‘CAPITOL BANKSTERS' Acrylic on postcard, 4 by 6 inches, 2012, by Natasha Mayers.
For outspoken artist and activist Natasha Mayers, art, politics, and life are seamlessly interconnected for mutual benefit. She was one of the movers behind the protests that erupted when Governor LePage ordered the "History of Maine Labor" mural removed, and Robert Shetterly included her in his series of portraits, "Americans Who Tell the Truth." Her moral indignation is not aimed at one particular injustice, but encompasses a wide range of wrongs, including climate change, war, torture, censorship, and more generally, the unaccountability of those who wield power. While some may hold this generalized attitude against her, there is no reason for that. Her politics is a stance rather than an opinion, a concern for the social and political welfare of all humans, rather than a narrowly defined community.
While "World Banksters: A Selection of Recent On-Going Banksters Postcards by Natasha Mayers" at SPACE Gallery centers on injustice and indifference in the financial sector, its scope is all-embracing. As control and power are major themes in this work, it is of no small irony that the latest snowstorm undermined much of the human planning, art installations included. Thus, at writing, "World Banksters" was not yet in its place. It will consist of over 200 postcards which Mayers altered by painting her universal symbol for predatory financiers on them: predominantly headless men in suits and ties. These generic stand-ins actually seem heedless, bodiless, empty shells of greed and disregard. A large, central grid of cards is comprised of thematic subsets, with additional cards grouped and scattered around it.
Mayers started painting banksters in 2010 and switched to postcards only last year. Their imagery includes locals famous and obscure, subjects exotic and domestic, and includes art images and oddities from all over the world. Postcards used to be ubiquitous reminders of the interconnectedness of the vast world around us, giving each subject equal value, whether the dull interior of a motel room or the Taj Mahal. Mayers has cunningly integrated her suited men into the given images to incongruous, often surreal effect, "in every possible situation, where you least expect them," as her statement says. The relationships between source images and banksters often remain vague but of course the Capitol and White House wear varying incarnations of the suit — what would be more logical than that? And Mount Rushmore has company too. Banksters interfering with reproductive rights? Gustave Courbet's "The Origin of the World" now has a little man sitting on the model's thigh, guarding her genitalia. Another rides on a Scooby-Doo float during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And two gargantuan faces lurk behind a range of mountains possibly suggesting environmental problems. In one painting fishing boats are surrounded by seagulls looking awfully cute in their suits. In Mayers's vision the symbol is all-pervasive; you might even pull up a turnip, and there they are: tie and pants fixed on its body.
Mayers sees her postcard paintings as "comments on capitalism, post-colonialism, globalization, cultural appropriation, cultural authenticity and differences, sexism, etc." Relief from the relentlessness of social injustices is provided by the welcome silliness of many images. Otherwise this would be a stringently moralistic installation leaving the viewer with nausea instead of recognition and buoyancy. Mayers also succeeds in conveying compassion for these characters, the intimation that even they are nothing but pawns.
"World Banksters: A Selection of Recent On-Going Banksters Postcards by Natasha Mayers" | through March 29 | at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St, Portland | 207. 828.5600 | space538.org