When it comes to Donald Trump, emotions run extreme on both ends of the political spectrum. For many, his very name has come to evoke a fundamental pain that cuts like a personal affront. His comments have shown a disrespect and lack of tolerance for diversity in gender, race and religion. Many feel Mr. Trump is a bully, the bossy kid on the playground who spews hateful words and gleefully encourages violence against those who don't look or think like him. With extreme emotions like these swirling around, it's no surprise that angry renegade artists are using their mediums to create Trump-themed messages. New York street artist Hanksy depicted him as a pile of poo. Houston artist Phillip Kremer portrayed him as having a grossly distorted face, all mouth and not much of anything else. The art collective t.Rutt purchased a used Trump campaign bus on Craig's List and transformed it into a rolling campaign protest. Portland artist Sarah Levy used her own menstrual blood to paint a portrait of Trump as a way to protest his comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and undocumented immigrants. And then there is the artist who just placed a Trump Tombstone in Central Park with the inscription Made America Hate Again.
There is one artist who has taken a radically different and more thoughtful approach when it comes to Trump. Nancy Burson, whose work is currently on display at both LACMA and ROSEGALLERY at Bergamot Station, is an acclaimed photographer/artist probably best known for The Age Machine, which creates age-enhanced photos of the human face using a computer morphing process. Her technology has been used by the FBI to find missing children and adults.
Another of Burson's projects is the provocative Human Race Machine, which she created as a public art project commissioned by the London Millennium Dome in 2000. Burson's Human Race Machines continue to tour the country at colleges and universities and allow people to view themselves as another race. It is her hope that the project will challenge people to change perspectives on how they view human race. As recently reported by Popular Science, current research shows that the experience of oneself as another race can create cross-racial empathy within the mirror neutrons of the brain. This is important, really, because the concept of race is not genetic, it is social. In 2005 scientists discovered just one gene controls skin color. Put another way, that is just one tiny letter of DNA code out of the 3.1 billion letters in the human genome. Yes folks, we are all 99.99% alike.
In her recent and timely work utilizing the Human Race Machine, What if He were: Black-Asian-Hispanic-Middle Eastern-Indian, Burson created images of Donald Trump as each of these races. Originally commissioned by a prominent magazine, which ultimately decided not to publish it, Burson said she was spurred to produce the work. "The question in my mind was whether Donald Trump's brain would be affected with an empathetic response upon viewing the work," explained Burson.
While art and politics don't always mix, Burson's project is one that goes beyond politics and delves deep into the psychology of a person's sense of self. One has to wonder if Trump sat with the image of himself as Middle Eastern, would he at all feel empathy and reconsider his position of banning Muslims from entering the United States? Or if he visually experienced himself as Hispanic, would he still fiercely advocate building a wall with Mexico? Would he at all feel compassion for others, if even on a subconscious level?
Most likely Trump is too much of a textbook narcissist for these images to make a difference. However what about the rest of us? If we view Trump as different races, would it make us think, if even for a moment? Perhaps we'd hear a little voice in our heads pointing out to us that we aren't so different after all. Because really, when it comes down to it, we are all part of the same race: the human race.
Burson's large scale five part image of What If He Were: Black-Asian-Hispanic-Middle Eastern-Indian is on exhibit until April 20, 2016 at ROSEGALLERY, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Avenue, G5, Santa Monica, CA 90404. Burson's work One of the First Age Transformations from M.I.T. is showing at LACMA until July 31, 2016 as part of the exhibit Physical: Sex and the Body in the 1980s which is organized as a companion exhibition to Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium.