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Painting in Action
by Bianca Kovar

The AgitProps collaborative of the Labor/Community Strategy Center began after a successful demonstration at an Air Quality Management District (AQMD) board meeting in 1993. The public protection agency was voting on industrial emissions regulations to decide how many cancer deaths per million they would allow in LA. One hundred gas-masked dolls based on an existing protest poster logo of mine were collectively assembled by WATCHDOG activists, low-income people of color most impacted by the toxic industrial "hot spots" in question. As one organizer proclaimed to board members, big industry, and military lobbyists, "This is the new face of pollution control," demonstrators piled the dolls in a mass grave before the AQMD. The auditorium's video camera projected this chilling image of "symbolic death" on the huge screen. Since that time, we have created many props that have helped protesters to take control of a space, creating a guerrilla theater.

Why do we use props such as dolls, banners, and puppets in the current Bus Riders Union campaign, "No Seat, No Fare"? With the help of humor, these props function as "masks" which break down an organizer's shyness and, simultaneously, the public's defenses against new ideas. When union organizers board buses carrying paper maché puppets of MTA board members or wearing attire designed for the character we call "Super Pasajera," they stage a dialogue, and bystanders join the campaign. Props like these are devices for learning; their impromptu character stirs the minds and hearts of bus riders and increases our outreach capability. Syncronicity occurs and the riders come to know that the Bus Riders Union represents the underserved transit dependents.

In theory and practice, my focus has been fed by study of politics and activity in grassroots organizing. In my own paintings I strive to enrich my intellectual and creative responses, to avoid cliché and generalized visualization. Through my lived experience, interpreting my own psyche and the perceptions expressed by others in social and political settings, I am drawn to particular visual images. I transform them into a symbolic language. For example, recently, in the wake of a series of racist and U.S. nationalist propositions placed on the California ballot, I have been researching the growth of "patriot" and paramilitary organizations in the U.S. I am concerned about the blindness to neofascist organizing, and I am particularly focused on the shifting of identities that operates in the ideological realm. The series of paintings presented here, "Drop the Dummies," refers satirically to the double-speak expression "smart bombs" that ironically miss their targets in the Gulf War, destroying civilian sites and killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

I depict these "bombs" as the heads of spaced out "dummies" dropped throughout my work. Similarly, heads float like birds, born out of an ideology that constitutes the undeveloped collective psyche. This collective psyche condemns individuals to float through unexamined lives, captured in a shallow state of mind that "protects" them from analysis of their own lived experience.

The difficulty of political cultural work within the public realm, outside of the dominant savvy, is that one finds oneself in the position of Marx's "outsider," Chomsky's "liberator of thought," in a society that does not encourage analytical and critical thinking. My position on issues such as corporate pollution, class and race oppression, fascism in our military and law enforcement elicits scorn from America's pro-capitalists and their art establishment. While I am looked upon as a social deviant much like the freak head in the basket in the 1982 horror flick, "Basket Case," I see myself as a practicing dissenter.

es una pintora quien estudia la systema politica. she is a member of the Bus Riders Union and the Agitprops collaborative of the Labor/Community Strategy Center.