Last week, ARO interviewed Janina Larenas — a printmaker and book artist — who works with PRINT | ORGANIZE | PROTEST (P.O.P.), an anti-capitalist network of independent artists and printers working together for radical social change. From the inherent political ability of aesthetics and the control of its portrayal to P.O.P.’s specialized platform for activism, Larenas imparts with us her thoughts as both an activist and artist. Featured are two prints that Larenas chose to share with us for their personal impact on her. If interested in joining and/or utilizing P.O.P.’s network, make sure to read until the end where we have posted the link to P.O.P.’s website.
ARO: As both an artist and activist, what do you believe is the role of art in resistance, as in resistance movements?
Larenas: One of the biggest strengths of art in political movements is that it is uniquely capable of uniting people. We use aesthetics as a signifier for commonality. The way we aesthetically present ourselves tells the world communicates something of who we are, how we identify ourselves. Art can expand that commonality into a political space where people are often more attuned to their differences than their similarities. Art can also allow us to process politics in different ways. An aggressive slogan can seem tender, a tender slogan can become a call to action, the juxtaposition of something we know with something we are afraid of can make push us to explore uncomfortable spaces. Art is immediately tied into a social history that is inherently political and a successful political image is in dialogue with that history.
ARO: Do you think that the digital space has influenced activist art? If yes, how so? Also, do you think that art has a bigger impact now than before because it’s so readily accessible?
Larenas: Apologies, I don’t actually feel able to answer this question. I don’t have any background in Art History and I have no idea what the critical differences are between how art was created and distributed in political movements pre-internet, and I’m not quite old enough to have the personal experiences with that difference.
[However,] something I find interesting is how all forms of art have become more voyeuristic with the inclusion of social media into our everyday lives. It’s no longer expressly about the content, but about the person who creates the content. Under Capitalism social media is used to commodify our private experiences and alienate us from even our most personal or mundane daily tasks. We are no longer experiencing in the moment a day at the beach with friends, or an intimate dinner with a loved one, we are, even as it’s happening cataloging it, packaging it, and selling it through our social media to such an extent that our everyday experiences have become a form of labor.
ARO: We know that P.O.P. is a network bringing together artist and printers for radical social change but what exactly was the reason behind crafting P.O.P. to be a platform specifically for protest art? Why not broaden the target market?
Larenas: The site was created secondary to our larger project which is the in person facilitation of teaching the public how to print their own resistance objects. The website was designed as a way to distribute designs to P.O.P. organizers across the country when our dropbox folder became too cumbersome. It has the additional effect of distributing the designs to people who aren’t able to participate in our public events, and of creating an accessible database to anyone who wants to run their own P.O.P. event but doesn’t have designs on hand.
P.O.P. is anti-capitalist project, in that way we are not interested broadening our target market or creating profits. We are interested in empowering people to join resistance movements through the physical experience of creating art, especially in a political environment where people are feeling frustrated, scared, and isolated, P.O.P. can bring people together, expand their communities, and show them how to build power anywhere there’s people.
ARO: Do you have a particular print or artwork that you found especially moving? If so, please share with us which one it is and why it affects you so.
Larenas: My favorite pieces on the P.O.P. website are Ariana Mygatt’s Feet Fist Eyes and Koak’s Solidarity to all the Women. Ariana’s piece is a rallying cry to march and protest with a stern reminder that these actions are intended to influence and demand things from the state. Protesting and marching is not a social movement, but a political one. The illustrations are also gentle and elegant such that they draw you in calmly even as they work you up to fight. Koak’s piece is modeled after the sculpture Three Graces by Antionio Canova. It is familiar and loving as it explores gender beyond conventional boundaries, expanding it to include all bodies. It is a reminder that when we place a gender on a person we making assumptions about their history and their experiences in the world, and that standing in solidarity with all women matters above and beyond our perceptions of how a person moves about the world.
ARO: And finally to close, what is the message you hope that people (wherever they are) keep in mind in today’s global political climate?
Larenas: The people have the power! Find ways to build that power within your community, and keep fighting!
ARO would once again like to express our gratitude to Janina for taking time out of her busy schedule for this interview. Please take a moment to check out PRINT | ORGANIZE | PROTEST and their amazing prints. All artwork is non-profit and thus, can be downloaded for free on the website.
P.O.P.’s website: http://www.printorganizeprotest.org
Featured image: Janina Larenas, Don’t Mourn, Organize (Color)