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On President's Day, artists perform personal takes on politics

Artwork designed by organizer Charles Purnell for the St. Louis artists event depicts the words not my presidents day laid over official portraits of United States presidents with an X over Donald Trump's face.
Provided by Charles Purnell
Artwork designed for the St. Louis artists event

It’s rare that people find comfort in admitting their fears.  It’s even more unusual to admit those  fears to a group of strangers.

But finding strength in fear, frustration and confusion in a starkly divided nation is one of the aims of This Is Who I Am Now: Artists on Politics,” which takes place today at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester Ave., in St. Louis.

“That’s been one of the biggest things for me, being able to say I’m scared and I have no idea what I’m going to do in the next couple years," organizer Charles Purnell said. "I don’t know what’s going to change, I don’t know what’s going to happen — and knowing that’s OK. It’s OK to be afraid and to admit that.”

Purnell and his co-organizer, Sarah Holt, view the event as an opportunity for artists from different performance mediums to present self-portraits of their fears, concerns and hopes in the age of President Donald Trump. The local event is part of a national push to perform protest actions under the banner “Not My President’s Day.”

At The Monocle, between 10 and 20 artists will gather to perform short plays, monologues, dances and songs meant to be “self-portraits” of what it means to be an artist since the November 2016 election. The show aims to illustrate how St. Louis artists started to think differently about their identities and emotions after Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.

Holt said the performances are intended to act as both a mirror and window for participants and audience members. 

“The different artists and audience members can have an environment where they feel supported, where they’re listened to and where their concerns are in some way validated through their performance,” she said.

Organizers also hope showing how Trump’s policies affect immigrants, women, minorities, LGBT people and others will spark a more nuanced discussion about politics and society.  

 Local singer Loren D. will perform as part of "This Is Who I Am Now."

It’s also an attempt to move people away from the echo chambers of social media. Holt said she’s noticed that if she shares a news article on Facebook a few people may click on the link, “like” it, and actually read the article. But if she shares a personal story about a pre-existing medical condition, there’s a major outpouring of emotion and connection.

“That’s when I see conversations starting. That’s when I see people sharing their own stories and seeing how wide and broad the impact of these things that are very generalized in the media are,” she said.

For Purnell, events like This Is Who I Am Now: Artists on Politics” act as creative record-keeping. Artists are vital to how we see ourselves as a society, he said. 

“I feel like years down the line, after this is all said and done we’re going to go back to the art and see what was being said and what wasn’t said, too,” he said. “This is — I feel like — a good opportunity, especially on the local level, to come out and speak about what’s concerning them.”

If you go:

What:This Is Who I Am Now: Artists on Politics
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: The Monocle, 4510 Manchester Ave., St. Louis

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold