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Art Musings...

posted Jan 13, 2015, 7:12 PM by Deanna L.   [ updated Jan 21, 2015, 3:05 PM ]

Ed Bereal on Art, Politics and...Satire

Recently I had the pleasure of attending artist Ed Bereal's lecture at Western Washington University.  In light of the Charlie Hebdo massacres in Paris, his talk featuring slides of his own satirical and politically driven art was most apropos.  The satirical cartoonists once again raised the question of the boundaries of free speech--it cost them their lives.  Tracing his art from his earliest illustrations through the Vietnam War as a "War Baby" as well as the Watts Riots was a discussion teeming with Mr. Bereal's hindsight observations of the tensions of that era.  About having his political awakening of sorts in the midst of the racial and political upheaval of the '60s he waxed most eloquent.  After all, having a 50-caliber rifle aimed at you by a National guardsmen in front of your L.A. home would bring anyone to a point of deep reflection--and gratitude for having escaped the debacle.  

Upsetting the powers that be with racial stereotypes and using the American flag as a tablecloth while munching on watermelon, was only the beginning for this provocative artist from L.A.  He's developed a life long career of challenging the status quo to great effect.  With the sharp eye of an illustrator Ed renders subject matter magnificently.  With brilliant wit and propensity for the comical he has the audacity to question the intentions of national policies and the leaders who administer them.    As the subject of his art Bereal takes jabs at presidents, secretaries of state and yes, racist cops.  He draws particular attention to the never-ending fear-mongering induced by government and corporate lust for the globe's oil supply.   Raises some eyebrows, gets you thinking and, yes, on the edge of your seat.  Now the viewer is challenged to question their own conditioning in a so-called post racial society--their role in this culture of entitlement however passive. During the 60's he was lucky to get through it alive since his blatant critique and examination of U.S. policies  would have been far more dangerous than today.  

The class was exposed to magazine covers showing the streets of LA burning as well as the military presence in the city during the Watts Riots and saw how that experience later shaped Ed Bereal's art.  Because as he backed away from the oblivion of art world at the time, Ed realized that his goal was to make art that "addressed [his] actual circumstances not [his] acquired circumstances."  What seemed the privilege of the art scene was incongruous to the crises of the time enough for him to question what was real and who he was in the midst of it all.  He re-emerges from that era with a voracious appetite for socio-political inspiration and a desire to create a body of work that has becomes part of his "righteous" legacy as an artist.  A close up view of his latest art reveals the racist underpinnings of society.  America's ill fascination with guns, violence and the pursuit of resources throughout the globe are other prevalent themes is his work.  And as he traveled to places like war-torn Kosovo and IRA prisons in Ireland he sees another brand of the hatred he grew up with stateside and how far people are willing to go with that sentiment: how dark it can really get.  

So as the young eager faces in attendance listened intently one question posed was to what degree satire is culturally specific?  How do make your audience "get it?"  Or is the point lost altogether for those outside the culture of the satire of the artist?  And how did this relate to the cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo?  How are these very liberties of the freedom of speech taken for granted and are we distracted as they are taken away by government--with the excuse that terror lurks in every corner?  Ed Bereal questions will a texting generation be oblivious when policies change beneath their noses.  In doing so he references Neil Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves to Death:  Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business."  A real relevant takeaway for these times.

For more information on Ed Bereal's art visit: 
(to be published in February)