New American Paintings/Blog

The Art of Occupation by New American Paintings

As the Occupy movement continues to grow, the lines between ‘artist’ and ‘activist’ have become increasingly blurred. Images, text, video and photographs convey the messages and events of the movement on every available surface, website, blog, and twitter feed. In fact, as Martha Schwendener recently noted, Liberty Plaza, or any occupation site for that matter, has “became a kind of art object: a living installation or social sculpture.”  – Nadiah Fellah, SF Contributor

A story-telling booth in Oakland at which participants were invited to share their ‘99% Story’

A story-telling booth in Oakland at which participants were invited to share their ‘99% Story’

At the Occupy Oakland general strike last Wednesday, various forms of artistic expression occurred in the central plaza: musical and dance performances, poetry readings, silk-screening, sign-making, and flash mobs. Throughout the week the world had shown solidarity with Oakland’s version of the Occupy Wall Street movement, particularly after the violent conflict with the Oakland Police that occurred the preceding week. (After midnight on the day of the general strike a small group of protesters butted heads with the police once again, although a majority of the day and participants were peaceful.) The visual features in Oakland were to some extent motivated by counterparts in other cities. One instance was the ‘No Comment’ exhibition at 23 Wall Street in New York. The space, inside the JP Morgan Building, and across from the New York Stock Exchange, was occupied by paintings, photographs, video work, installation, and performances inspired by OWS in mid-October. Planned as a 24-hour pop-up show, it was extended for a full week due to widespread interest.

‘No Comment’ art exhibition, 23 Wall Street, October 8-14

The OWS movement criticizes the existing capitalist system in which 99% of the population bears the brunt of high unemployment rates, housing foreclosures, and greater taxes on already inadequate wages, while wealthy corporations enjoy bail-outs and tax breaks. Out of OWS has emerged Occupy Museums, initiated by a group of artists and art workers in New York. They argue that museums have become alienating rather than inclusive due to primary emphasis on celebrity artists and a style of collection building that panders to art market trends. Because museums are largely funded by wealthy, private collectors, the choice of which artists to exhibit hinges upon donations from key benefactors. The mutually beneficial relationship that emerges helps donors to protect their art investments by ensuring that specific artists gain maximum exposure. As a result of this arrangement, museums like the MoMA may not be serving a diverse population to their fullest, as they have pledged to do.

Edible Art: Jos Sances (left) of the Great Tortilla Conspiracy prints political messages on tortillas with chocolate ink in Oakland

Students from Oakland’s Westlake Middle School participate in sign making during the General Strike

Notably uniting with the Occupy Museums movement is the Teamsters Local 814. These members of the art handlers union have been locked out of their jobs since a labor dispute with Sotheby’s in August. Sotheby’s is an auction house that grossed an astonishing $680 million in profits last year, yet has sought to cut wages for the art handlers and double the number of nonunion workers, effectively weakening the union presence. Occupy Museums has joined the teamsters’ picket lines since late October, and has also occupied spaces outside the MoMA and New Museum.

‘Hella Occupy Oakland’ posters printed and distributed still wet by Jon-Paul Bail of Political Gridlock, a street art collective in Oakland

Graffiti art by Youth Together, an organization based in the East Bay that educates students on community organizing

As the events and actions of Occupy Museums unfold, I can’t help but draw parallels between it and the 1970s Art Workers Coalition in New York. Artists and critics like Carl Andre, Lucy Lippard and Robert Morris among countless others called for ‘total dissociation of art making from capitalism.’ They protested the problematic disconnect between museums so-called roles as representative institutions, and museum trustees like Nelson Rockefeller who both enabled and perpetuated the Vietnam War. Notorious for radical actions like releasing dozens of cockroaches during a Met trustee dinner, and the use of powerful imagery like the now-iconic “And Babies…” poster, the group’s activities were ultimately responsible for gaining union representation among museum workers and the museum free days that now exist in cities all over the world. Given the remarkable and enduring impact the AWC was able to make in the short years it was active, I am hopeful for what can be accomplished by Occupy Museums, and the entire Occupy movement as a whole.

Art Worker’s Coalition, “Art Workers Won’t Kiss Ass” poster, 1969

Nadiah Fellah is a curatorial assistant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)


73 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I think the movement is overrated. It should be focused on ACTUALLY doing something productive, like starting your own business.

