem of a completely unexpected event with enormous impact.

"We're saying Trump is a political black swan," said Gleeson. 

- Jordan Levin