|The Subversive Imagery of Occupy LA
The Subversive Imagery of Occupy LA
Any good revolution or uprising needs some equally fiery artwork and imagery for visual
accompaniment to rouse the masses to rise against. Take a stroll into Occupy LA and you’ll find
they’re no exception.
I’ve always been a fan of activist art and the visuals I snatched here and there stoked my curiosity
as to what might be deep within the confines of the camp. I’d caught glimpses of creativity riding
by on my bike during the day or weaving through late at night out of alcohol-fueled curiosity. I
didn’t know what I’d find but hey, it beat listening to my neighbors robbing people at the break of
Sauntering into the sprawling encampment, Civic Center had become it’s own private world
frosted with political leaflets, posters, stickers, graffiti, picketing signs and stencils. A miniature
society where hardened activists mingled with fixie-riders, curiosity seekers, rambling
pseudo-academics, writers struggling not to look like writers, pit bulls and the occasional hipster
Contrary to popular belief, it was obvious members of the 99% hadn’t simply been smoking
massive amounts of weed and practicing yoga on their down time. Rousing imagery was being
created in between bank invasions and stand-offs with the LAPD.
My first stop was the Art & Temple Collective, which is the most organized group in the downtown
encampment. A band of artists had found one another and began churning out stenciled shirts,
fliers and posters for anyone willing to hang around long enough.
Half cut stencils were waiting to be brought to life. Exacto blades outnumbered cigarette butts.
The overflow spilled out onto the sidewalk from their corner workshop, colorful reminders of the
injustices present in the world.
I watched as one artist began stenciling some shirts and blank canvases as an audience of
wide-eyed college kids freshmen looked on in amazement. To the young generation of onlookers
the man in the blue hat was working serious magic, most of them likely never having created
anything outside of Photoshop.
As a shirt was set to be stenciled, one girl remarked “Oh, he’s about to do some…graffiti tagging!”
while her friend hesitantly touched a can and quickly pulled back as if it might deliver an electric
shock or a venomous bite.
I started making my way through the press of tents and improvised shelters, each with a distinct
look ranging from “Grimy political bulletin board.” to “My own private Vietnam.” Guy Fawkes
stencils seemed to be all the rage while other people just decided to turn their dwellings into
spray paint crusted huts.
All around I could hear political discussion, arguments over how to redistribute wealth and
occasionally sounds of the 99% engaging in what sounded like the 69% behind zipped tent flaps.
Everyone wanted to make sure I either knew about their particular social cause or offered me
some kind of organic food treat. My pockets were soon stuffed with fliers, leaflets, handouts and
what may or not have been a couple magic edibles (I wasn’t about to take any chances and gifted
them to a homeless pimp a few hours later.)
After accepting some biscuits smothered in pesto from the camp kitchen, I discovered a stash of
illustrated signage propped against a tent. Paydirt!
Scrooge McDuck frolics on a pile of cash against a backdrop of nuclear holocaust. Snoopy finds
his doghouse foreclosed by a backstabbing Woodstock. Snake Pliskin looks ready to stab the first
Wall Street banker in sight. Batgirl…I’d help you challenge any authority figure.
Pop culture icons hijacked, subverted and put to use in ways their creators could never have
imagined. Ron English, watch your back.
I waded into the central square where amid the morning handout rush of free milk and granola,
the real artistic centerpiece of the Occupy LA encampment loomed menacingly.
A massive spray-painted character mural rendered the Federal Reserve Bank as a mutli-limbed
purple horror oozing menace, poison and hate. Nuclear war, pollution, runaway greed, and other
elements of Americana’s worst traits surround the demonic bank with a menacing Illuminati eye
topping it all like an obscene cherry.
Getting a clear shot was a nightmare. The moment I snapped the award-winning flick, someone’s
dog dropped a morning glory right in the middle of the plaza. As the owner drizzled hot sauce
packets all over the steaming mess (?!?), the smell of it hit me like a cop’s fist. The reek added to
the horror of the mural towering in front of me, a nightmare scratch and sniff sticker.
I took it as a sign to call it a wrap. Carefully sidestepping the hot dog mess in front of me, it was
back to Metro.
From the humble picketing sign to a rock-star graffiti mural, the encampment is a hotbed of
creative energy you won’t find for sale in any gallery. Occupy LA has no doubt drawn a number of
artistic individuals into it’s fold who are all eager to leverage their creativity to communicate their
frustration and desire for change.