Martha Wilson: Activist History Teach-in

Martha Wilson: Activist History Teach-in

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
6 to 9pm

Martha Wilson,  Thump , 2016. Courtesy of the artist and PPOW Gallery.

Martha Wilson, Thump, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and PPOW Gallery.

Performance artist Martha Wilson, founder of Franklin Furnace, instigated an evening of presentations and performances as a "teach-in" with a selection of activist artists from the 1960s to the present, looking at the history of performance art as protest to consider which methods and strategies remain effective in today's political climate. Wilson, known for her political drag performances as first ladies Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan, performed her recent work Martha Does Donald, in which she impersonates Donald Trump. In addition, the event included presentations by artists Ann Agee, Rehan Ansari, Tomie Arai and Betty Yu (Chinatown Art Brigade), Todd Ayoung (REPOhistory), Avram Finkelstein (ACT UP and Gran Fury), Alicia Grullón (Percent for Green), Amin Husain and Nitasha Dhillon (MTL), Rasu Jilani, Taja Lindley (Harriet's Apothecary), Katharine Perko, Gregory Sholette (Gulf Labor Artists Coalition)Lise Soskolne (W.A.G.E.), and Barbara Zucker (A.I.R. Gallery).


Martha Wilson (b. 1947) is a pioneering feminist artist and gallery director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity through role-playing, costume transformations, and “invasions” of other people’s personae. She began making these videos and photo/text works in the early 1970s while in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and further developed her performative and video-based practice after moving in 1974 to New York City, embarking on a long career that would see her gain attention across the U.S. for her provocative appearances and works. In 1976, she founded and continues to direct Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artists’ books, installation art, video, online and performance art, further challenging institutional norms, the roles artists play within society, and expectations about what constitutes acceptable art mediums.

Wilson is esteemed for both her solo artistic production and her maverick efforts to champion creative forms that are “vulnerable due to institutional neglect, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content.” Described by The New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s,” Wilson remains what curator Peter Dykhuis calls a “creative presence as an arts administrator and cultural operative."

Written into and out of art history according to the theories and convictions of the time, Wilson first gained notoriety thanks to the attention of curator Lucy R. Lippard, who placed Wilson's early efforts within the context of conceptual art and the work of women artists. Commenting on Wilson's first projects, art historian Jayne Wark wrote in 2001:

"In her conceptually based performance, video and photo-text works, Wilson masqueraded as a man in drag, catalogued various body parts, manipulated her appearance with makeup and explored the effects of 'camera presence' in self-representation. Although this work was made in isolation from any feminist community, it has been seen to contribute significantly to what would become feminism's most enduring preoccupations: the investigation of identity and embodied subjectivity."

Wilson's early work is now considered prescient. In addition to being regarded by many as prefiguring some of the ideas proposed in the 1980s by philosopher Judith Butler about gender performativity, many of her photo-text pieces point to territory later mined by Cindy Sherman, among many other contemporary artists.

As a performance artist she founded and collaborated with DISBAND, the all-girl punk conceptual band of women artists who can’t play any instruments, and impersonated political figures such as Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore. In 2008, she had her first solo exhibition in New York at Mitchell Algus Gallery, Martha Wilson: Photo/Text Works, 1971-74. In 2009, Martha Wilson: Staging the Self, an exhibition of her early photo/text work and one project from each of Franklin Furnace’s first 30 years, began international travel under the auspices of Independent Curators International (ICI); this exhibition concluded in New York in Spring 2015 with her personal artwork shown at the Fales Library and Special Collections of New York University and original art and documentation of Franklin Furnace artists at Pratt Manhattan Gallery. In 2011, ICI published the Martha Wilson Sourcebook: 40 Years of Reconsidering Performance, Feminism, Alternative Spaces and in 2012, Specific Object named the Martha Wilson Sourcebook its 2011 Publication of the Year.