Comment by zenlifefrugal

I think the movement is an action of solidarity. That’s ACTUALLY doing something. But people only focus on fiscal action instead of social action. The fact that people are unifying all over the world to combat oppressive regimes is doing something bigger than most forms of activism. Each occupy movement has small structures that their overcoming. Here, in Los Angeles, the local Native tribes have implemented their own constitution within the Occupy Los Angeles declaration of occupations. That’s a huge deal. Occupy Philly had a blackout to show how the African American community has been a part of the 99% before the “99%” term was even coined. Parents are using the protests to show their kids how activism, protest, and liberal movements is an important part of their lives. Reproductive rights activists are informing people of the dangers of new movements in lawmaking that will take away people’s rights.

While you see people not “actually doing something” you’re not looking at how community education and solidarity initiatives are taking place. Social action is approached in different avenues, and saying that starting a business is the only way to obtain social justice disrespects the other avenues of activism that are taking place.

Comment by Camille

Ironic that the people involved are buying into something *unsustainable*. They want to demotovate the people generating the income so they can benefit. What happened to working hard and earning what you have, even if that means you need to do without for a while? If you only ask for things to be distributed to you, where will the demands end? In the end, we will all have nothing.

Comment by Christian

I agree for sure, the people unity all across the world for one goal is amazing. The occupy movements are a big step in America and the worlds history. We are going to have a very interesting time ahead of us. #PositiveChange is what I’m promoting!

Comment by Anthony

Really nice images, the art is expressing a collective feeling of frustration and discontent. Over time, reflected in this manifestation of art, the movement will find more confidence in its demands. In fact, there are a lot of innovative ideas brewing. You can’t just dismiss people who are fighting for justice because they don’t have magic potions to solve all the mess created by the ‘ 1 percent’. News for you: the leaders and billionaires aren’t providing magic wands to the peoples’ problems either. So what choice is there? And how is this anything but positive. The first battle is to get MORE people to WAKE UP.

Comment by Jameela Oberman

The movement IS doing something, like saying that for the small fry of us out here who want to start are own businesses aren’t getting a fair shake. As for overrated: a lot of people tried to ignore it, and now it has become possible to ignore.

Comment by Richard Lerner

I think the movement is a part of a bigger movement that is exactly what we need. Three cheers for union activists, progressive people, Occupy activists and others who took the anti-union bill in Ohio and overturned it in a stunning show yesterday– of unity, common sense and reclaiming of power that rightfully belongs to regular people.

I call overturning that legislation and the solidarity it took to achieve the victory, really getting something done.

Comment by laurawrites1

The movement is about the youth expressing their discontent with the way things are stacked against them. This has nothing to do with people’s beliefs. There are liberals in San Francisco and conservatives in Missouri that feel the same way. They can’t get a fair shake.

Comment by Chris Puntarelli


Comment by kristinbackman

Great post! The art is one of the best things coming from the whole occupy endeavor …not the only thing, but in my opinion one of the most interesting (and encouraging) to watch unfold. I actually did my own post on this very subject recently and would be very curious to know your thoughts over at: …don’t mean to spam with a link, but I would welcome more perspectives on our shared interest. Peace.

Comment by rsmithing

This is such an awesome post!! i love it.. and i absolutely love the pictures.. 😀

Comment by abichica

I think it’s important for people to pay attention to this movement and I am glad I got to read your post. Your post has brought to light the ability for one movement to initiate other movements that really can bring about change and speak for the people. I hope that OWS continues its fight for social justice and that new movements continue to pop-up and someday change the regime.

Comment by Brookie B.

Looking at the pictures reminded me of something from the 60s. A new revolution of breaking out from the norm and stepping into one’s own selfness. I felt a sense of power as I read this. Very nice post.

Comment by valentinedee

I have always felt, ever since first hearing of the occupy…movement, that it would be more effective if the demonstrators said specifically what they want, instead of what they’re against.

Clearly the feelings are shared universally.

Good luck!


Comment by morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer

Yes, I completely agree with you. It seems as they might pack more power in the punch, so to speak.

Very interesting post, though! It’s clearly got a lot of people thinking and debating!

Comment by PCC Advantage

[…] of Occupy Wall Street has come a long way — check out this article by Michele Elam for CNN. Click here to enjoy a post called “The Art of Occupation” from one of the blogs I read each day. […]

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What a great post and fantastic picture.

Comment by Saira K.

I’ll leave the commentaries on the movement to others and just say these are good photos. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

Comment by TJ Johnston

Awesome post! I loved the pic from the 1960’s especially.

