Despite a San Francisco fundraiser for Donald Trump and his vice president — co-hosted by Dede Wilsey, former president of the board of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco — the Bay Area remains a locus of the anti-Trump electorate. And visual art is a key component of this anti-Trumpism. The grotesque Trump statue, The Emperor Has No Balls, that the guerrilla collective INDECLINE installed in the Castro in August 2016 was the first of many attempts to excoriate the future president. But it was soon hauled away — as were others in various U.S. cities. What’s left in the summer of 2019 is a mish-mash of public art, including a series of red stenciled wording around Lake Merritt that says, “Make America Think Again.”
This Oakland pathway art is nothing fancy. Trump’s name doesn’t even make it in. And his face — which many Democrats can’t even bear to see, and would therefore be an effective art prompt — is also missing in action.
One place to see Trump’s visage is the corner of Clay and Polk in San Francisco, where a wall facing a Muni stop is festooned with all manner of stickers, including one of Trump that’s been mangled and defaced. Look closely and you can see that the word “Fuck” has been scrawled at least two times over Trump’s face. On the bottom is the wording, “FOR DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL USE.” Was the sticker a faux stamp that people could put on big mailings? It’s unclear.
Also unclear is how long the sticker has been there. It’s been long enough, and been nicked so much, that Trump’s face has become monstrous. And the sticker has been cut into three sections, with each jagged spacing revealing a black line that’s one of the wall’s many horizontal crevices. The three jagged lines almost resemble barbed wire. It’s as if an angry Donald Trump is locked up in a dirty prison. The sticker is just a few minutes away from the Nob Hill building that hosted the “Trump-Pence Victory” fundraiser. But compared to the Lake Merritt stencil series, which doesn’t compete with other stenciled messages, the anti-Trump visage at Polk and Clay is lost amid a cacophony of other art. The scores of stickers there have sprouted on a side of a building that’s available for lease, and once a business moves in, the street art may disappear. It won’t be just the barbed-wire-Trump sticker, either, but a host of others, like the hoodied skull with wild, painted red glasses, the pigeon atop a $100 bill, and the smiling bride facing the phrase, “Marrying my SEX DOLL is a dream COME TRUE!”
Given how real the woman looks, “SEX DOLL” is ambiguous. Does it mean a literal, plastic doll or is it an expression of true human love? Whatever it is, the sticker’s message is meant to be ironic. For political art in the era of Donald Trump, irony and ambiguity aren’t the most effective means to reach an audience. Ambiguous messages get lost in a culture that rewards direct, snappy language. “Make America Think Again” is effective that way. And in the current Democratic scrum for the White House, it’s one of the phrases that’s being uttered again and again. Seeing it by itself on an Oakland sidewalk is at least a reminder that street artists can contribute to the political conversation that’s been roiling the United States — and the world — for the last three years.