Artist Illma Gore is no stranger to controversy. Her most recent collaborators, West Coast art activist collective INDECLINE, can’t get enough of the stuff. Last year, both created a stir with Trump-related artworks that became the poster children for the president-elect’s opposition — Gore’s illustration “Make America Great Again” depicted Trump with a micropenis. And INDECLINE was responsible for the nude Trump statues that cropped up publicly last summer in five cities, including Los Angeles.
A mutual interest in resistance brought the artist and the collective together for their most recent collaboration, “Rise Up Thy Young Blood,” a mural painted almost entirely in, well, blood. The artist has spent the last week of her waking hours on painting the mural in situ. Elements of her process remain, with drips and splatters of her medium breaking the border of the canvas. Collected over two clandestine private blood drives, every drop of six pints of blood went into the piece, whose approximately 50 donors included local friends, artists, activists, musicians and several “high-profile” anonymous donors.
Gore’s 10-by-15-foot mural drew inspiration from America's founding mythology, the creation of the first American flag. In lieu of the well-trod image of Betsy Ross and seamstresses piecing together the first American symbol, Gore’s painting depicts a more modern and inclusive American ensemble.
A Native American woman is a steady anchor holding the flag up for sewers to stitch together. A blue-collar worker wears a "Make America Great Again" ball cap as he sews. A black businessman holds a threaded needle in the air, while a policeman kneels across from him to support the cloth. The piece is flanked by a young Latina woman and a Muslim couple. This is the fabric of contemporary American society, held fast by the oppressed in the purpling and iron-red hues of our lot.
“The blood is such a powerful statement in itself,” Gore said at the viewing of the mural at Samuel Freeman Gallery in Mid-City on Sunday. “We wanted the image to be something that was peaceful and unifying and involved everyone.” In the wake of a contentious presidential election that exposed the rhetorical silos of left and right, Gore set out to say, “We all make up a piece of America, including the people we disagree with.”
A representative for INDECLINE reiterated, “This piece is about cultural cohesion and unity and broadening the conversation with each other,” which he says is a departure for a collective “used to being on the attack” with guerrilla art tactics such as billboard-altering, street art and other public interventions. When it comes to Trump, the collective is on a mission but strategizing cautiously. “On the one hand, we want to make sure that we’re shadowing him, providing checks and balances that the government is not,” the spokesperson said. “But we don’t want to be polarizing because that’s exactly what he is.”
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Some have criticized the artists for using blood that otherwise could have gone toward medical transfusions, but the artist clarified that a significant amount of the blood donated would have been ineligible for blood banks. For instance, some of the blood was HIV-positive. Also, some of the blood was donated by men who have sex with men, who are ineligible to donate blood for 12 months after intercourse. To quell the outcry, the gallery donated the estimated cost of equal blood collection to the Red Cross, totaling $1,000 (a pint incurs a cost of $150).
“Free speech needs to be protected,” Sam Freeman said. Despite a medium that might make people squeamish, the gallery owner said the mural is a standout in a genre of meaningful but all too often “thinly executed” art. “Formally speaking, it’s a good painting,” he said. “This piece is aggressive but it’s not offensive for the sake of being offensive.”
For both Gore and INDECLINE, this is just the beginning of what’s poised to be a tremendous outpouring of activist art. “Last year, I went through hell,” Gore said, citing the censorship of her work, from when her Facebook account was deleted to when she was attacked by a gang of Trump supporters near her Los Angeles home. After all that, Gore is prepared to lean in for the long haul. “I plan on being a pain in his ass, honestly,” the artist said with a smile. “I’m not going anywhere.”