Comment by natasiarose

Extra thanks for that last glimpse of 1969 fashion. 🙂

Comment by Anne Schilde

Art is a cornerstone of social movements throughout history. Great photographs–thanks for posting!

Comment by 1000museums

I think that the idea of the movement is great, but people are using it as a platform. This artwork is moving though. Thanks.

I just started a blog and I am interviewing different bloggers. I would like to hear some of your answers. Let me know…thanks!

Comment by Brian

I think it’s beautiful how as people come together – creativity, art, expression naturally bubbles up. I’m not discrediting any pain, I’m just observing what can be the fuel for new expression is often surprising.

And I really do love the attitude going on in 1969.

Comment by Up Yours Gallery


Comment by kitchenmudge

Fantastic pictures!! Until reading your post, I’d given no thought to how even our museums are controlled by the 1%…

Comment by run4joy59

Wow, so amazing. I love seeing people come together and using art as a form of expression. Thank you for sharing.

Comment by Carlie Chew

I really loved your perspective on how the Occupy movement is impacting museums and the art world (and how protest movements have historically affected those areas). Thanks, and congrats on being freshly pressed!

Comment by fairybearconfessions

This is a power blog post that deserves the time on Freshly Pressed. I wasn’t aware of the situation with art museums.

Comment by pnwauthor

its nice !!

Comment by amiarting

So varied. I know some popel find several opf the images as shocking or overboard, but it’s all relative. I always wished I had lived through the 670’s becuase the protests were so amzing. I’d look at pictures and think that it was great to see pople take to teh streets for peace and equal rights.

If you’d like to see more, I posted some of the pictures from OSD on my blog,

Comment by writewhatuknow

Sorry for all the typos. I would delete that and rewrite it if I could. 😦

Comment by writewhatuknow

This is nice. As you can see a lot of people power activities has been done and practiced around the world and it is good to see people doing it as well it goes to show ONE FOR ALL ALL FOR ONE!

Comment by lollipopsvscigarettes

The Occupy movement is moving, memorable .and heartbreaking. The attempt to ride it’s tails by second-rate scumbag artists is not.

Great art of the past has stood on it’s own and you do not have to know the history of the moment of it’s to appreciate its value. How many paintings of the Twin Towers are sitting and moldering in someones garage soon to be joined by the outraged painted ‘masterpieces’ decrying George Bush and Irag.

Work like this has a shelf-life of about five years. Do the hard work of really learning how to draw and paint so you can contribute something worthwille, sacred and meaningful to mankind. The easiest thing in the world is to criticise and heap your own neuroses and personal garbage on the world. That is what 99.9 percent of late 20th/21st century art is about anyway.

Comment by Sharon Knettell

I must agree with you on that one, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call them scumbags (not all of them at least). Art is hailed as a protest tool, but it is all too often overused and becomes a distraction from the real issues at stake. Not everyone is willing to face up to the real arduous challenges of protesting for a cause (marching in the cold and rain, hunger, threat from riot police), but more people are happy to draw a picture and call it political.
Those so-called protest artists pale in comparison to what the suffragettes, Gandhi or Martin Luther King achieved with their words and actions. You didn’t catch them just ‘making art’.
I’m not saying protest art is completely pointless, just that it all too often encourages style over substance.

Comment by beccabeee

Beccabee- yes scumbag maybe a strong word- but I was thinking of these people camping out night after night in increasingly inclement weather especially here in New England where they went through a blizzard. It disturbs me to see this being exploited to get attention as an artist. I would like to see someone spend a month or so on the cold ground- dirty and hungry before they thought of exploiting this for their own gain. I was involved in an action trying to stop a Walmart from coming in and razing 135 acres on a watershed. It took 2 plus years of intense work with a lot of dedicated people to try and stop this. We reduded the footprint- it was heartbreaking- but we did not fill the local galleries with crappy Walmart protest paintings.

There is a place for art and it is there to remind us of the sacredeness and beauty of life. Art is sacred and it has been cheapened,

Comment by Sharon Knettell

Great Post. First, simple and have a the meaning of words and painting is the one of the way to tell something. 🙂

Comment by Julio Eiffelt R R

Photos about social movements always remind of how easily photographs can become historical documents. Who knows, these might be in a museum one day staged amongst a recreated set-up.

Comment by Photoggling

Great story you have here! I’m sharing my 99Percent story at my blog, imdatingaonepercenter!