Martha Wilson joined P.P.O.W Gallery, New York, and mounted a solo exhibition, I have become my own worst fear, in September 2011. In 2013, Wilson received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. In 2015, she received the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence, administered by the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; the College Art Association’s Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award; and mounted her second solo exhibition, entitled Mona/Marcel/Marge, at P.P.O.W Gallery.

Ann Agee (b. 1959, Philadelphia) is a contemporary artist living and working in Brooklyn. Working primarily in ceramic, she has increasingly become known for her installations, appropriating traditional decoration motifs and playing with the organization of domestic interiors. Her recent sculptural works explore subjects both ornamental and narrative, touching upon themes personal and social in domestic life, child rearing, and labor. She combines the sensibilities of highly ornate decorative objects with quotidian household interiors to make a signature style that is profoundly complex, laced with play and humor. Agee attended Cooper Union School of Art for her BFA (’81) and received her MFA from Yale University ('86).

Agee recently created major installations at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (2012) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, (2010). Her work has been seen in prominent clay exhibitions Dirt on Delight, Institute of Contemporary Art, PA (traveled to the Walker Art Center, MN) and Conversations in Clay, Katonah Art Museum, NY. She was a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2011), The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (1997), and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1989 and1992), among others. Works by Agee can be found in the collections of: The Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; The RISD Art Museum, RI; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; The Henry Art Museum in Seattle, WA; The Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI; and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, FL.

We have been here before. What have I done for you lately? And what happened in Maine? Rehan Ansari is a playwright (Unburdened) and a journalist and has just begun to pitch his first novel to agents.

Post 9/11 Ansari’s day job was translating from the Urdu press in Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey, translating stories about how the communities were under assault from ICE and other law enforcement agencies.

At that time he also wrote a weekly column for a tabloid in Mumbai from Brooklyn. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as in week one, two, three and so on Ansari in his columns speculated on endless war, the identity of the war makers, the civil liberties crisis, race, surveillance, garrison state, action movies, the intersections of our foreign policy with our domestic scenes, and how bad could it all get for him. He also came out with elaborate curses. For example on the day of the bombing of Baghdad he cursed the homeland at the Gates of Babylon. He found a perverse freedom in writing about here but not for an audience here. Some of the 9/11 columns are here.

For the teach-in Ansari will read from column ideas as if he was writing them this year for an audience here. He is also wondering if its time to lift the curse.

Tomie Arai is a New York based public artist who collaborates with writers, architects, historians, curators, and local communities to create work that explores the rich cultural diversity of the Americas. The stories of displaced and dislocated communities across the globe form the basis for Tomie Arai’s collaborations with historians, activists and cultural organizations.  In these collaborations, public art, prints and installations are ways for Arai to use the cultural specificity of her experience as an Asian American as a personal space in which to locate broader issues of race, gender and cultural equity; a space in which she believes a glimpse of common ground can be made possible.

She has designed permanent public works of art for the NYC Percent for Art Program, The San Francisco Arts Commission, the MTA Arts for Transit Program, the NYC Board of Education and the US General Services Administration Art in Architecture Program.  Her latest public commission will be an architectural glass mural for the new Central Subway Station in San Francisco Chinatown, sponsored by the SF MTA.

Originally born in Trinidad and Tobago, W.I., and educated in the United States,Todd Ayoung is a multi-media visual artist specializing in two and three-dimensional design.

Ayoung has exhibited in museums and galleries in Denmark, Austria, Belgium, England, Holland, Colombia, Costa Rica, and throughout the United States. His artwork has been published in THIRD TEXT, Front 3, Fredag, New York Talk, DOCUMENTS, Bomb Magazine, Kyoto Journal, Semiotext(e), Found Object, Art Journal, New Observations, Social Text, ARTBAR, Artworld Digest Magazine and Shifter Magazine.

