Area artists Turl, Ross, Lane use exhibit to inspire social change

By Dylan Frost

Students and area artists will soon display their art in hopes of spurring the community to take action against social issues that affect not only southern Illinois, but also the world.

“This Art Show Kills Fascists,” a variation on a slogan used by Woodie Guthrie on his guitars during World War II, is a four-day exhibit beginning Wednesday featuring artwork from senior art students Adam Turl of Carbondale, Craig Ross of Springfield and Joe Lane of Alton.

“Obviously we are not advocating any specific action by using that slogan, but we wanted to connect to a long history of radical politics in both serious art and popular culture,” Turl said.



The event, set to take place at the Glove Factory’s Surplus Gallery, is described as being radical in tone — socialistic and anarchistic — and is meant to educate people about radical political movements and worldwide crises by using modern art.

In their proposal to the Surplus Gallery committee, the artists focused on the ambiguity of post-modern art and how political art is chastised for making political statements.

“The seemingly endless wars of the 21st century and the return of systemic economic crisis— not to mention the rebirth of fascism on European soil — have undermined the basic assumptions of much post-modern art theory,” the proposal said.

Through their pieces, the artists express concern for hydraulic fracturing mining in southern Illinois, the struggle against the fascist movement in Greece — known as the Golden Dawn and — religious fanaticism propagated by right-winged politics, according to a press release.

“I believe religion and religious fanaticism has been co-opted by the right wing in this country,” Ross said in the release. “So it is important to shed light on how religion and fanaticism has influenced and sparked fights for liberation throughout history.”

Turl said the three artists are hopeful the exhibit will help people recognize the necessity for social movements to inspire change in unjust societies.

“The three of us are socialists,” Turl said. “We believe that everyone should democratically control the wealth of the nation and the world. We believe that much of the world’s suffering is caused by exploitation inherent in the capitalist system.”

Turl’s piece, “America’s Spiritual Heroes,” is a painting of American cultural icons and left-wing political figures. He covered the paintings in ash, cotton and concrete, and will display it on the floor. His paintings pay tribute to various socialist and anarchist leaders like Lucy Parsons, author Mark Twain and musician Joe Hill.

Turl said art cannot itself fundamentally change anything, but it can be used as a tool for curating activism.

“Social movements involving large numbers of people are key to transforming systems and challenging injustices,” he said. “These are rapid events and art moves slowly. Social movements are like earthquakes. Much of art tends to move in geologic time.”

Art is still essential for human interactivity and should not be relegated to the concerns of academic specialists and wealthy collectors, he said.

Ross’s artwork is inspired by the history of Nat Turner, who successfully led a slave rebellion in 1831, and the struggles for emancipation.

“What I’m showing are the first seven pages of larger projects and it’s going to be a comic book about Nat Turner,” Ross said.

Ross said he is compelled to educate people about common misconceptions concerning Turner’s rebellion.

“There was a novel about Nat Turner that caused a lot of controversy because the author portrayed his rebellion as this misguided lust for this white woman that drove him, which is not historically accurate at all,” he said. “A lot of writers and black activists were not okay with that. When people talk about the rebellion they just talk about the actual violent event, but they don’t talk about all of the visions that led up to it.”

Ross compared Turner’s struggle and the African American fight for emancipation to present day wealth inequality and economic crisis.

“We have the Emancipation Proclamation so slaves are free,” he said. “But at the same time, we have huge amounts of debt that people feel — entrapped by student debt, wage slavery — all of these things are interrelated.”

Lane was not available to talk about his featured artwork, but his creation was constructed from garbage and calls attention to classical and medieval religious works.

The art show begins Wednesday with a presentation called “Art & Revolution.” The artists will discuss their work and how it relates to political oppression and the everyday struggles of life.

There will also be a reception and musical performances on Jan. 31, featuring Hans Predator, Scatter Brain Jane, Cherry Street Volcano and Secondary Modern. The Surplus Gallery will be open 12 to 5 p.m. on all days of the event.

Dylan Frost can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @DFrost_90, or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 255.