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An exhibition of protest

As artists, Valley communities come together to display their feelings about war.

 by Ilan Brat
 published on Thursday, March 13, 2003

Over 1,500 people toted signs and marched for peace down McDowell Road in Phoenix last Saturday./issues/ent/391952
Over 1,500 people toted signs and marched for peace down McDowell Road in Phoenix last Saturday.
 

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Phoenix police on horseback patrol McDowell Road, their eyes fixed on the crowd. Kyrsten Sinema, joined by nearly 1,500 peace-protesters present on a Saturday afternoon, shuffles by. Sinema's brethren sing in awkward harmony around her and carry signs like "Bush is a wack! Hands off Iraq," sketched on yellow poster board and decorated with two solid, black hands below it.

Sinema also held a sign, but earlier she passed it on to someone who didn't have one. In fact, she had many signs. The night before, friends and fellow dissidents from around the Valley brainstormed slogans and painted on posters at her house for five hours. They prepared for Saturday's "No War! A Celebration of Life and Creativity" rally at Margaret T. Hance Park in central Phoenix.

Sinema, an ASU law student, helped plan the event, which took place on International Women's Day and opposed the looming U.S. war with Iraq.

The group munched on pita and hummus while they designed posters. Ironic - because for Sinema, protest art is a community activity, like eating as a group.

"It's about sharing and creativity and expression," she says, explaining Friday night's poster-making party. "[Friday], we were talking about life and politics and stuff, and we came up with four new signs while we were out there in my yard painting."

Eight-year-old Jacob Wells participated at Sinema's house that night. Without anyone's instruction, he made a poster of his own.

His mother, Rochelle Wells, points to the poster in Jacob's hands. He has scribbled "No War" across the top and bottom in uneven, yellow letters. In the center, a crossed-out gun contrasts inside a red heart.

"Art is an expression of culture, so I would consider it art," Rochelle says, adding that her husband David, an ASU professor who teaches courses in the interdisciplinary studies program, and all three of her children shared in the poster-making activity. "I couldn't sell it on eBay, but it took effort to do this."

Flurries of pink - the color of International Women's Day - highlight the shirts and skirts and socks of demonstrators as they near McDowell Road and Central Avenue on Saturday. Passing cars blast their horns and the crowd cheers. The midday sun blares. More officers clad in riot gear flood the intersection.










If you go...


'SUE COE: The Tragedy of War Series' at Nelson Fine Arts Center, ASU Main. Runs through May 31. Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 480-965-2787.


Some protesters step off the sidewalk and shout menacing words toward the officers - something about weapons of mass destruction, but not the ones supposedly in the hands of Saddam Hussein. One policeman unclips the holster of his gun.

Kendall Cline, an ASU political science and women's studies freshman, joined the procession at the park. In the midst of the human herd, she proudly held a sign above her head: rainbow pastels surrounding a female symbol [or Venus sigil], which strikes through a picture of a black tank.

"If you put time and effort into expressing something that you feel strongly about, then that can be considered art," she says. "This whole protest is supposed to be about art."

Cline, like so many others at the rally, transforms protest art into a communal activity. In her case, it was a 15-person event that lasted about six hours on Friday in the center of the courtyard inside ASU's Barrett Honors College.

"We had food and good music and hookah," she says. "We just sat outside and drew posters."

The collective experience isn't limited to those who oppose the war. About 20 pro-war demonstrators clutch signs including "Got Anthrax? Saddam does," painted in red and black, at an opposite end of the park. Stephanie Jarczyk, an ASU history sophomore, stands among them. She spent four hours making signs with some friends before the Feb. 15 rally in Phoenix that coincided with worldwide protests that drew millions to the streets of London, Berlin, Rome and New York.

"We had chips and ice cream," Jarczyk says. "We watched 'Friends' and 'Dave [Letterman].' We had fun."

Sinema peers at the people in the park as the protest winds down. The march has come full circle. Some dance barefoot, holding hands and spinning, wreathed in tie-dyed shirts and loose-fitting fabrics. Others rest from the two-mile march, enjoying the live music and conversing with fellow protesters. Dozens of signs litter the grass: "A village in Texas has lost its idiot" and "Hey Bush, Jesus says, 'Blessed are the peacemakers'" are some of the many.

"This is art," Sinema says. "It's an expression of creativity and of self."

Her self-expression, however, isn't limited to banner-making for the community event. She wears a neon-pink shirt and something resembling a pink tutu - a bold contrast on the yellowed grass she stands on.

She feels powerful by simply expressing herself. Protest art, she says, tends to do that to people.

"You protest when you feel like you're not being heard," Sinema adds. "To make yourself heard, you have to do something out of the ordinary.

"There, inherently, is this expression of creativity that comes with protests, so you can say, 'I am important. I am a human.'"

Reach the reporter at ilan.brat@asu.edu.



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