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Alice at the Tea Party

Alice at the Tea Party
ink and watercolor
10 inches x 8 inches
26 cm x 21 cm

This is one of my recently finished pieces that I managed to finish just in time to display at last weekend’s Artdromeda show in Baltimore. I was inspired to create this piece by two phenomenons that have gotten attention in the media–the resurgence in popularity of Alice in Wonderland (fueled in large part by Tim Burton’s hit movie) and the rise of the Tea Party movement in the U.S.

I attempted to emulate the John Tenniel illustrations that were in the original Lewis Carroll books–Alice in Wonderland and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass. (Even though there have been numerous Alice in Wonderland editions with illustrations done by other people, one can still find the editions with the Tenniel illustrations on sale in many book stores.) As I worked on it, my own style crept in so it’s not a one-hundred percent copy of John Tenniel’s illustration of the Wonderland tea party.

I did this political parody piece where Alice arrives at a tea party that made the original tea party depicted in Lewis Carroll’s novel seem tame and sane by comparison. The various tea party denizens are based upon the politicians and right wing talk show hosts who have expressed support for the Tea Party movement. The Cheshire Cat is based on Rush Limbaugh (complete with a cigar and the infamous quote where he hoped that Barack Obama fails in his presidency). The Queen of Hearts is based on Rep. Michele Bachmann. The Mad Hatter is based on Glenn Beck (complete with tears in his eyes). The woman who shot and killed the White Rabbit is Sarah Palin. The tiny person in front wearing a Texas state flag jacket and carrying a sign with a misspelled racial slur is based on an actual photograph of a Tea Party activist who actually worn such a jacket and carried such a sign with the misspelled racial slur. The chicken in front is a parody of Sue Lowden (who is running for office in Nevada in the hopes of unseating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), who has frequently said that the high costs of health care can be best achieved by returning to the days when the U.S. was primarily an agrarian society and people paid for doctors visits with a chicken.

There are also the hidden activists who are behind the main characters but are only seen as arms holding various signs. The signs are based on actual photos of real Tea Party rally signs that I’ve seen throughout the Internet. All I had to do was concentrate to make sure that the original misspellings and gramatical errors were left intact.

When my husband first saw this piece, he remarked that Alice seemed pissed. Well, there’s a reason for that pissed off expression on her face. If you were blundering through an unfamiliar place like Wonderland in pursuit of the White Rabbit only to discover that he had been shot to death and his body was being displayed at a mad tea party with far right wing political overtones you happened to stumble upon, you’d be pissed too.

Okay, you can correctly guess that I have a less than favorable impression of the Tea Party movement. If the Tea Party movement had been something that was not affiliated with any political party, not backed by any media company, discouraged the use of racial slurs and/or waving Confederate flags, reached out to diverse groups of people, and stated policies that expressed real reforms aimed at dismantling monopolies in health insurance and oil companies and encouraging well-paying blue collar jobs being moved back to the U.S. from overseas, I would have at least respected that movement. (Heck, it’s possible that I may have even signed on to the movement myself.)

But I’ve heard that many of the Tea Party rallies were organized by Freedom Works (a company founded by former Senate Majority Leader Dick Armey). They have been endorsed by many Republican poiticians. Their rallies have been not only favorably covered by Fox News but they have been actively promoted on that network in such a way as to encourage people to attend them. Individual Tea Party people have waived signs using racial slurs aimed at President Obama without facing any negative consequences from the Tea Party movement organizers. Many Tea Party activists have seemed to refuse to say anything bad about the increased power of corporations (including the creation of monopolies) and–in some cases–have sided with the corporations on such issues as Net Neutraility. On top of that, many rallies seemed to be all-whtie people affairs with little or no minorities. (If the U.S. was a nearly all-white nation, this wouldn’t be an issue. But with the rise in population of people of color in recent years, it’s pretty ludicrous to have all-white movements in this day and age.)

For all the Tea Party movement’s frequent cries of freedom from government oppression, that movement has been strangely silent on Arizona’s recent passage of SB 1070. (Which empowers police officers to ask anyone on the street to prove that he/she are legally in this country and if the person doesn’t have such evidence on him/her at that moment, the police can arrest that person. On top of that, the police can ask that of anyone even if he/she have not been accused of doing anything illegal.) This is the kind of thing that communist and fascist governments do on a regular basis–the kind of governments that the Tea Party movement claim that they are fighting against.

I think there should be a real independent movement consisting of people from diverse races, ethnic groups, religions, social classes, educational levels, and political beliefs coming together for a common cause and who eschews racism and uncivilized behavior in general. I believe that, based on that criteria, the Tea Party simply fails as a real independent movement.

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