Conversation About Social Justice: Part 1

We know that even in the best of times, art slows us down to concentrate, to engage with our world. My dear poet friend, the late Meena Alexander (MacDowell Fellow 93, 98), said, “writing can work toward a reparation, making a sheltering space for the mind. Yet it feeds off ruptures, tears in what might otherwise seem a seamless, oppressive fabric.” I extend her meaning to art, to your art, in what is both a demanding and yet hopeful time.

This momentous, tragic time of senseless deaths one after the other after the other outrages us and cries out for confrontation and redress. MacDowell Fellows have long been making the art of redress, long before this current round of bloody injustice. MacDowell has made a space here to present the art made by Fellows in protest of previous injustices, for the history of racial injustice is long and needful of redress. Our plan is to present these works online to continue the conversation about social justice through art.

This first round – including film and video, written work, theatrical performance, and visual art – was solicited by invitation to recent Fellows, but the invitation will be going out shortly to all MacDowell Fellows with the understanding that it may seem to impose yet another task on artists who may be in the streets or emotionally drained. This understanding extends particularly but not exclusively to Black and Indigenous Fellows of Color, and to Fellow artists who have suffered personal losses.

Take your time scrolling through. We hope you find here work that might inspire your own, or that might inspire you to have this important conversation with friends and family.

Madam Chairman of the Board Nell Painter

"Tuesday, June 9, 2020, protesters Brooklyn Borough Hall" from “Covid Journal” series; print on photographic paper; 2020; Accra Shepp (19), visual artist.

Curfew, Triptych

From the "Garden Coup” series 2017- 2020; gel ink on acid-free black paper; 8.5 in. x 11 in.; Behar Behbahani (17) visual artist.

Rock Writing

Lava and limestone; 6 feet X 11 feet; 1992; Annette Lawrence (18) visual artist. The piece lies on the floor. It has the proportions of a grave or a bed of hot burning coals.

Deliberate Deceit

Oil on canvas; 42 in. x 34 in.; 2020; Lisa Corinne Davis (17).

Passport Photos

Photographic print; 1991; Amitava Kumar (19) fiction writer. Survivors of the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India demanding justice.

Photographs with an Audience

Photographs with an Audience (San Antonio) : Loving Black Men in Public; archival pigment print; 20 in. x24 in.; 2018), Clifford Owens (18) visual artist.

International Body Repair Shop

Installation at White Box Gallery, New York; 2020; Chin Chih Yang (17), interdisciplinary artist.

Watch Us, Together We Can Do It

Work in progress -- a large-scale performance piece to promote World Peace and Understanding. 2020; Chin Chih Yang (17), interdisciplinary artist.

The 3rd Precinct from Afar

Ink on paper; 9 in. X 12 in.; 2020; Kambui Olujimi (18) visual artist.

Shameless Light

A collaborative performance that began in 2016, one month after the election of Donald Trump. In our fury, we decided to use love as a form of resistance and radical action. Shameless Light is a performance of love letters by women identified queers. Dani and Sheilah ReStack (19), filmmaking.

Feeding Grounds

Ink on paper collage; 22 in. X 30 in.; 2020; Mark Thomas Gibson (17) visual artist.

The Lovers (Part 2)

Ink on paper; 30 in. X 22 in.; 2020; Mark Thomas Gibson (17) visual artist.


by Mark Thomas Gibson (17)

Typically, in a Foundation 2-D course in art school, students are taught about the principle of Resting Space—an empty space where the eye can safely rest, away from the composition's primary focus. This open space allows the viewer to take a break from the subject of the work.

When I conceived of this body of work, including The Lovers (Part 2) and Feeding Grounds (images above), the collective "We" were in the middle of the greatest global pandemic in one hundred years. During this time, We noticed how little We notice anything. We noticed that We had lost the mountains in our landscapes behind smog-covered skies. We noticed that technology wasn't all what We thought it was cracked up to be. We noticed a disproportionate number of black and brown people were dying from this virus. We noticed the lowest paid were taking the highest risk. We noticed that there were some in the United States of America who were more than willing to prioritize capitalism over human life. We noticed elections do matter. So much was happening in the Resting Spaces within our society, and I came to view the principle of Resting Space with an entirely new perspective. Instead of interpreting "empty" or "open" space as unattended or not accounted for, I now believe that it is a constructive staging ground where the real activity occurs. Drawing is all about possibility: taking the risk to go into the unknown for the promise of what might be revealed. There is no Resting Space.

These drawings were sent to the gallery in Los Angeles from my studio in Philadelphia the week before the video of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis emerged. This overt racism and cruelty is nothing that We, The People, haven't seen before in America. We often have a short memory in this country; but a long history of this grotesque truth is embedded in who we are as a nation. Each time I put pen to paper, so to speak, it seems that another one of these all too common tragedies has occurred and revealed another irredeemable fracture. There is no Resting Space.

As long as there is no resting space for me, there is no resting space for you. We are all in THIS together. Take notice, protest, and vote.

You Ought to See My Heart

Larry Krone (11, 12, 18) screen print.

You Ought to See My Heart

by Larry Krone

I have lived with the words “You ought to see my heart” in my sketch book for at least 10 years. Fragments of song lyrics such as these—along with old craft and needlework projects, deteriorating mirrors and picture frames, remnants of yarn and notions, and vintage office and art supplies—are among the found “materials” I stockpile for inspiration and the supplies I use to make my visual and performance work. Read and see the rest of this illustrated essay here.

Art as an Act of Resistance: A Conversation With Shaun Leonardo, Dread Scott, and Clifford Owens

Conversation organized and moderated by Clifford Owens (18) visual artist with artists Dread Scott and Shaun Leonardo (hosted by ArtNet).

Coming of Age in the Time of the Hoodie

Sarah Ladipo Manyika (18); fiction writer: Earlier this year I decided to read Joe Brainard’s cult classic, I Remember. The book had long intrigued me for I had heard that it was widely taught in creative writing courses and was a favorite of many authors, including several well-known authors whose work I admire. I was immediately drawn to Brainard’s style, each line starting with the words “I remember.” As I read it, I found myself jotting down remembrances of my own, complementing Brainard’s memories of America with my memories of Nigeria.

Read Sarah's essay

[the ocean will take us one day]

Shelley Wong (17); poet: A trio of poems and a short essay, most of it written while at MacDowell, about intersectional identity as an Asian American queer woman. The first two show the intertwining of violence, joy, and collective resistance. They were published in 2017 as a special yearlong Kenyon Review "Resistance, Change, Survival" feature of artists responding to the Trump administration.

Read Shelley's contribution

Bruna boscana, "Pararge aegeria"

Laurence O'Dwyer (17); poet: Bruna boscana

Read "Bruna boscana"

The Joke

Kim Coleman Foote (19), fiction writer: "The Joke" was first published in slightly different form in Reverie: Midwest Journal of African American Literature (Fall 2008).

Read "The Joke"

Your Voicemail Which Destroyed Me

Catherine Yu (17) responded to our invitation with a prose poem directly related to our current situation.

Read Catherine's prose poem

West Mosul Between ISIS Snipers and Allied Bombers: One False Move and You’re Dead

Mahmoud Saeed (15, 17), nonfiction writer: “West Mosul” was previously published in The Brooklyn Rail.

Read "West Mosul..."

On Living: A Manifesto of An Incest Survivor

Lis P. Sipin-Gabon (17); fiction: "The name given to me at birth was “Melissa Rae Sipin,” but this name is not my chosen name...."

Read Lis's essay

Operations (excerpt)

Moez Surani (18) fiction: a poem of violence. It is a collection of the names of military operations conducted by member states of the United Nations (UN) from the UN’s inception in October 1945, to the incorporation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) document in 2006.

Read an excerpt of "Operations"

Mudbound (excerpt)

Read two chapters from Hillary Jordan’s (10, 14, 17) acclaimed novel about two Mississippi families -- one Black, one White -- confront the brutal realities of prejudice, farming, and friendship in a divided World War II era.

Read an excerpt

One Day At the End of His World

A short story set in Yangon, Myanmar that is a response to social and economic deprivations by Howard Wolf (75, 16).

Read the short story

Conflict Is Not Abuse

Sarah Schulman (9x 86-19) wrote Conflict Is Not Abuse about “people experiencing the inevitable discomfort of human misunderstanding [who] often overstate the harm that has been done to them — they describe themselves as victims rather than as participants in a shared situation, according to this interview by Molly Fischer in New York magazine. Today, it seems more relevant than ever.

read the interview


Recognition by Rufus Reid (10, 14, 16), composer

Skrontch Music

Byron Asher (18) composer: my Skrontch Music recording, which wrestles with social justice issues that we are very much still dealing with today, through the context of New Orleans jazz history.

Stories of Old Missouri: I. Dream Variations

Victor E. Marquez-Barrios (19), composer

Protest music samples

Caroline Davis (19), composer

Last Breaths

Armando Bayolo (18), composer

Los Caprichos (excerpts)

Armando Bayolo (18), composer

A Reading of Bertram on Brooks on Walker

Anthony Paul De Ritis (2018) composer: A reading and electroacoustic setting of Lillian-Yvonne Bertram's poem: "Gwendolyn Brooks on Kara Walker's 'Gone, An Historical Romance of Civil War As it Occurred B'tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.'"


Rodrigo Martínez Torres (19) wrote "Interacción" thinking about a musical time-based on human interactions, instead of a constant beat or rhythm. The musical language in this piece is based solely on people listening to each other.

Ghost of John William

Composer Eric Chasalow (6x 84-19) was moved to write a song about the recent social upheaval and calls for social justice while at MacDowell in 2019.

Ghost of John William – Eric Chasalow (from the forth-coming album, Ghosts of Our Former Selves)

The history of our obsession with guns in the U.S. is long and feelings about it run so deep that rational discussion about the horrific violence this causes has been impossible.

I chose a modal frame and a traditional genre to signify that long history and wrote a text that is purposely without a specific reference to any time period, remote or current. The issue is not an artifact of history, but urgent and on-going. The cry that “this insanity has got to stop” is meant as a kind of exhausted scream.

I wrote the song out of a deep sense of frustration and exhaustion. The urgency that rises with each horrific incident recedes almost immediately, normalizing violence as something we are all supposed to accept for the sake of the rights of a minority to live without even reasonable restrictions. I find this intolerable, even from my position of both economic and racial privilege. It is our communities of color that suffer most from our glorification of guns. It is crystal clear that gun rights and white supremacy are intertwined. The deeply entrenched, well-financed gun-rights movement is, at its core, a fear-driven reactionary institution for maintaining our racist and classist power-structure. So the insanity I sing of in this song is about much more than unbridled gun ownership – it is about ever-present violence fueled by fear, greed, and hate.

Ghost of John William

John William was a very fine tailor
John William never hurt no one
John William wasn’t nothing but your neighbor
‘Till the day that he got a gun.

Feeling fear and rage because they said so
Couldn’t say where it would stop.
Always said he’d never have to use it
But everybody wants to take their shot.

All that hatred blowing through the country
All that hate can’t be contained
Every hate just calling for another
When did life become a hateful game?

It’s a story older than the ages
Hatred calling from the mountaintops
All those neighbors aiming at each other
This insanity has got to stop.

Every gun just calling for another
Calling out from the mountaintop
Calling out like the only true religion
This insanity has got to stop.

John saw them bowing down to dollars
Calling citizens to take their shot
It’s your right to murder one another
Everybody wants to take their shot.

John William was a very fine tailor
John William was a very fine shot
Took aim didn’t think about his brother
This insanity has got to stop
This insanity has got to stop
This insanity has got to stop…

Copyright 2020 Suspicious Motives Music (ASCAP)

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (trailer)

Brett Story (18) is a filmmaker who offers this trailer to her formalist non-fiction feature film about the U.S. prison system.

Take Tha House Back

Kate Levy (18), interdisciplinary artist: Made in collaboration with Will See and Bryce Detroit, back in 2016, in response to massive tax foreclosures occurring (and still occurring) in the city of Detroit.

The Gospel at Colonus

Lee Breuer (14, 18), theatre artist: The full performance with Morgan Freeman and a powerful cast.

And Nothing Happened

Naima Ramos-Chapman (19), filmmaker: Her short film about a young woman juggling between the mundane and the extraordinary in an attempt to leave her NYC apartment.

Memories of a Penitent Heart (trailer)

Cecilia Aldarondo (14, 18) filmmaker: