The Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica saw the show of the century fall into its lap this winter.
Sarah Mason, who works at the gallery, was catapulted into accidental fame when a photo of her at an Occupy L.A. protest — snapped by LA Weekly photographer Ted Soqui — was reworked by graphic artist Shepard Fairey for the cover of TIME Magazine.
Gallery owner Robert Berman says he's been showing and selling Fairey's work, including the Obama HOPE line, for “many, many years.” And when TIME's “Person of the Year” issue dropped…
… Berman had already been planning an Occupy-themed project with Christopher Felver, another local artist. So the “Protester” cover, featuring Mason's abstracted portrait, sort of just brought everything together.
“For me, it's just a continuum of loving street art, loving political art, loving L.A. art,” he says. “When I saw the photo Ted took of Sarah, even before it was on TIME Magazine, I thought, 'This is unbelievable.'” (Later, Berman admits: “I actually think the photo is a lot stronger than what Shepard did. But Shepard has the juju of being Shepard.”)
From there, Berman asked our photographer, Ted Soqui, to show him the rest of his work from Occupy L.A.
“His photos are so true and beautiful,” Berman says now. “I was amazed.”
Thus the “Just Occupy” pop-up show was born. It's set to open January 14. From the gallery's presser:
Ted Soqui's iconic photograph of the female protester with the 99% bandana, knit cap and shockingly intense eyes was chosen by artist Shepard Fairey for the cover of TIME magazine's person of the year. The image is now the symbol for the Occupy movement, not only from Wall Street, but from Arab Spring to Athens to Moscow.
… Also featured in JUST OCCUPY will be a series of photographic collages by photojournalist Christopher Felver, who is known for his documentary photographs of the beats, poets and musicians. These photos from his Ordered World series show a stark contrast to the narrative photos of Ted Soqui, yet have a different impact by showing the force of simple words when joined together such as: JUST PEACE, JUST WAR, JUST 99%, JUST OCCUPY.
The protester with the bandana, as we all know by now, is none other than gallery employee Sarah Mason. Ironically, she started working there during Fairey's big album-art show in spring. And nearly a year later, it will be Mason's Occupy L.A. tent, once parked stubbornly on the City Hall lawn, that sits at the center of the exhibit — a weighty artifact to hold down the scrapbook on the walls.
Mason has been super reluctant to speak with reporters, lest she become even more of a covergirl or spokeswoman for the movement, which is supposed to be about the 99 percent as a whole. Her fellow protesters were so frustrated by the public's fascination with the haunting gaze on the cover of TIME, in fact, that they started a “We Are All Sarah Mason” campaign.
So when Berman told Mason he wanted to do a show, he says she told him, “I won't even be able to be in the gallery.” But he wouldn't do it without her support.
“The next day, she came in and said, 'I've been thinking about it,'” says Berman. Mason had changed her mind.
“If people don't continue to do stuff about the Occupy movement, it's going to go away,” adds the longtime gallery owner and political activist. He's right. Media outlets rely on catchy headlines and novel angles to attract readers. On the post-raid Occupy front, those have been tough to find.
In this way, the truth behind the TIME cover, which has become somewhat controversial among both protesters and anti-Occupiers for its masked singularity, has at least served to peak new interest — to breathe life back into the 99 percent vs. Wall Street dialogue.
And Mason, thrust reluctantly to the center of a media whirlwind, becomes the doe-eyed focal point to hold our intrigue.