He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, and a visiting instructor at NYU’s  Tisch School of Art & Public Policy. He also serves as the Artist-in-Residence at New Roots Public Charter School, focusing on social equity and environmental justice, and is a trained facilitator for Talking Circles On Race and Racism, at the Multicultural Resource Center, both in Ithaca, NY.

Ayoung lives with his family at an Intentional and sustainability based Ecovillage in Ithaca, the largest of its kind on the East Coast.

Avram Finkelstein is a founding member of the Silence=Death and Gran Fury collectives. He has work in the permanent collections of MoMA, The Whitney Museum of Art, The New Museum and The Brooklyn Museum. He is featured in the artist oral history project at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and his book for UC Press,After Silence: A History of AIDS Through Its Images is due out in November 2017.

Alicia Grullón moves between performance, video, and photography, channeling her interdisciplinary approach towards critiques on the politics of presence, an argument for the inclusion of disenfranchised communities in political and social spheres. She received a BFA from New York University and an MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Grullón’s works have been shown in numerous group exhibitions including at The 8th Floor, Franklin Furnace Archives, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, BRIC, School of Visual Arts, El Museo del Barrio, Jamaica Flux 10, Performa 11, Old Stone House, and Art in Odd Places. Grullón has received grants from the Puffin Foundation, Bronx Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of New York, and Franklin Furnace Archives, among others. She has participated in residencies in the United States, Korea and Germany and has done workshops for the Creative Time Summit 2015, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts, The Royal College of Art, The Point CDC, NYCHA, United States Association for Art Educators, Culture Push, and Migrating Academies in Kassel, Germany. These workshops were a part of Grullón's legislative social practice project PERCENT FOR GREEN, a functioning green bill created as art with Bronx residents. This project contributed to her acting as one of the co-lead organizers in the Bronx for the People's Climate March. She is currently serving as a mentor for New York Foundation for the Art's Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program and a fellow for Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery. Her work has been reviewed in Hyperallergic, Creative Time Reports, Art Fag City, New York Daily News, and The Brooklyn Press. Grullón is a contributing author for the forthcoming publication from Palgrave Macmillian Rhetoric, Social Value and the Arts: But How Does it Work? out October 2017.

Rasu Jilani is an independent curator, cultural producer, social sculptor, and entrepreneur. His work investigates the intersections of art, culture, and civic engagement to raise critically-conscious conversations between artists, their local communities, and the wider public. Jilani’s projects are dedicated to promoting awareness around pressing social issues through exhibitions and community-driven programs. Currently, he serves as the Director of Cultural Diversity and Strategic Partnerships at NEW INC, The New Museum’s creative entrepreneurship incubator for art, tech, and technology. From 2013 through 2016, Jilani worked at MAPP International Productions as the Director of Community Programs. His work at MAPP included programming the humanities for Blink Your Eyes: Sekou Sundiata Revisited – a citywide retrospective, Triple Consciousness: Black Feminism(s) in the Time of Nowat Brooklyn Museum. Days of Art and Ideas at The New School, artists’ salons, community discussions, and artists led workshops. He recently served as the Visiting Teaching Fellow at The New School, facilitating a number of courses, such as, Theater for Social Action: Mass Incarceration. Jilani is a proud Alum of Syracuse University.

Taja Lindley is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the founder and Managing Member of Colored Girls Hustle, and a member of Echoing Ida and Harriet's Apothecary. Lindley considers herself a healer and an activist, creating socially engaged artwork that reflects and transforms audiences, shifts culture and moves people to action. She uses movement, text, installation, ritual, burlesque, and multi-media to create works that are concerned with freedom, healing and pleasure. She is currently developing a body of work recycling and repurposing discarded materials. Her artwork has been featured at Spring/Break Art Show, Brooklyn Museum, the Movement Research at Judson Church series, Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX), the Gallatin Arts Festival at New York University, WOW Café Theater, and La Mama Theater and in living rooms, classrooms, conferences and public spaces. She has received coverage in BLOUIN ARTINFO, Vice, Afropunk and Colorlines. In 2014, she was a Create Change Fellow with the Laundromat Project and a participant in EMERGENYC, an artist activist program of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University. In 2015, she was a Fall space grantee at BAX. This summer (May-August 2017) she is an Artist-in-Residence at Dixon Place culminating in the debut of her one-woman show The Bag Lady Manifesta in September 2017.

Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Husain are MTL Collective, a collaboration that joins research, aesthetics, organizing, and action in its practice. MTL is a founder of Tidal:Occupy Theory, and a founding member of Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.), Direct Action Front for Palestine (DAFP), Decolonial Cultural Front (DCF), and most recently its offshoot Decolonize This Place, which called 55 Walker Street in Manhattan (a.k.a. Artists Space) its headquarters.  MTL is also a core member of Gulf Labor Artists Coalition. Currently, MTL is working on a film on Palestine in post-production titled On This Land.

Katharine Perko is a Brooklyn-based writer whose research focuses on gossip, literary modernism, and the history of information. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Stony Brook University and currently teaches at New York City College of Technology.

Gregory Sholette is a New York-based artist, writer and activist. His recent projects include the exhibition DARKER at Station Independent Projects NYC consisting of large ink wash drawings addressing current political conditions. He is active with Gulf Labor Artist Coalition and was a co-founder of the collectives Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D: 1980-1988) and REPOhistory (1989-2000). A former Mellon Fellow at the CUNY Center for the Humanities, he is on the editorial board of FIELD, a new online journal focused on socially-engaged art criticism, and his most recent publications include Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism, (Pluto/U. Chicago Press 2017) and Dark Matter: Art and Politics in an Age of Enterprise Culture (Pluto Press: 2010). Sholette holds a PhD in History and Memory Studies from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2017), he is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program in Critical Theory (1996), University of California San Diego (1995), and The Cooper Union School of Art (1979), teaches studio art and co-directs the new Social Practice Queens MFA concentration at Queens College CUNY, and is an associate of the Art, Design and the Public Domain program of Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) is a New York-based activist organization working to establish sustainable economic relationships between artists and the institutions that contract our work, and to introduce mechanisms for self-regulation into the art field that collectively bring about a more equitable distribution of its economy. Lise Soskolne is an artist who has worked in nonprofit arts presenting and development in New York since 1998 at venues including Anthology Film Archives, Artists Space, Diapason Gallery for Sound, Meredith Monk/The House Foundation, Participant Inc, and Roulette Intermedium. In 2007 she was hired to use artists to increase the property value of Industry City, a 6.5 million sq ft industrial complex on the South Brooklyn waterfront. There she founded and managed the arts component in its broader regeneration with the intention of establishing a new paradigm for industrial redevelopment that would not displace workers, artists, local residents or industry but would instead build a sustainable community of working artists in a context that integrated cultural and industrial production. Lise has been an organizer within W.A.G.E. since its founding in 2008 and its core organizer since 2012.

Betty Yu is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, educator and activist raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Chinese immigrant parents. In 2015, Betty, along with Tomie Arai and ManSee Kong co-founded Chinatown Art Brigade, a cultural collective telling stories of Chinatown tenants fighting gentrification through public projections and art. Chinatown Art Brigade is a recipient of the 2016 A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art. Ms Yu's documentary Resilience about her garment worker mother fighting sweatshop conditions, screened at national and international film festivals including the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival.  Yu’s multi-media installation, The Garment Worker was featured at Tribeca Film Institute’s Interactive. She worked with housing activists and artists to co-create Monument to Anti-Displacement Organizing that was featured in the Agitprop! show at Brooklyn Museum. She was a 2012 Public Artist-in-Resident and received the 2016 SOAPBOX Artist Award from Laundromat Project.  Yu recently won the 2017 Aronson Journalism for Social Justice Documentary Award for her film, Three Tours. She holds a BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and a MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College.  Yu is also an adjunct professor at various colleges, teaching new media, art and video production.