Uniting and organizing for a cause is an incredibly powerful tool for change. As we can see with the ongoing protests against systemic racism and police brutality, the power of collective movements and voices can enact justice, spur necessary conversations, and forge new ways forward. Everyone has different strengths to lend to a movement, and it is through the collective pooling of resources and the momentum of various actions that the work gets done. This print embodies that spirit and gives a visual to the strength of people uniting for a common goal.
In the artist’s words:
“I made a version of this image for the JustSeeds Uprisings install in Milwaukee in 2013, and recently it seemed like it was time to update it. The idea for this came from the phenomenon of the murmuration, and the flocking behavior of many birds. In these great assemblies of flying creatures, each individual is maintaining their own position within the mass by constantly reassessing how far they are from each other, and the function of so many individuals flying together serves to provide some protection from predators. There are lessons in biology to be learned by people organizing for a better world, and this is one of the best.”
You can learn more about Peet and his art here.
Visual Description: A figure 8 swirl of many blue birds, some lighter, some darker, engulfing two larger red birds, one larger, one smaller, with the word “ORGANIZE” written in red at the bottom.
We know very little about this photograph except that it was taken in Milwaukee’s own Riverside Park, a park close by UWM. If you visit the park today, however, you aren’t going to be able to pass through the tunnel that features so prominently here because it was filled-in in the 1970’s, not long after this photograph was taken. The only visual clue left of its existence is a portion of the limestone portal that can be seen on the west side of the former railroad embankment.
We unfortunately know nothing about the photographer of this piece except their name and the assumption that they went to UWM. If you know anything more about this artist or this photo, let us know!
Visual Description: Black and white photograph. A silhouette of two people is framed by the silhouette of a rounded tunnel within which the photographer is taking the photo. A pathway leads towards the winter woods beyond.
Nicolas Lampert and Paul Kjelland
Fair Housing Now
Today we bring you a bit of history on protesting and marching in Milwaukee.
This print depicts a scene of the Milwaukee Commandos during the fair housing marches based on a photograph by Ben Hernandez from 1967. The Milwaukee Commandos were a group of mostly young Black men that formed as part of the NAACP Youth Council in 1966. In 1967, they created their own organization away from the Youth Council, deciding to focus “on summer job programs for inner city youth and mentoring programs for community members recently released from state youth correctional facilities.” (from Lampert’s blogpost below) During the 200 consecutive nights of the fair housing marches from August 1967 to March 1968, the Commandos protected marchers from racist white mobs and police brutality as they marched for fair and non-discriminatory housing practices to be implemented into law. Although the marches secured the passing of the Fair Housing Law in 1968, Milwaukee’s deeply entrenched redlining of the city (which is shown here in the faint overlay of a map of Milwaukee) that occurred in the 1930s perpetuated segregation then and continues to perpetuate segregation today. Learn more about the Commandos here, the open housing marches here, the exhibition this print came from here, and redlining in Milwaukee here.
This print was created by UWM professor Nicolas Lampert and Paul Kjelland for the Milwaukee Commandos show at INOVA in 2012. Both Lampert and Kjelland are part of the Justseeds Artist cooperative which is “committed to social, environmental, and political engagement” and protest through art. You can check them out at justseeds.org
Ice cream with mom at King’s Park, 2012
Acrylic, oil, spray paint with attached fibers
Today’s piece was most recently displayed in the gallery for Kommanivanh’s alumni show in fall of 2018. It can now be found in the 3rd floor stairwell of the Student Union.
I got in touch with the artist to learn a bit more about this piece. Here is what he told me:
“Ice cream with mom at King’s Park” is an early childhood memory of my mother and two older brothers (Von in the center and Chip to the right). I painted this 7 feet high by 9 feet wide as a monumental event in my family’s history marking our settlement in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood as refugees from Laos. In the early 80’s it was a difficult struggle for many refugee families assimilating into American culture in such short time. My family for sure was not prepared for such climate or culture shock. The painting itself alludes to the idea of adaption, displacement, and the diaspora of Laotians. Ice cream in the park is an ideal time of leisure for many American families; I guess we were attempting to be a part of that. However, the painting isn’t all “sweet” as I chose to paint the figures to appear older than they are (especially the children) and King’s Park historically is a haven for gang violence and home to the Latin Kings. I would say so myself, escaping war from one country and settling in an environment that had its own warfare ages a child’s life. I painted “Ice cream with mom at King’s Park” with oil as a traditional media and spray paint as my personal connection with graffiti (hip hop) in the aspect of medium and art history. The way the oil and the spray paint drips remind me of how memory can mend and separate but all deriving from a matter. I find it interesting that everything comes full circle in the end as I combine process with memory, memory with process and my experiences in Chicago.”
Kommanivanh graduated from UWM in 2013 with his Master’s of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. He has since gone on to become an arts professor at his alma mater, NEIU. In addition to painting, he also writes, produces, and performs in the hip-hop duo Maintenance Crew. You can learn more about him and his work at his website https://www.chantalism.com/
Visual Description: There are three large figures in the foreground (1 adult and 2 children) consuming ice cream cones in a park. In the background are trees, grass, and other blurred figures.
Oil on canvas
John Colt (1925-1998) grew up surrounded by art, with his father, Arthur Colt, owning Colt’s School of Painting in Madison, Wisconsin and running several summer art schools throughout Wisconsin. After a stint in the Navy during WWII, Colt got his bachelor and master of arts degrees from UW-Madison and eventually became a UWM professor of art from 1957-1990. It looks like this painting is dated to 1960 but has an accession number that refers to 1990—perhaps this means the painting was donated as a gift to the collection when Colt retired. You can find more about him and view his other work on his MOWA artist page: https://wisconsinart.org/archives/artist/john-n-colt/profile-817.aspx
Colt himself expressed an interest in depicting “little realms of experience,” and I think this painting is a beautiful and enigmatic example of that. I find this piece to be endlessly fascinating to look at. Take a moment now to just let your eyes wander around the canvas. What do you see? Do you see figures or just shapes? Do you see an exciting action sequence or some strange, surrealist landscape with no rhyme or reason? What connotations do you associate with the multiple colors used, or with the word ‘realm’?
Visual Description: A predominately black canvas with swirls of red evoking billows and plumes of flame across the middle and top left part. A large green geometric shape sits on the right side and white and pink swirls whip up at the bottom of the piece. Abstract and colorful, it contains no clear forms but many implied ones.