“This Is America” Themed Art Show Brought A Conversation About Race to Ridgewood

Kei-Sygh Thomas


Jean Edouard’s hands moved swiftly across the canvas. First with strokes of red and white, then finishes with blue. He placed his brush on the paint stained tarp at his feet. A small crowd of spectators watched as he casually stepped back, and scrunched up his face before deciding that he had finished.

“I knew that no one was going to paint this. Artists want to paint what’s now — Trump and how America is,” he said stretching his arms, signaling toward his painting of a Native American adorned in a colorful feathered headdress. “This is America.”

Painting by artist Jean Edouard. Photo by Matt Ogilvie for Bushwick Daily

The NYC Grind hosted This Is America in Ridgewood on July 7 to spark conversation about recent events and to invoke empathy and unity through art. 

“There are so many problems — racism, guns, education, immigration. I’m not much of a political person but I know how to bring people together,” said Safiel Vonay, a spoken-word artist and NYC Grind founder. 

Half of the proceeds from the art show went to Raices Foundation, a legal organization working to reunite immigrant families separated at the US-Mexico border. As a result of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy to deter illegal border crossing, thousands of children were separated from the adults they traveled with and hundreds of detailed children were sent to New York City.

Wall of Trump. Photo by Matt Ogilvie for Bushwick Daily 

Vonay, who was born to a Colombian mother, was inspired by Childish Gambino’s This Is America music video and believes that art can affect social change.

“Art is so powerful because we can move people to listen to our experiences and emotions,” she said. 

Artist Tzuriel Shaddai was featured in The Grind’s art shows in the past and returned to present his piece, The Smothering of Lady Liberty.

“If America was a person, he would be Uncle Sam — an old white man with white hair,” he said.

The picture shows a patriotic Uncle Sam standing behind the Statue of Liberty, blowing out her torch as he covers her mouth and suffocates her.

“Lady liberty represents America which is suppose to be Land of the free, home of the brave,” Shaddai said. “He looks like a bully and silences her, similarly to how people of color are treated in this country and what Trump is doing now. This can be interpreted from a feminist perspective as well.”

Dick-tators by Trilogy Gunby portrays Adolf Hitler laughing as Trump embraces him and kisses his neck. Though some artists believe Trump’s actions are consistent with his character, they believe that his actions don’t align with American values.

Dick-tators. Photo by Kei-Sygh Thomas for Bushwick Daily

“America is supposed to be the melting pot of immigrants, this is against what we stand for. I’m angry and the only way I think I can help get the message out is by creating art,” stated Gunby.

“I think artists have a duty to open people’s minds about what’s going on and make them think instead of being apathetic.”

Images courtesy of Kei-Sygh Thomas and Matt Ogilvie

For more information about the exhibit and art: The NYC Grind and Safiel Vonay

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