The Hammer Museum at UCLA presents the first museum retrospective surveying more than two decades of work by the Los Angeles–based artist Andrea Bowers (b. 1965, Wilmington, Ohio). Bowers has built an international reputation as a chronicler of contemporary history, documenting activism as it unfolds and collecting research on the front lines. Her large-scale installations, detailed color pencil drawings, and impactful videos speak to deeply entrenched inequities and the work of generations of activists fighting for immigration rights, workers’ rights, climate justice, and women’s rights. Andrea Bowers brings together approximately 90 works spanning drawing, performance, installation, sculpture, video, and neon as well as a trove of ephemera. Co- organized with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the exhibition is on view at the Hammer from June 19 to September 4, 2022.
“Andrea Bowers’s work is always timely, always urgent, and always powerful. We are thrilled and honored to present this retrospective of her decades-long practice of bringing together art and activism. We share the pursuit of using art as a platform to create a more just world and shine a light on the important work of movement leaders and activists,” said Hammer director Ann Philbin.
For over 30 years, Bowers has used her artistic practice as a political exercise, a narrative platform that she lends to movements of social and political activism on some of today’s most pressing issues.
Bowers embeds with different activist organizations to create work in service of the individuals, groups, and pressing issues they champion. As a whole, her work is a musing on the role of the artist as ally, and art as a vehicle for political and social justice.
Organized thematically, the exhibition includes several subjects central to Bowers’s practice:
- Memorial to Arcadia Woodlands Clear-Cut (2013) and My Name Means Future (2020) focus on issues related to environmental justice. The former is a large-scale sculpture based on Bowers’s involvement with tree-sitting activists protesting the destruction of old-growth trees in California. The latter is a video, and one of the newest works in the exhibition, which features Tokata Iron Eyes, a young Indigenous rights activist whose ancestral lands have been threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
- Soft Blockade (Feminist Barricade) (2004) and Design of Choice (My Body My Choice with Stripes) (2005) exemplify Bowers’s ongoing research into feminist causes, from the Suffragette movements at the beginning of the twentieth century, to abortion rights in the 1970s, to the calling out of sexual violence against women in the 2010s. Soft blockade is the name given to the non-violent civil disobedience technique of using your body alone as a human barricade. Design of Choice (My Body My Choice With Stripes) questions the received neutrality of abstraction. Bowers situates herself in these works within the legacies of first- and second- wave feminism, particularly the feminist artists of Southern California in the 1980s and 1990s. In works like these, Bowers actualizes feminist histories as a lens she uses to understand the current state of women’s rights.
- Trans Liberation: Building a Movement (2016) is a set of portraits of empowered women that addresses LGBTQ activism and transgender advocacy, particularly within the trans community in Southern California.
- No Olvidado – Not Forgotten (2010) is a suite of massive drawings featuring the names of hundreds of individuals who lost their lives crossing the US–Mexico border. These names were originally provided by Border Angels.
- Work Table with Feminist Political Graphics (2016) showcases protest posters accumulated over many years that represent powerful women throughout history. Slogans such as “Dignity. Safety. Justice.” are displayed on posters stacked on a table for visitors to view, the same materials used in grassroots organizations for immigration and labor movements.