Since the election of President Donald Trump last November, the art world has been in turmoil about how to react. But mixed-medium artist Andrea Arroyo didn’t wallow in despair. She quickly turned to her community for support and called upon professional and amateur artists to share their feelings about the election results through artistic expression.
That turned into her “Unnatural Election: Artists Respond to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” collection, which is now on display in the eighth floor of Kimmel. This project currently includes more than 250 works by 200 different artists from around the world.
“When I started, I thought, if I get 20 or 30 pieces I may actually do an exhibition of original work,” Arroyo said.
But she quickly surpassed her goal as works poured in, and Arroyo had to reevaluate her original plans for the project. Arroyo initially intended only to accept submissions between the presidential election and inauguration day, but overwhelming interest in the project encouraged her to keep accepting them through May 16. Arroyo decided to create a website to archive the images and provide viewers with additional information.
“The more work I started to get, the more I realized that I need to do what is manageable for me, because I’m doing it by myself,” Arroyo said. “[That way] I can keep it as an ongoing project.”
Accessibility is what makes the online forum so important. The physical works, which will be displayed at Kimmel through May, are only a small portion of this growing project. The website includes not only photographs and illustrations of submissions but also performance art, music and poetry.
Arroyo describes “Unnatural Election” as an ever-expanding tapestry of expression surrounding the election. This perfectly describes the arrangement of the works at Kimmel, which are printed on uniform rectangular sheets and arranged in columns of four along the walls. Since a good number of works in this project come from a place of raw, untempered emotion, the positioning of more level-headed pieces next to more emotional ones makes the exhibit easier to digest.
The most affecting pieces are what Arroyo calls trauma work. The response to the election was immediate and the devastation translated tangibly into those submissions.
“The first week, most of the work was [trauma work],” Arroyo said. “A lot of images with swastikas, references to fascism and Nazis and so on.”
Arroyo confronts the trauma work head-on, and ultimately only has two criteria for the works. The first criterion is whether the art is true to the artist. She wants to be sure that the art is made in the voice of the artist, not just a representation of a broader population. The second criterion is whether the art itself is quality content.
“Is it good art?” Arroyo asked. “Meaning, does it communicate something? Does it move something?”
Although the exhibit encourages free expression, Arroyo also made sure to include some restrictions.
“I did reject many works that were just offensive, that only made fun of the physical attributes of the President and his wife,” Arroyo said. “The piece can use the physical attributes of a person, but only if it’s making a point that is deeper.”
Some of the trauma work Arroyo came across forced her to reevaluate the idea of art.
“Sometimes when I got an image that was very strong, I got upset because it was frankly quite upsetting,” Arroyo said. “But then I realized that it was doing its job. Art is supposed to touch you and move you in different ways.”
“Unnatural Election” is on view on at the Kimmel Galleries on the eighth floor of the Kimmel Center through May 2017 and online.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 6 print edition.
Email Anastasiya Shelest at [email protected]