Loyola Marymount Art Exhibit Focuses on Youth Activism

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The presidential primaries have shed a light on a growing political activism among young people in their twenties. An art exhibit at Loyola Marymount University argues there are similarities between today's youth activism and the more massive student movement of the late 1960s. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez talked to some of the artists and brings us this story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: At the height of the Vietnam War, National Guardsmen shot and killed four students during a protest on the campus of Ohio's Kent State University. Linda Lyke was a graduate student in the university's art department.

Linda Lyke: May 4, 1970. It's a date that I think will stay in everyone's mind from Kent State. It had a profound effect, the whole shooting, the aftermath. The way the people felt, I think, became a kind of a disillusionment with the government.

Guzman-Lopez: The shootings moved college students and artists nationwide to voice their dissent. The song "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young captured the mood of the time.

["Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young plays]

Guzman-Lopez: At Kent State, Linda Lyke used her skills to create three works of art.

Lyke: I wanted to sort of pay homage to the dead students, and because I'm a printmaker, and I think printmaking is a very viable means of protest.

Guzman-Lopez: Two of those collagraph prints are on display at the exhibit "Dissent! 1968 & Now."

Lyke: This is Jeffrey Miller sort of dying on concrete. He was in a parking lot about 300 feet away from the guardsmen when he was shot in the head.

Guzman-Lopez: The prints use pop art techniques – simplified shapes, saturated colors – to capture a turning point in the 1960s student movement. Lyke, who's an art professor at L.A.'s Occidental College, says student activism isn't dead.

Lyke: The dissent that happened from the '70s, was really a mass revolution of young people in the U.S. And I think dissent today is very articulated in a more nuanced way.

Guzman-Lopez: The "Dissent" exhibit pairs protest art from the late 1960s with works by Southland art students today. Co-curator Erik Benjamins says dissent is alive and well among student artists.

Erik Benjamins: We have the more blatant political work, such as "The Lesser of Three Evils" by this great artist Kenji O'Hara from Cal State Long Beach, which is quite blatant in its presentation of a baby George Bush in a crib with an American flag. And we have more personal work that relates to identity and sexuality and gender.

Guzman-Lopez: Chris Liem, a 20-year-old art student at UCLA, has five black and white photos in the exhibit. Like young artists 40 years ago, Liem believes strongly in standing up to challenge the norm. His work is inspired by stories of his relatives in Indonesia after World War 2.

Chris Liem: In this photograph there are two bamboo spears over a batik backdrop, and this one is called "Great Uncle." I found out that he had been held in an internment camp, and he was tortured, and he was killed. He was stabbed repeatedly though the torso with bamboo spears.

Guzman-Lopez: Twenty-two year-old USC student Liza Epps uses humor to voice her dissent. She created a print that's roughly 3 feet by 4 feet. It's a magazine cover with a smiling Laura Bush holding a bottle that says "9/11 Spray, Terrorist Cleanser, Bomb Shelter Disinfectant, Kills 99% of Terrorists on Contact."

Liza Epps: 'Cause, it is funny to see Laura Bush advertising a terrorist cleanser, and trying to clean out her bomb shelter and take it, Martha Stewart her way into the next decade.

Guzman-Lopez: People her age, Epps says, are engaging in dissent by going to the polls in big numbers. Changing the system from within, she adds, is a smarter and safer strategy than violent revolution. But even quiet revolutions need symbols of dissent, provided this time by Liza Epps and a new generation of activist artists.