Comment by Im Dating A OnePercenter

I know what the Occupy movement is against but what is it for? Their argument would be stronger if they stated what they aim to achieve by the protests. Occupy Melbourne protestors were removed by the police when the Queen Elizabeth visited us. But they are just camping in tents in public spaces – so nothing artistic about them.

Comment by leadinglight

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I’d like to say in defence of all the Occupy protestors that may not be able to articulately describe exactly what they want – and have received much criticism due to this point – it’s not easy to know precisely what the solutions are to an issue so large as to be the root systemic cause for some of our most pressing social and environmental problems.

In light of that, I say ‘give them a break’ – and if you really want to know what the movement stands for, be proactive in investigating the issue and educating yourself and those around you. If it wasn’t for the Occupy Movement, I wouldn’t have recently attended a conference on Building a Creative Economy. I wouldn’t know about Fractal Reserve Banking, FIAT currency systems, or what a country gives up when it gives up its sovereign currency. I wouldn’t know how every economic crash we’ve witnessed in the last hundred years or more has followed virtually the same template, or about how each one has been accurately predicted by people who have tried in vain to warn those in a position to stop it.

I could go on and on. The point is, something big is happening here. Let’s not nit pick at the details. Let’s not let yet another mainstream, media perpetuated backlash against a burgeoning movement derail our focus and purpose. Rise to the occasion – and learn whatever you can. Oh yeah, and I loved the story!

Comment by twofeet

Our friend’s 10 year old son had the most fantastic Halloween Costume. He wore a tie-dyed shirt with a sign over it that said “I am the 99% I’m so angry, I made a sign!” It was hilarious!

Comment by sarahsjoys

Having this movement is expected and is necessary. However, they must get a little more “political” and reach the media because the message is getting lost and they are losing their momentum.
Being in Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua and Mexico, I know when a movement is reaching and creating change. Sadly, occupation is pissing off more people than creating consciousness. Lets throw fire into the point in case!
Great pictures! Thanks

Comment by reflectionseed

Educate to liberate
perfectly said

Comment by djronstar

Great Post. I think the artwork is, at the very least, connecting people, starting a dialogue and giving people a venue to express their frustration with the current economic model. I think though, as with all protest movements, they should be leading by example and offering alternatives, and not simply condemning the current model, which is awful. I think occupy wall street and all the occupy movements are a great first step, but people should also start changing their businesses into workplace co-operatives, lobbying for higher corporate tax rates, and offering opportunity to the unemployed. My blog and book are largely about the political and corporate abuses of power that create massive economic disparity. Take a look if you’re interested. You can find it here: I just started it, so I would love to get more people reading it and some followers.

Comment by asgoldstein

I love the ‘Share Your 99% Story’ pictures. I love the solidarity of the occupation movement but think people need to take it a little further into action, such as leaving the big banks as customers, etc. and maybe stop buying goods from large corporations as much as possible. We all have the power to change our country. We are the consumers and we can make the choices.

Comment by Source Consideration

Other than as a sociological research project, the OWS movement is defunct. It’d a dead man walking and doesn’t even realize it yet. It died before winter has even set in.

Why? Because it’s an amoeba. It cannot and will not evolve. It is cannabilistic and nihilistic. It is a joke and a mockery. It is dangerous and full of useful idiots at the same time.

True astroturf, it appeals to the fringes of society. It does not have the solidarity of the whole world. It never did, and now the media, the world and local authorities have had just about enough from the juveniles.

Comment by wadingacross

Lobbyists and Money. Very hard to change anything with them around.

Comment by drwebs

I’m writing this in a public library that is under threat of cuts whilst a few dozen occupy people are freezing in their tents outside, on cathedral land in front of the council house. Good luck to all who occupy. You are doing an amazing job.

Comment by Barb Drummond

art is the key to liberty….Great post!

Comment by letscriticize

I like the sharing stories idea. It reminds me of how people tie up wishes written on wooden blocks at temples over here in Japan.

Comment by angrygaijin

Hey,nice pictures,i like it,good job!

Comment by xmasters

[…] New American Paintings Blog Share and Enjoy: […]

Pingback by Occupy Oakland Art « .

Occupy the West Bank!

Comment by Andreas Moser

great effort ! ! !

Comment by nipun

Beautiful imagary. It is not surprising that art should take on an important role in this movement, as it is what defines us, sustains us, supports us, whether we realize it or not.

Amazing things are happening all over this continent. I can’t help but hope and wish that it will never end..

