Freedom of speech

1984 + 20 - Art for Post 9/1

Erik Holland’s cartoon, “I’m Bushed,” is one of a selection of artworks in the ACLU- sponsored exhibit, <i>1984 + 20 - Art for Post 9/11</i>, which deals with artists’ concerns over freedom of speech under the Patriot Act.<i></i>

Erik Holland’s cartoon, “I’m Bushed,” is one of a selection of artworks in the ACLU- sponsored exhibit, 1984 + 20 - Art for Post 9/11, which deals with artists’ concerns over freedom of speech under the Patriot Act.

Photo By David Robert

When George Orwell’s 1984 came out, “Big Brother” was a terrifying entity in futuristic fiction. But now in 2005, as I type on my laptop, someone out there could be following up on the Internet research I just did, checking what search terms I used and who I’ve been e-mailing. Since Sept. 11, in these days of the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and “Operation Enduring Freedom,” the irony is that we artists, who absolutely depend on our freedom of expression, feel less free and less secure than in recent memory. Maybe Big Brother is for real? That’s the idea behind the exhibit 1984 + 20 - Art for Post 9/11, on display at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center.

The show, sponsored by the ACLU of Northern Nevada, features local artists using multiple media to convey fear, anger and confusion over the unconstitutional nature of the Patriot Act—its provisions that allow the government to search our homes without warning or to hold people without trial—as well as general frustration with the current administration. Pieces include oil paintings, political cartoons, sculpture and mixed media. Holding nothing back, the artists portray fears about being spied on, locked up or somehow controlled.

Emma Sepulveda’s painting “Never Again” recalls the Holocaust, the ultimate example of government’s control over individuals. Beth Brookfield’s “Sneak and Peak” contains mixed-media representations of her anger over privacy invasions, within an interactive, curtained booth. Paige Thie’s “Advantage of the Stronger” contains nine panels of painted fabric depicting such frightening images as fire and grenades, along with religious imagery and the great American icon Mickey Mouse. Everywhere in the gallery, eyes and ears spy on you; everywhere are images of war and jingoism. All are wrapped in the American flag. The effect is unsettling but thought-provoking.

“Art is different from dialogue,” says Laura Mijanovich, Northern Nevada Coordinator for the ACLU. “It appeals to a deeper part of the soul and communicates the artist’s feelings more directly. That’s why it’s so important. That’s what art is about—free speech at its ultimate. Issues of national security could become threats to that freedom of expression.”

She says that similar shows around the country have been censored for being “unpatriotic.” The city of Reno, though, has been supportive. “Art does very well in this city,” she says, “and art is a good gateway for introducing these concepts, which could normally be unappealing for conservatives. But these issues are non-partisan.”

Cartoonist/caricaturist Erik Holland has several pieces in the show, including a cartoon titled “I’m Bushed,” which features the Statue of Liberty wrapped in the American flag, lugging a ball and chain labeled “Patriot Act.” Holland speaks his mind readily in his work—and as a local activist.

“Under the guise of patriotism, we’re trampling the Fourth Amendment, and that bothers me,” Holland says. “It’s a high price to pay for what may or may not be security. … I care a lot about this, and I’ll continue to work, not just for the ACLU, but for me.”

Holland and Mijanovich helped pull 1984 + 20 together as more than an art show, as something to educate.

“It’s a great experience just having this show there,” says Mijanovich. “There should be lots of these kinds of shows. It helps people heal and lets people know what’s really going on. A lot of people just don’t know.”