For the past decade or so, artist Basia Jaworska has turned the focus of her painting to civil rights and social and cultural issues. The election of Trump in 2016 further politicized her work. Currently the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is showcasing a number of Jaworska’s posterlike paintings, all with a message.
The show is titled “Art Activism,” and as the artist said in a recent interview, “I hope to inform people about the power of art as a tool for social reform — how it highlights all of these issues that we’re facing, especially recently. Things have gotten so much worse and convulsive under Trump.”
The series includes paintings that comment on abortion rights, gun control, Big Pharma and its role in the opioid crisis, nuclear warfare, the detention of immigrant children, voter suppresion, and a host of other issues. Jaworska’s popular image of a lineup of football players taking a knee, with the words “Stand Against Racism,” is hung next to a portrait of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the practice of football players kneeling during the National Anthem to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Jaworska has honored another of her heroes with a painting of Ruth Bader Ginsburg done in quadruplicate, Andy Warhol–style, with the word “dissent” at the bottom.
Jaworska’s style of painting — bold, colorful, and influenced by graphics — lends itself well to imparting her messages in an attention-grabbing way. Each image includes text artfully incorporated into the work. For the show, the artist has also chosen appropriate quotes to accompany each painting.
Jaworska says that activism is “in her blood.” Both of her Polish immigrant parents were freedom fighters during WWII. Her grandfather was executed by the Soviets. “My mother, being a resistance fighter, we learned early on that you need to be vigilant about democracy,” says the artist. “Freedom is not anything to take for granted. I carry that message from childhood on.”
Ten years ago, Jaworska started chronicling her parents’ story. It was around that time that she began a series of paintings of some of her heroes in the arena of civil rights. The 2016 election spurred the artist to further her work as an art activist.
“I started to paint these after Trump entered office,” she recalls. “I felt the urgency to start chronicling his insanity. Things were happening so fast. Any one of these things would have been a total crisis under any other administration. It’s become so normalized to watch things fall apart. We need to stop and think, and process what’s going on, and begin to figure out how to work things out.”
Jaworska’s paintings line a wall between two galleries in the museum. They provide a segue between two other politically themed exhibits, “Making Change: Stories of Vineyard Activism, 1820-2020” and “But … Such Is War,” which features Steve Maxner’s reflections of his experience serving as a medic in the Vietnam War, represented in the form of sculpture, stories, and music.
“Art Activism: Paintings by Basia Jaworska” will hang in the museum’s Morse Hallways through Feb. 7. Posters of the painting “Stand Against Racism” are available for sale at the museum, at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, and through the artist. All proceeds from the poster sales go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Bail Out, a Black-led initiative that raises money to help alleviate unwarranted pretrial detention for minorities.