Shock over Trump presidency sparks political artwork

By ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR

As the country adjusts to a new president-elect, art has a lot to say about the new political reality.

Local arts collective Birch Reincliff planted an elephant sculpture at Water Tower Plaza Nov. 1 emblazoned with the words “What would a Trump presidency look like” and encouraged Chicagoans to write down their concerns for the country if the Republican now-President-elect Donald Trump won. 

According to a Nov. 7 email interview with the arts collective, the elephant was only there for one day, but many flocked to take pictures, write and gawk at the artwork. 

“[People] talked politics, a subject people would avoid otherwise,” the collective said. “They argued. That’s the best effect the art could have had.”

Throughout the day, the elephant filled with messages and drawings of what people think a Trump term might look like. Some messages read “Hate, anger, ignorance,” “Apocalypse” and “The next Great Depression and World War III.” One person had a more hopeful outlook, writing on the trunk, “Women will stop Trump from being president.” 

The collective said the elephant was there to allow people of all political leanings to voice their ideas on a Trump presidency. Birch Reincliff said the group expected Trump supporters and undecided voters, but the turnout, which was buzzing on social media, showed that most people were “horrified at the idea of Trump’s presidency.” 

In addition to the public’s words, brown dog toys shaped like feces, each topped with orange Trump heads, surrounded the elephant.

The collective is selling the toys, called Donnie the Poo, for $13.99 and is donating $5 from each sale to nonprofit groups Trump has verbally and physically abused during his campaign. Organizations include Planned Parenthood, National Immigration Reform and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. Donations will also go toward PAWS Chicago and Puppies Behind Bars.

More than 300 Donnie the Poos have been sold so far, according to the collective’s website, and each purchase comes with a read-to-send a postcard attached to the packaging to send to the Republican National Committee headquarters. The postcards make fun of the president-elect and has room for people to add their own thoughts.

Madison Miller, who lives in Lincoln Park with her white cockapoo, said Donnie the Poois a humorous and clever idea. She said supporting the groups that Trump insulted is what she likes best about the chew-toy.

Even though Trump won, she said she would still buy the toy for her dog but wouldn’t advertise it because she considers it important to respect the president-elect, whomever they may be.

“Before he was announced president I thought it would be more funny, but now that he is president, I don’t think it is that funny,” Miller said.

Donnie the Poo is just one form of political art created in response  to Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent victory. Cocktail bar Violet Hour, 1520 N. Damen Ave., features rotating murals and recently showed a mural that read “Hillary or Else” and allowed people to fill in what “else” might be.

Before “Hillary or Else,” Jonathan Stein’s work “Addition By Subtraction” was displayed for three weeks, depicting the alphabet but missing T, R, U, M and P.

Stein, a Chicago painter and 1999 Columbia fine arts alumnus, said he thought it was important to voice his opinion about Trump through the artwork, which he called an outlier in his abstract painting career.

“I thought the election was too important not to comment on,” Stein said about getting his work on the bar’s wall.

He said the only possible constructive outcome of Trump’s presidency is inspiration and fresh material for artists like himself. 

“The fact that we have to deal with four years and two months of him in power means ideas I have will probably surface,” Stein said. “I was hoping to never have to use those ideas, but I will have ample time to pull them out.”

It is only the beginning of political artistic expression from Trump’s election, said Richard Laurent, adjunct professor in the Design Department and an established political cartoonist.

“[The election] has been a train wreck happening in slow motion and the last three months have provided more than ample concepts for at least a cartoon a day, maybe two,” Laurent said.

Laurent said he found the process to be cathartic and helped with the stressful campaign election. He said instead of looking to it as a negative effect, he is trying to focus on the upsides, like the opportunity to produce through thought-provoking content.

“We live in a free society and this is an expression of our First Amendment rights, and it is a great way of dealing with the stress that this campaign has produced,” he said. “It is always better for the political artist to have something to sink their teeth into.”

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