As the events at the Standing Rock pipeline protest unfold, artists are banding together under the hashtag #NoDAPLartmovement to share messages of solidarity, support, and resistance.
The Dakota Access Pipeline protest, and in turn the Water Is Life movement (click to keep up with the #standwithStandingRock and #waterislife hashtags), are being fought by a diaspora. Water is everywhere, and so are the people affected by it. Though the Standing Rock encampment is growing, most of us aren’t there—but many people see this as a personal battle, regardless of where you're located.
The conflict is currently centered around the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, where protesters are in direct and increasingly violent confrontations with militarized police, resulting in widespread injuries to protesters.
But before #NoDAPL, there was Flint’s water crisis; and pipeline leaks and explosions throughout the United States; and droughts; and oil spills in the ocean; and the acidification of the seas; and the Great Pacific garbage patch; and even before that, massive dams changing the courses of most of the world’s waterways. Marshall McLuhan once wrote: “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” The emergence of the #NoDAPL art movement is a message. So what are the artists trying to tell us?
Lori Menna created her collage to support the movement’s environmental message, but also to express solidarity with the Lakota people. “I know that American Indians know our Mother Earth more than anyone. I have been sitting in Lakota Temezcal ceremonies for years. Their beliefs, their chants, their connectedness is powerful and meaningful and I respect their culture immensely.”
“Because I'm Native I looked hard at this #NoDAPL,” says digital artist Kenzie Townsend. “I think, people see what they want. I try to stick to the truth of the moment. See what that looks like until the world reveals itself.” He captioned the above drawing: “A one gallon a day oil leak on the Dakota pipeline would contaminate a million gallons of drinkable water.”
Hailey Gaiser takes a darker and more symbolic view. Her piece features Chief Joseph, a reference to the trails of the Nez Perce. “Their home was stripped from them violently by a power with more greed and more guns,” she says. “It is horrifying to me that this story is re-playing out at Standing Rock, especially when the country is turning in on itself and the pot is boiling over.”
Much of the #NoDAPL art takes on the aesthetics of propaganda: strong visual themes, aggressive imagery, bold designs and slogans. It’s all but unavoidable for work that surrounds a massive cultural protest—it's art that revolves around themes of power.
Ultimately, though, these powerful works are created by people who feel largely powerless. “I can't comprehend how this can even be happening,” says artist Aubree S. “How is money more valuable than life? I wish I could be there to stand with them but as a single mom I can't afford to fly out to North Dakota from California. Instead I support the people of Standing Rock the only way I know how, through art.” In this battle, many of us feel alone or disconnected from the action. Movements like this create strength through collaboration.
Share your own work using the #NoDAPLartmovement tag, and click here to learn more about how you can support Standing Rock right now.