Art depicts historic issues
Posted Feb. 23, 2007

It is hard to put political hardship and activism into words for the public to understand, but the magic of art provides an avenue.

At the Pomona College Museum of Art, paintings from as early as the late 1920s to the present, describe “political issues, pollution of the environment, the exploitation of agricultural and industrial workers, and racial intolerance.”

The exhibit is appropriately named “Art and Activism in the Twentieth Century: Selections from the Permanent Collection.”

The permanent collection has been curated by Frances Pohl, Dr. Mary Ann Vanderzyl Reynolds, and assisted by Rochelle Le Grandsawyer.

These “direct and hard hitting” works described much of the pain faced by an individual or society.

The paintings distinctively stand out against the plain white hallways, providing viewers with no distraction, only the opportunity to concentrate on the artists work.

Viewers peacefully walk through the hallway with a sense of clarity, and a strange feeling to be quiet falls over them.

Ben Shahn’s “For All These Rights We’ve Just Began to Fight,” and Rockwell Kent’s, “Workers of the World, Unite!!,” screamed at the viewers the hardships that union workers face.

These paintings tell the story of the workers fighting for “better wages and working conditions,” and the “Need of Workers during times of both war and peace.”

Robert Rauschenberg’s, “Earth Day,” portrays what society has done to our earth, creates awareness and gets the word out about environmental concerns. The most dominating part of the picture is an Eagle, set in the middle to draw the viewer’s attention, showing the viewer what is being compromised. Around the Eagle are pictures of highways and destruction which are imposing on the natural habitat where the Eagle resides.

Sandow Birk’s “California Rehabilitation Center, Norco, CA,” also displays how nature is disrupted by mankind. This painting is set on the California hills overlooking the Norco Prison.

The California landscape is skewed by the prison in the background, which will not allow the viewer to appreciate the beauty of the landscape, or an “alternate narrative,” but to only notice the prison.

Fritz Scholder also created a piece of art which shows the dominate culture of the US.

Scholder’s, “Screaming Artist” shows a man who looks pained, screaming. This man is screaming and the viewer can not hear him, maybe a metaphor of his life. Scholder’s “Indian Target,” provides awareness to the viewer and reminds viewers of our history, which is not to be repeated.

My favorite piece of art was the “Great Wall of Los Angeles,” by Judy Baca.

The purpose of the lithograph was to create awareness of all different kinds of societal classes, races and ethnicities. Her mural also paints an important time in history, when women had to work in factories during an era in which women were not apart of the working class.

“Art and Activism in the Twentieth Century: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” will be on display Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 pm. Admission is free.

Dustin Smith can be reached at

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