It's ironic that one oversized, fiery man can be so enticing, while another oversized, fiery man can be so repulsive. Last week, a ragtag horde of eccentric aesthetes, body-painted bedouins and molly-fueled misfits descended upon Nevada's Black Rock Desert for Burning Man. Centered around a glowing, anthropomorphic colossus, known simply as “the Man,” the gathering attracts approximately 70,000 participants annually, and is equal parts social experiment, artistic statement and mind-bending bacchanal. This year's Burn also served as an oasis from the toxic political climate created by Donald Trump and his Legion of Doom–like administration.
Traditionally an apolitical event, Burning Man 2017 refused to mention Trump by name, as if he were a spray tan–veneered Voldemort. But that doesn't mean some participants couldn't get in a few digs at the Cantelope-Who-Cannot-Be-Named. Here are seven examples of Burners using art to protest Trump's questionable policies and get under his notoriously thin skin.
1. Campaign promises rear their heads.
A long-running inside joke at Burning Man is the annual rumor that Parisian EDM duo Daft Punk is secretly spinning at the trash fence that delineates the furthest border of Black Rock City. Think of it as a “snipe hunt” for gullible virgin Burners. This year, a puckish participant combined this prank with elements of a Trump/Pence campaign sticker. Desert denizens who ventured out to the point on the playa map marked by this sticker didn't find a Daft Punk performance, but they were treated to a punch line involving Trump's most characteristic, if not most unobtainable, campaign promise.
2. The Lying King
Camp Safari is traditionally lauded for its carnival-like approach to power drinking. Guests spins a wheel, which determines which shot of booze they have to chug. This year, the folks behind Camp Safari upped the ante with this tribute to Cecil, the beloved Zimbabwean lion who was killed by poachers in 2015. The inclusion of Trump's decapitated head references his sons' infamous love of big-game hunting, as well as Kathy Griffin's notorious photo shoot from earlier this year. But, hey, if Trump can grab a pussy, there's no reason a pussy can't grab back.
3. The Unbreakable Kimmy Jong-un
Cecil wasn't the only satirical Simba at this year's Burn. At a twilight dance party under Charlie, a unicorn-shaped art car, a reveler clad solely in a leonine onesie sported a sticker bearing the image of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It was a sobering reminder that outside of the bubble of Burning Man, two chubby wannabe strongmen with tragic haircuts were playing a game of nuclear chicken on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean.
4. East Asia meets West Virginia
It's important to remember that even though North Korea is a nuclear threat, Koreans themselves are as much the victims of their peninsula's unresolved conflict as anyone else. This concept is evidenced by Margareta Appalachia, a 22-foot-tall wooden sculpture by Mike Eros dedicated to his late sister, Margaret Eileen Eros Shifflett. Eros' parents adopted the malnourished Margaret while working as Peace Corps volunteers in Korea following the war and raised her in Appalachia. She developed kidney disease and then contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. She died in 2001. The statue incorporates both coal and bamboo, acknowledging both her Eastern and Western heritage. This piece also acts as a testimony to immigration, universal health care, AIDS and Korean relations, relevant topics in the Trump era.
5. Trans Lives Matter
A short bike ride from Margareta Appalachia was the Temple, the most prominent structure on the playa, save for the Man himself. This nondenominational spiritual hub serves as a sanctuary for Burners to meditate, create tributes to recently deceased family members or just to sob uncontrollably without judgement.
One of the most prominent tributes in this year's Burn was a dedication to all the trans men and women who have been murdered this year alone, a reaction, in part, to Trump's recent trans military ban, which was announced via Twitter. Statistically, trans people are more likely to attempt suicide or be targeted for violence than any other demographic. Studies also have suggested that transgender people may be more likely to enlist in the military than nontrans people.
6. Viva Barcelona
Across from the Trans Lives Matter tribute in the Temple stood another sobering reminder of the fragility of life, a commemoration of those whose lives were lost in the recent Barcelona terrorist attacks. A global event, Burning Man attracts people from across the planet: Spain, France, England, the Middle East and Africa. Unfortunately, terrorism strikes globally as well. And despite what Trump may attest, terrorism isn't solely synonymous with Islam. The United States cultivates its own terrorists, from Dylann Roof, who shot nine people in a Charleston church, to Omar Mateen, who gunned down 49 people in an Orlando gay bar, to James Alex Fields Jr., who crashed his car into Charlottesville protesters in August. Fortunately, the Temple provided a safe, healthy environment to mourn these senseless losses.
7. Welcome Homo
On the campaign trail, Trump unconvincingly claimed he'd be “the best LGBT president ever.” Since then, he not only completely snubbed the LGBT community during Pride Month but six members of his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS have already resigned due to his indifference to the disease.
Fortunately, queer Burners could find solace in the Glamcocks, Burning Man's premier gay camp. Like the playa's LGBT embassy, this long-running camp hosts events over the course of the Burn, from afternoon yoga seminars to nighttime costumed dance parties. A new addition to the Cock Compound was a neon art installation. Designed by veteran Burners Michael “Pretzel” Donofrio and Tom “Tri” Seago, the vibrant signage alternates between “Welcome Home,” featuring a pair of Keith Haring–esque figures dancing in the darkness, and “Welcome Homo,” where the figures partake in a more adult activity. While Haring, an openly gay graffiti artist who was one of the earliest prominent victims of the AIDS epidemic, never attended Burning Man himself, his artistic style resonates strongly with the playa's principles.
“I feel what [Haring] stood for, what he was doing with his art, how he wanted his art experienced by the world, in the way that he forced himself out of the gallery system, parallels art at Burning Man,” Seago explained. “The art that we do here is temporary — it'll never be in a gallery.”
And lastly …
Since the inaugural Burning Man in 1986, the event has ended with the Man burning in effigy, a reference to pagan summer solstice tradition. The fiery destruction signifies the end of the festival for that year, a celebration of temporary permanence. Black Rock City returns to the dust and sits idle for 51 weeks, until it re-emerges from the ether in 2018 like a blacklight-reactive Brigadoon. But it should also serve as a reminder that all oversized, fiery orange men are temporary. Trump too shall pass.
This post has been updated to remove a misleading reference to the health of artist Mike Eros' sister Margaret.