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Shepard Fairey

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The Future Is Unwritten

Posted: 11/15/11 02:44 PM ET

For the first time ever, New York City is faced with a historic crisis of homelessness. There are more than 41,000 homeless men, women and children sleeping in New York City shelters tonight -- the largest number ever. This includes a staggering 17,000 children -- kids whose lives will forever be altered by the hardships of homelessness.

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg and his administration announced plans to close access to shelters for thousands of vulnerable homeless New Yorkers, by implementing new bureaucratic barriers to enter the shelter system. The Coalition for the Homeless and its allies are leading the legal fight against these dangerous new barriers.

I am honored to contribute a small part to ending this epidemic and supporting the Coalition's efforts, by participating in the Robert Rauschenberg's inaugural 'Artist as Activist' Print Project. The project champions Rauschenbergʼs legacy of using art as a vehicle for social and political change. In carrying forward his tradition, the Foundation has chosen the Coalition for the Homeless as the beneficiary for the pilot year of the project.

I created an original print for the project -- The Future Is Unwritten. The work evolved from several points of inspiration. Visually, the piece takes cues from the idealized styles of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. These art movements just proceeded, and crossed into, the Great Depression, an era that saw a tremendous social aid effort under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


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The text, "The Future Is Unwritten," is a quote from Joe Strummer of the punk group The Clash, who was a dedicated advocate for the working class. The flower growing from the barbed wire is symbolic of the negative being overcome by the positive -- a visual metaphor for hope in the unwritten future. The text "LIBERTY, SHELTER, and EQUALITY" refers to values, if not rights, that most people see as universally important. I see liberty as a right that fosters independence and self-determination, but which must be balanced by social responsibility and compassion for the less fortunate. It is only possible for society to evolve in a positive direction with a healthy balance of honoring both the needs of the individual, and promoting basic human rights and equality of the collective.

Robert Rauschenberg was one of my inspirations as an artist, both for the subject of his work, and his support of some of the most important humanitarian issues of his time, including apartheid, nuclear disarmament, economic development, population control, and artistsʼ rights.

The Artist as Activist program honors Robert Rauschenbergʼs legacy of creating prints and posters to heighten awareness of crucial issues and to raise funds to advance humanitarian, international and environmental goals. Rauschenberg exemplified the role of "Artist as Activist," as he consistently dedicated his art-making toward issue awareness and philanthropic support.

A limited series of 100 prints of The Future is Unwritten was printed using Rauschenberg's original print equipment in his studio in Captiva.

Prints are available for sale through Artnet Auctions, at http://www.artnet.com/auctions/shepard-fairey-prints-sale-for-charity.