Andrea Bowers is a political artist who makes artwork that is just as compelling aesthetically as it is conceptually. She says her work is “service to the cause of activism,” but at the same time she looks for “an aesthetic within the subject” to communicate her political message.
Bowers’ recent work at Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects continues her ongoing commitment to the labor movement. The centerpiece Triumph of Labor is an appropriated political graphic from an historic Walter Crane illustration celebrating an industrial workers’ May Day march. In her hands, the 1891 British graphic is turned into a monumental 22-foot wide black drawing on cardboard from flattened shipping boxes. The cardboard shipment carries a message from the industrial era in Britain to Los Angeles workers’ unions - which is just as relevant today - to workers who carry protest signs that are also written on cardboard. On the opposite walls, Bowers creates a mural from 168 color photographs of workers’ protests she has documented in Los Angeles since 2008. By juxtaposing an historic graphic enlarged to epic proportions with an epic mural of sign carrying protesters, she honors the collective power of the individuals who work for a labor cause that spans over a century.
In a second gallery room, Bowers’ continues her homage to these individual protesters in a series of small tender drawings based on her photographic documentation. Bowers uses her own artistic labor in these heartfelt drawings to make further aesthetic connections between art, activism and labor. These tiny figures hold protest signs or have signs on their t-shirts, but they are isolated from the protest spectacle to draw attention to their individual identity. Bowers positions these figures at the bottom of the image, using negative space to draw attention to their marginal position and the human significance of voices that are often disregarded. The negative space also creates a sense of the importance of what is left out of the picture — the large amount of ground covered by an ongoing activist history.
Aesthetics and politics are inseparable in all these artworks - just as working as an artist and an activist is inseparable in Bowers’ own life. Bowers calls these “old fashioned drawings,” in which her own labor pays respect to members of activist groups she views as powerful individuals. Bowers is a feminist artist who has researched political graphics for 20 years, looking for different ways to represent women as “monumentality powerful.” Female protesters in these drawings carry signs like, “Womxn Workers of the World Unite.”
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Image: Andrea Bowers, Womxn Workers of the World Unite (detail), 2016 Photo courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
Andrea Bowers is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate Public Practice program. Bowers is an internationally exhibited artist whose work has been shown at Capitain Petzel Gallery, Berlin; Susanne Vielmetter L.A. Projects; Tang Museum, Skidmore College, N.Y.; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; Andrew Kreps Gallery, N.Y.; ZKM/Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany; and The Power Plant, Toronto.