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Visibility: Using Art to Raise Public Consciousness

In this video with Melanie Manos, learners will get an overview of a variety of social justice centered art forms and projects.
<v ->Revisiting Faith Ringgold’s work,</v> “Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles,” we discussed the content and context of that work, bringing visibility to historically significant women of color who were social activists. One might also say that in this painting, Ringgold is declaring, “Hey, Mr. Van Gogh, Mr. Highly Exhibited and Posthumously Celebrated White Male Artist,” we see your sunflower painting, and we raise you a sunflower quilt.
Quilting is a traditional craft, most often considered a women’s craft or hobby and not “high art.” In forefronting these bold women in the quilt at which they are seated, Ringgold is addressing gender and racial bias in both socio-political and the cultural spheres. Let’s look at two artists whose work brings visibility to social justice issues in very different and unique ways. Alexia Webster, “Street Studios Project,” 2011 to the present. The form is photography.
Content: individual and family portraits in outdoor photographic studios in public spaces around the world.
Context: Webster treasured a framed photograph of her grandparents and extended family, dressed elegantly in front of a painted backdrop at a photography studio. The family had traveled to South Africa from Greece, economic migrants searching for a better life. Webster realized the need for people to retain their dignity, their sense of family, heritage and belonging, especially those who have been displaced. First created in March, 2011, the “Street Studios” project is a communal family photo album that began with the setup of free outdoor photographic studios on more than 20 street corners and public spaces around the world. The photos were then printed on site and given to each participant to take away with them for their own family album.
The studios were installed at informal settlements in Capetown, refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, a working rock quarry in Madagascar, neighborhoods in Mumbai, India and parks and migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico. The next artist, Tehching Hsieh, had been working as a restaurant cleaner for six years when he came up with an idea for an art piece that speaks to the cyclical nature of working a job and how labor can be all encompassing, taking over one’s life. One year performance, 1980 to 1981, “Time Clock Piece.” In this very unusual work, the form is performance, not necessarily in front of an audience, with video documentation.
The post-performance form is the video and prints made of video stills.
Content: for one year, Tehching Hsieh punched a time clock every hour on the hour. He documented the work with a 16-millimeter movie camera, taking a photo of himself every time he punched the clock, and those images, together, yielded a six minute film animation. He started with his head shaved, and his growing hair indicates time passing. Hsieh tracked his late and early time clock punches and ones that he missed, with the reason of sleeping noted. It’s not surprising he overslept here and there. Think about it. He could only sleep for 59 minutes at a time, day in and day out, for an entire year.
This work, which is considered an endurance performance, as it happened over a long duration of time, and because it is quite a feat to endure, became the labor of Tehching Hsieh’s life and a strong commentary on how punching the clock becomes one’s life as time passes hour after hour.

In this video, you heard an overview of a variety of social justice centered art forms and projects.

Visit Alexia Webster’s website to hear about the story behind the Street Studios Project. To learn more about Tehching Hsieh, view One Year Performance 1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece) or hear him tell his story of how his life as an illegal immigrant informed this piece.

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Visualizing Women's Work: Using Art Media for Social Justice

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