Nearly 400 artists from around the U.S. are busy creating public art nationwide in an attempt to swing the midterm elections their way. They call their campaign “For Freedom.” The Art Newspaper reports more than 200 museums are also in the fight.

In words and pictures

As political art, it comes in the form of artist-designed billboards like the one erected in Columbus, Ohio (a swing state), by Carrie Mae Weems, emblazoned with the message, “With democracy at stake, there's only one choice.” The image of a lone figure isn't as telling as her words.

And not every state permits billboards, such as Alaska. So Kate Wool, of Fairbanks, who is intent on gun regulation, needed a public space for a poster showing multiple figures lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery, each with a target on its chest. The image comes with the written message, “I am not a target.” Alaska is known for having also one of the highest numbers of gun owners, which accounts for why she wasn't able to get her poster up even on abandoned buildings and ended up hanging it indoors at the Well Street Art Company in Fairbanks.

Museums try to matter

The good news is that “For Freedom” has the support of several museums. Brandon Reintjes, senior curator at the Missouri Art Museum told the Art Newspaper, 'Any time that we can support projects like this - community-based civic engagement – we try to.” And Matthew McLendon, the director of Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia showed a similar spirit: “A 21st-century museum is a place for dialogue, and it can be perhaps a place where mediated through art, some of the tensions around that dialogue might fall away more easily.”

Stand-alone imagery

But here's the thing - if art is to be the mediator, it needs to be telling.

It needs to be visually eventful. And it needs to stand strong without words. How else to compete with the bully pulpit and rallying cries like “Lock her up?” To challenge that noise, the task for artists is huge. Visual art has always been a wordless witness to history. Picasso's rage against the war in his mural “Guernica” and Goya's same rage in his etching series “The Horrors of War” speak wordlessly.

We need to our story told wordlessly, too. Where are the silent images that move us? Where are the pictures that can haunt us the way words can?.

No explanation needed

I'm thinking of Duong Thu Huong's novel “Without a Name” that haunts me as much today as it did when I read it on publication in 1995. Consider this line: “There is no way back to the source, to the place where the pure, clear water once gushed forth.

The river has cut across the countryside, the town, dragging refused and mud in its wake.” We need artists who can talk like that in pictures.

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