Laurie Toby Edison


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“Racism Still Exists”: The Power of Art

cross-posted on Feministe

Laurie says:

RISE (Racism Still Exists) is an anonymous artist group putting up powerful posters in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. It’s a very long time black neighborhood and is now rapidly gentrifying. I used to visit a good friend of my grandmother’s there years ago. It sounds like I wouldn’t recognize much of it now.

I frequently hear people say that art has no political power, that it is merely aesthetics and/or money. Many countries repress the power of art by punishing the artists. Here the dominant culture disparages art’s power and commoditize it and among other things turn it into a speculative consumer product. Nevertheless, art in our country can be politically powerful and these posters tell it all.



Quotes are from Colorlines. The whole post is really worth reading.

RISE is …also the name of the appropriately titled campaign. At least half a dozen billboard sites have sprung up around the neighborhood since August, with each month dedicated to highlighting racial disparities that impact black people in America. So far, the billboards have touched on topics ranging from the entertainment industry, education, fast food, smoking, policing and black wealth all of the posters and a detailed explanation of them are on Tumbler.


Even local activists who spend their time dedicated to working on racial justice issues can’t figure out who’s behind the billboards. Nonetheless, they’re intrigued by the campaign. This month’s billboard is dedicated to Stop-and-Frisk, the controversial NYPD tactic that’s drawn national criticism for its disproportionate impact on black and Latino men. The billboard’s proactive text reads, “Don’t want to get stopped by the NYPD? Stop being black.” On the heels of New York City’s 2013 mayoral race and the prominent role that critics of Stop-and-Frisk have taken in in city politics, the billboards have become a meaningful part of local discussion.

My own experience with the political power of art, aside from my own work, includes working with some of the Latina political artists and muralists at the Woman’s Building here in San Francisco.

I’ve always admired this iconic poster by Esther Hernandez.


And this poster of revolutionary futurist art is a good example, as are the RISE posters, of the use of words in art for both meaning and aesthetics.


Work is essential, the rifle is near – 1920
With the civil war still raging, there was no time to relax for the inhabitants of Soviet Russia. Another interesting poster, with a stylized, simple look that clearly conveys its message.


All of the RISE posters and clear detailed explanations of them and of RISE are on on the Tumbler web link above. Check them all out!

2 Responses to ““Racism Still Exists”: The Power of Art”

  1. Jesse the K says:

    Thanks for bringing these fascinating artworks to our attention.

  2. Laurie says:

    Thanks Jesse. I’m going to keep track of RISE.

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