Comment by SherryGreens

I love the chocolate tortilla screenprinting. I want to do that with my students. I love the part about cockroaches having been released during a fancy dinner in the 70s. I love, love the picture of the girl with the “Art Workers Won’t Kiss Ass” sign. I haven’t felt connected to the Occupy movement until now.

Comment by greendoe

A poem for the Movement!
“Mainstream Society is the New Voice”

Let us all rise up and occupy the streets
Get the one percent who controls the wealth out of their seats
Mainstream society is the new voice
Say it with certainty!
Do we have any other choice?

Speak up loud!
Make these hard working families proud
Let the world know we will not stand for what the financial institutions are trying to do to blue collars
Adding foreclosures, higher rates and fees to get money that is our own hard working dollars
Mainstream society is the new voice

The government is no better
Enriching their pockets while we become poorer from their greed is not something we need
We need to get our pens and paper out and write an open letter
Lower the gas
Don’t lower our class
A New World Order is approaching
And we don’t need any more coaching
Mainstream society is the new voice

Occupy Wall Street
Keep occupying until we defeat
Don’t get lazy and kick up your feet
It’s going to be a long run like a championship track meet
Race to the finish lines and don’t get beat
Mainstream society is the new voice

This is the type of revolution that starts off slow
It is only because the media is downplaying scenes on the low
But wait, just wait….
It will begin to move so fast that in no time they will know
And then we will see the 99 percent rise against the 1 percent and grow
Mainstream society is the new voice

Power is knowledge so electrify yourself
Dust your little old boots off the shelf
Stomp hard with those boots until these corporations hear you
Put your foot down and make them listen to our cries for all things overdue
Mainstream society is the new voice

Corporate America is slowly beginning to listen
It seems like they are playing a game of chicken
Look at how some are now changing their tune by removing certain fees
Implementing tests on society to see what will stick trying to bring us to our knees
Mainstream society is the new voice

Lesson number one is to become:
We are the 99 percent

Mainstream society is the new voice!!!

Comment by MissDawnG

When President Reagan broke union political power by derailing the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike, he started the decades-long slide of the middle class towards lower standards of living. The Occupy Wall St. movement is, finally, a populist protest against sliding even further into the economic trap he laid. When Ike was president, the top income tax rate was over 90%. It was a time of prosperity and progress on many economic fronts. That unions are embracing OWS is a glimmer of hope that the light bulb has finally gone off in the population – unions, higher taxes, and a government that serves the people are good for everybody. I Like Ike, bring him back.

Comment by Karl Drobnic

Love the 1969 poster! Especially as the pic could’ve easily been taken yesterday! And edible art… wow… I’m there!

Comment by I Made You A Mixtape

While I think the artwork is bringing together the artists themselves in a bond of common thinking or idealism. I really think it does little to promote the true cause. Your photos are great and tell a story of the artists and what they are doing –but not what they are trying to accomplish but that is their fault not yours.

Comment by newsy1

I still don’t get it. what is the “occupy” movement protesting? They have not made their intent clear. Seems like the participants have a lot of free time on their hands and like to complain about…..not even sure.

Comment by joe

Among other things, we like to complain about people that aren’t paying attention, and think that the Occupy movement is about having nothing better to do with our time. Sure would be nice if the average Joe got a clue.

Comment by Richard Lerner

Interesting take and great photos!

Comment by Jacqueline

Y’all are so much more creative then we are here in Boston. (But we have tougher weather)

Comment by Richard Lerner

well, they are awesome.

This is my first time on your blog.

Comment by EKG

Nadiah does a great job of capturing the essence of this movement….the people and their passion, whether it be expression of that passion through their writing, their art, or their dress, it is about the people and their fair share of 100% of this country’s resources, which includes jobs, freedom of expression and speech, and the resources to feed, clothe and raise their families. This movement is about being treated like a human being. Great Job Nadiah!

Comment by Turtledove

wowww, so amazing Fantastic pictures!!Until reading your post,
i absolutely love the picture

Comment by lesbienshop1

You can be an activist with higher consciousness. Go to,, or any book store for a book called “The Greater Reality and the Evolution of Emotion” by Don Brown

Comment by AManWeb

[…] The Art of Occupation (New American Paintings) […]

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[…] 33 Artists’s groups are increasingly making this point, for good or ill; see, for example, → and →. […]

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[…] 33 Artists’s groups are increasingly making this point, for good or ill; see, for example, → and →. […]

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