Miles away from Democratic National Convention, where history is currently in the making, another historical moment exists on the corner of 9th and Spring Garden Street. The surprise pop-up show Truth to Power has made a strong mark during its three day run in Philadelphia. Underlining the nation’s biggest issues: gun violence, police brutality, mass incarceration, gender issues, homelessness, and student debt (just to name a few), this exhibition was backed by Rock The Vote and featured 250 pieces by 105 young artists. Among the artists showing were internationally-renowned artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey, along with the contribution of a six-story banner from the Keith Haring Foundation—a Philadelphia legend.

Only running for three days, July 25th until the 27th, Truth to Power was an exhibit giving platform to the voices of young Americans on issues they wish to address, as it stepped away from political partisanship, policy nomenclature, and the presidential candidates. I was able to go on the final day and, quite literally, caught the final hour, where a half-a-block line was still in formation out the door. The oversaturation of people only added to the electricity of the exhibition as it ended on an evocatively strong note.

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We Are All Homeless by Willie Baronet

Many of the pieces focused on data-based imagery; giving the bleak visualization to statistical numbers in deaths, rapes, student debt, and homelessness. Walking in, one piece that stood out to me was a collage of collected homeless signs. Titled ‘We Are All Homeless’ by the artist Willie Baronet, who, for the past twenty years, has been purchasing cardboard signs from the homeless to create awareness on the multitude of those who have lost everything. 

Among the most popular in the show was a piece by Ann Lewis, titled “..and counting.”  The 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. The tags were all suspended from the ceiling, like a diaphanous graveyard. I overheard in the crowd that four more have been added since the install. Lewis used information from The Counted, a project of The Guardian, which tracks gun deaths by police, together with information from a database on killedbypolice.net, in creating the work.

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“…and counting” by Ann Lewis

Upon exiting was the most evocative and provocative piece in the show: ‘Identity Crisis’ by Michael Murphy, showing dozens of guns suspended from the ceiling as they take shape of America from one angle, and as the viewer moves, morphs into the shape of a giant handgun. 

Truth to Power encourages their audience not only to vote (and as President Obama said the other night during his Democratic National Convention speech, not to boo), but to take action, and engage with others to create awareness; because as a nation we are running out of ways to effectively speak truths other than through the voice of art.

Constance Culpepper

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