Saturday, April 16, 2011

Faces Of The Economy

Faces of the Economy Opening Reception


I've been doing the artist hustle and the freelance shuffle for the past 2 years. I've accomplished a lot since I was laid off in January of 2009. But assignments weren't coming as quickly and the sale of my art wasn't as brisk as before.


A friend and I shared our pathetic financial situations recently over IM. I sat at my computer and laughed till my eyes watered. It was one of those situations where you either laugh or you go insane.


I am a face of the economy.


April 15, 2011, at Art for Change Gallery, the group exhibit, Faces of the Economy opened. It is a great collective of social art commenting on the recession, unemployment, budget cuts, foreclosures, Wall Street. Many more Americans are affected by the recession than the media reports. I'm sure anyone reading this knows someone who has been laid off, is underemployed, behind on rent, on public assistance or considering it...


I marked April 15th on the calendar, and not for tax purposes.




Ijeoma D. Iheanacho explains her photo series, "Faces of the Great Recession"



First, let me tell you how I found out about the show. Fellow Nigerian artist, Ijeoma D. Iheanacho is one of the artists featured in the show. I received the email she sent out to her mailing list with the press release attached. Iheanacho's photo series, "Faces of the Great Recession" highlighted the people who are aiding the unemployed through ESL classes and job training for immigrants, job training and placement for non-immigrants and those representing the unemployed who are in legal battles with employers who don't want to pay unemployment insurance.


Faces of the Economy runs until July 9, 2011. The gallery is open by appointment. It's an exhibit worth checking out.


There were a few artists' works that really struck me.


"Endless Broom" by Mexican-Serbian artist, Michael Pribich, honors the individuals who function "below eye level" and "close to the street". These blue collar workers tend to go unnoticed. The plumbers, janitors, cooks. Looking at the piece also brought to mind the white collar workers now in blue collar jobs. They've been left with no other options--some work is better than no work. Yet pride still prevents some jobless or underemployed from accepting work wherever they can get it. McDonald's plans to hire 50,000 workers on April 19th. Is the stigma of working for McDonald's (or any fast-food chain) still too much for some to overcome? Can holding out for a job or career you really desire a smart move?


Michael D'Antuono of Obama-as-Christ ,"The Truth" infamy, was also a part Faces of the Economy. He had two paintings in the show, "American Pie" and "Down & Outsourced" -- Americans are losing their jobs to outsourcing bringing them to the level of the war veteran, down and out and in need of help.


"Down & Outsourced" by Michael D'Antuono and "Loving & Living" by Juana Valdes



"Loving & Living" by Juana Valdes is a photo series of mattresses on city streets representing the rising housing costs and development of luxury homes instead of affordable housing. Can I relate to that! Even while I was working full time had problems making rent. Things only got worse when I got laid off. I also appreciated the way the photos were displayed -- like a yellow brick road along the wall and ceiling of the gallery. Only this yellow brick leads to moving back home with parents, crashing on someone's couch, a shelter, squatting or the streets.



Danielle Poletto's "Faces of 59"



Danielle Poletto's "Faces of 59" is a series of 59 photos featuring abandoned and rundown business along Route 59 between Nyack and Tallman in Rockland County, NY. The images were all too familiar--"For Sale", "Lost Our Lease", "For Rent" signs are commonplace in the windows of stores that were once thriving. Many Mom-and-Pop stores have been hit hard by the recession. Entire malls have closed their doors. Unemployment leads to a decrease in spending. No consumers means no business. I haven't been a true consumer for a long time. I purchase the bare minimum at the same establishments--grocery store and discount or 99 cent stores.


Now What?


The installation by Kathleena Howie-Garcia was simply a mirror with the words, "Now What?" across the top. Howie-Garcia posed the questions: What happens if we lose our jobs? What do we have to face when money is not enough? How do we face the ones we love, including ourselves?


I've answered these questions for myself. There are many who resist the introspection. Can you take a look at yourself in the mirror and find the solutions? Marriages are failing. Many men who were once the breadwinners can't bear to face their families or themselves. They've internalized the recession and place the blame on themselves. For some their jobs are their identity, so when that's gone, what else do they have?


"Now What?" installation by Kathleena Howie-Garcia


In January 2009, I was laid off and I knew, "keep writing." I'd worked at that job since 2006 so I applied for unemployment. I published a book, had a solo photo exhibit, increased my business-savvy, made valuable creative contacts and expanded my network, was told I was overqualified for work, gained inspiration from other mediums of art, was denied the One-Shot deal, worked a temp gig, exhausted unemployment benefits, lost my apartment, continued to write...


Now What?


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