Friday, March 3, 2017

My First 100 Days, Part l

I'm counting back to November 8, the sting of the surprise still fresh and ongoing. From the moment that I documented that day and night with my friend Veronica Lawlor, there is a aura over New Yorkers and it is not a good one.

We were just standing around and decided to leave. And then, while waiting for the bus, across from Clyde's bar, through the glass windows we saw body language and expression that did not look good- and so, we crossed the street and this happened...

Those first days following the election were fraught with disbelief -the stunned silence filling the streets and the subways. Eerie and numbing, but not for long. In this bubble of liberal, like-minded thinkers, artists and writers, organizers and sympathizers who rise when the going gets low, have unified, created a community, and have resisted. There is barely a day that goes by without a protest. I have seen it traverse from angry and confused, to strong, unified, smart, peaceful and purposeful. Following is my visual story. Some of my images might be repeated, but for the sake of story and sequence, I am including them.
I traveled for the remainder of my sabbatical year- a visual story in and of itself for a later date. As an American, I was met with kind, sympathetic eyes and immediately knew that we would never be regarded as we once were. The sage democratic life that so many craved will never be perceived this way again. Sage we are not. Divided we are, and thanks to the short sighted ignorance of one man, a platform of hate has risen again. For this, we are pitied and yes, ridiculed. And that was only the beginning.
During the time that I was in the city, I documented as much as I could and joined the chorus of dissent through rallies, phone calls, emails, postcards. The new accessory is the protest sign.
The angry and the curious marched and gathered at Washington Square Park, Union Square, 
on Fifth Avenue in front of his tower and at his hotel. The masses grew, as did the messages. 
How could they not? As the days went by, the tweets and the insults multiplied, 
writing the copy for signs and scripts.

I was honored when Vroom! Magazine picked up the thread and published several of the drawings.

Momentum was growing. A call for the voices in the arts, made by Francois Mouly, art editor of the New Yorker, and writer, Nadja Spiegelman. I was proud to submit this image and then, be asked for it to be made into leggings.

The Women's March on Washington was one that I signed on for early on. As momentum grew and the pussy hat movement expanded, I was thrilled to be asked by NHK Japan to be interviewed for the reportage that I had created on Election Night, and in anticipation of the march. This was fun, having the crew squeeze into my Upper West Side
                                                                Studio apartment, in the throes of being renovated. The
                                                                remark from the Japanese producer that my place was small,
                                                                was, well, remarkable.

We spoke about the election, of course, but also about the art of reportage and the topics that incite in me the motivation to get out there and draw. I'd be lying if I did not say that much of it is just about my love for drawing on location- and the bigger the crowd, the more movement, the more excited I am. Yuko, the producer, prompted me to explore my own history of documenting protest, and I do have some. To keep consistent with this post, I'll include the Bernie rally. It is of our times today, and what got us here. Some days, I do not recognize myself. Though not steeped in all of it, I have never been more vocal and that is because, I have never been more enraged, frightened and saddened all at once.

The week before the Women's March on Washington (and numerous other locations around the world) brought a special kind of buzz and excitement to the city- along with rallies AND  a like-minded special visitor to me from Spain. My friend and fellow location artist Patricia Torres Estévez and I set out to document the rally in front of Trump International Tower, just two days before the inauguration and three before the March on Washington. Pink pussy hats, fresh off their knitting needles, were on display for the first time. The booming voices of Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Cynthia Nixon, Al Sharpton and Mayor Bill de Blasio filled the streets and encouraged the crowd to be vigilant, be strong and to stand up to inhumanity. We had no idea what was to follow in the days to come.

Just a few days later, I woke in the early, early am to meet my bus that would take me to Washington. It is said that the city never sleeps, but never more true than this morning. The streets were alive, and literally plastered with pink pussy hats, all on their way to meet up and cry out. Washington was unlike anything that I had ever experienced. By day's end, it was estimated that well over half a million people were on the Mall, mostly women but also, the men who loved them and fiercely supported defended their rights to their own bodies. The crew from NHK followed me to DC, and into the crowd, interviewing me and my friend Ellen Weinstein. It was really great and for a few minutes, we felt as if we had our own reality show.:)

It was a sea of pink power and peace. The earlier tenor of the early protests in NY had not lost their vigor- not by a longshot, but the warmth and purpose surrounded us all day. I remember the chill that I got when we first got off the bus and started to walk towards the Capitol. It was all encompassing and so emotional. Women of all shapes and sizes from all over the country were side by side, signs held high, held low, singing, chanting, marching, meeting, and for me, drawing.

The March exceeded any expectations that anyone could have imagined with estimates at close to half a million people, if not more. It almost seemed as if we smiled and sang with every single one there, so great was the camaraderie and the swell of support and empowerment. I left feeling hopeful, but also, with a fever and a flu that kept me at home for the following month-one rife with protests abounding, thanks to the acts of the president following the inauguration. While bed bound, I felt the need to be active, and created a tote bag, after many inquiries through Society6. The proceeds of the tote will be donated to ACLU. The profit for the artist is minimal, but happy to say 
at this time that over 100 totes have been sold! 
These drawings really had their 15v minutes of fame, as I was thrilled to be featured in 
While I was watching from home, the BAN, the airport, and almost daily outcries. I have never been more passionate about speaking to the rights of women, of immigrants, of addressing the platform of hate that the president has inspired and the need to keep convening, resisting and uniting against the inhumanity and lies of this government. 
I'll pick up where I did next time.


Joan Tavolott said...

Wow, Melanie....when seen together with your words the sketches have such an impact! In the beginning sketches you seem to use a lot of black and it intensifies the feeling of darkness that took over all of us. By the time you sketched "The March" in DC there is more light in the sketches...maybe from the hope and connection we all felt being with such like-minded people that day. Thank you for sharing your work! I think the turn of events has turned many of us into activists or budding activists at any rate.

Laura Frankstone said...

Melanie, you have created such an important body of work here. I am teary and in awe, even though I follow your work and had seen much of this as it happened. Seeing it in this long narrative is deeply impressive. Here, you are our times' Daumier. I'm full of admiration for what you have created.

Candie McKenna said...

I first became familiar with your work from your teaching in Sketchbook Skool. I have been following you ever since. Your work is inspiring. I too was in Washington for the Women's March. I had a little sketchbook in my pocket but never pulled it out. I admire you for being able to sketch in such a crowd. Thank you for the important work you do. I can't really explain it but seeing your sketches touches me in a way that no other medium does. Your sketches are alive with the times. I look forward to seeing more of them.

Elaine said...

The first post begins with, "WOW." Just what I was about to say!

Melanie....this is so huge, so upsetting. It feels like war correspondence. I'm also thankful for the text. I think it gives your already powerful work an important added dimension.

Thanks for doing this Melanie.


memi said...

Laura, Thank you for spending the time to read and comment- as you say, you have seen this, so I appreciate it that much more.
Candie, Thank you for checking in here and for your most supportive comments. I wonder if we passed each other in Washington- I like to think so! Please do not be shy about drawing. One person at a time- or one hat, as it were. Thank you!
Elaine, it is sort of like a war that we are waging, isn't it? Wish it were not true. Thank you so much for your careful attention and time.