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Paper Trail Hate (2017)
Mary B. Stanley
In 2018, people of good will, fearing for the fate of our democracy, hope Robert Mueller will definitively reveal the paper trail that leads to the end of the Trump Presidency. While that may happen, there remains the uneasy sense that Trumpism itself would not end no matter how overwhelming and credible the evidence Mueller uncovers.
My small sculptural installation takes on the challenge of tracking a far more complicated, ubiquitous and undeniably American trail, the paper trail of hate. My work seeks the source of the visceral, cruel hatred against immigrants and refugees that powers Trump’s base.
I suggest that intellectual works presented as mere attempts to describe the world as it is have actually softened the beach for this contemporary assault of racism, nativism, rabid white nationalism, and cruelty.
Such intellectual works are the scaffolding for walls, for policies that rest on dehumanization.
Still. Books and ideas also empower alternative visions of strangers. Invite global generosity and decency. Work their way into the souls of the desperate.
In this work, a mother and her children rush towards the US border. Post-WWII texts that affirm the human status and dignity of all persons mark the paper trail they follow. Perhaps this paper trail also activated the resistance to separating refugee and immigrant parents and children, resistance arising from Americans across the political spectrum.
A casually cruel golden hand guards the wall my refugee family faces. Trumpian, it does not bother with a bold STOP gesture. Or even a middle finger. Rather a finger flick. Immigrants and refugees flicked away like a bug on a lapel. Vermin. Vectors. Perhaps crushed if they don’t scuttle off. After the dust-up around separation settles, the hand remains. Trump uses racism because he can. Because it is as American as apple pie. Because it has a long intellectual tradition.
The figures in this work are not simple creatures. My figures are chimerical. Both human and bird. Are they threatening and grotesque creatures, terrifying “mongrels” described in books we now recognize as racist that amplify fears of race-mixing and white cultural genocide? Or are they brave and beautiful beings ready to take flight, empowered by the language of human rights to rise above hatred, nativism, extreme nationalism?
Strangers are often a source of curiosity and wonder. But we sometimes cast them as the physical embodiment of danger. A threat to white culture. Agents of white racial genocide. I offer the possibility that refugees and immigrants carry with them dense complicated cultures and histories. Complex beings, they demand time and effort to understand. Neither murderers and rapists, nor one-dimensionally heroic.
I include an annotated bibliography of the works referenced in “Paper Trail. Hate.” Take away copies are available.
ArtRage Gallery, “Seen and Heard”
Syracuse, NY. Fall 2017
Center for Contemporary Political Art
“Defining the Art of Change in the Age of Trump” Fall, 2018
Mary lives and works in Syracuse, NY and Paraty, Brazil.
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