Art exhibit speaks Truth to Power in the shadow of the Democratic convention

Pop-up show highlights gun violence and police shootings and includes works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey as artists say: Its about issues not about candidates

Art exhibit speaks Truth to Power in the shadow of the Democratic convention

Away from the Democratic national convention, an art exhibition called Truth to Power has been one of the must-see events in Philadelphia this week.

The pop-up show, located about five miles north of the Wells Fargo arena, features pieces highlighting gun violence and police shootings in the US. New Jersey senator Cory Booker and actor Rosario Dawson have been among those to visit the space, which includes work by Banksy and Shepard Fairey the creator of the Barack Obama hope poster in 2008.

Its to talk about issues that young people care about, said Michael Skolnik, one of the producers of Truth to Power. Mass incarceration, immigration, gender issues, climate justice and jobs and student debt.

Skolnik, an artist based in Brooklyn, New York, has been a visitor to the Democratic national convention this week. He said there were parallels between what was happening in the convention center and the exhibit.

Theres room for dissent, theres room for discussion, theres room for debate, even in the hall, he said.

And this space offers the same thing. Its not partisan, its about issues not about candidates, and some folks come in here and they can have really healthy discussions. So I think its really healthy.

Truth to Power is backed by Rock the Vote, the not-for-profit organisation that works to get young people involved in politics. It features over 250 pieces of art.

Skolnik said one of the most popular was and counting by New York-based artist Ann Lewis. The immersive installation consists of more than 600 toe tags used to identify corpses bearing the names of every person shot dead by police so far in 2016. Lewis used information from The Counted, the Guardians project which tracks every gun death by police, and information from a database on, in creating the work.

Lewis reviewed every killing in creating the piece. She said it became a weapons conversation.

A lot of people were carrying guns to feel safe, and that was ultimately why they died, she said.

It just blew my mind how many people were armed and how many people were really dealing with mental health issues, she continued. So many of them were suicidal. I think I wasnt expecting that.

What I really came to understand was that because were such a heavily armed society, that begets violence and begets fatalities.

Lewis included extra tags in the piece, knowing that more people would be killed while it was installed.

There were blank cards and you knew that there were people alive today who wont be alive tomorrow.

The exhibit will also appear at Governors Island, in New York City, next month.

Philadelphia galleries, including Arch Enemy Arts and Ruckus, were involved in the exhibition, which includes pieces by lesser-known artists. Identity Crisis, a self-portrait by Russell Craig, was part of a section on mass incarceration. It depicts the artist, who has spent time in jail, on more than 60 sheets of paper his rap sheets for different offences.

Some big-name artists also contributed. Someone unexpectedly dropped off a piece by Banksy on the Saturday before the exhibit opened. A six-storey banner by Keith Haring adorned the outside of the building.

Fairey, the street artist who designed the Obama hope poster that was widely shared during the 2008 election, contributed 10 works of art.

The exhibit also includes an installation by artist Michael Murphy, consisting of dozens of guns suspended from the ceiling. When viewed from a certain angle, the weapons form the structure of a firearm.

The piece continues Murphys work on guns. His 2014 piece Gun Country was a map of the US created by hanging more than 100 toy guns from the ceiling. Damage was made up of 1,200 black ping pong balls, suspended from the ceiling to depict an assault rifle.

The exhibition, which ran from Monday to Wednesday, was visited by 10,000 people, Skolnik said. It was conceived as a one-off, to run alongside the convention. But Skolnik said it would go on tour if they can find funding.

This article was amended on 28 July 2016. A previous version misidentified the artist of Identity Crisis as Michael Murphy; it is Russell Craig.

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