Some artists make art to entertain and amuse, while activist artists like Ti-Rock Moore make art to challenge and raise awareness about injustices in society.
The 58-year-old New Orleans artist entered ArtPrize 2017 with a piece called, “Flint” that uses a symbol of 1960s racism to take aim at the water crisis that is still forcing many Flint residents to rely on bottled water to cook, bath and drink. Her entry consists of a white drinking fountain parked under a “colored” sign with a constant stream of brown water flowing out of it. Moore said she created the piece to highlight the mismanagement of the crisis that began in 2014 and continues to pose health risks and create serious hardship for residents of the majority black town.
I met Moore (not her real name) in the gallery at Fountain Street Church and we got into a conversation that ended with me asking her to meet with me and my journalism students so we could record a podcast while talking about her art. It turns out Moore is a smooth storyteller and talked openly about making art about racism, making public mistakes and learning from it all.
Moore was artistic all her life, but didn’t launch her art career until just a few years ago and has endured a firestorm of controversy for some of her earlier work. But Moore, who is white, says she is committed to her work as an activist artist commenting publicly on issues of race.
“I continue to make art because that water fountain speaks a whole lot longer than me walking down the street with a sign for three hours,” she said.
While the criticism can be harsh at times, Moore is committed to stay the course.
“Who has the right to speak when the subject matter is racism?” she said. “I mean, who has the authority to speak – indeed critique – the subject matter of racism in this country? … As a member of the perpetrating group I am standing up and speaking up. And I will continue to despite what anybody thinks.
While Moore’s piece it leading to conversations at Fountain Street Church, across town, Flint native Keyon Lovett, 26, is also making art to raise awareness about the water crisis. For the duration of ArtPrize, Lovett plans to live in an abandoned house using only bottled water that he must ration more carefully in the extreme and sweltering heat.
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