For artist Rodrigo Marti, one of the most important forms of social change can take place in small, subtle increments.
“There are many ways in which you can relate to the world and show your support on pressing issues. Sometimes stepping away for a bit can be just as helpful, on a wider time scale, as being in the thick of the action,” says Marti.
“For me, it’s not the megaphone conversation but rather the smaller-scale, face-to-face setting with a few people, where I feel I can have the most positive effect in the world. I’ve had moments of activism along the way, but I don’t see myself as an activist.”
The Mexican-Canadian, Toronto-based artist often focuses on the intersection of politics and art in his work. While he uses primarily the mediums of drawing and painting, he previously dabbled in other forms of contemporary art, including a form of relational esthetics that involves making sculptures with a social and political bent.
Marti realized his aptitude for art early on in life after attending a liberal arts program at the high school in London, Ontario where he grew up. He continued as an undergraduate in Concordia University and later earned his master’s degree in fine arts from the OTIS College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
“The grad program there was all about art for social change; part of my thesis work involved working with activists who were illegal immigrants in the US, called the Dreamers. I was also tapping into my own identity both as a privileged white man and also a Mexican person," he says.
"I put together an installation that was a sculpture of my own personal furniture, accompanied by a built-in soundscape made up of months of sound recordings from activist sites and conversations with activists from the Internet. I also invited local activists from the area to organize events in my space while my show was ongoing.”
In contrast, Marti’s piece for CKX and Samara focuses on his current interests in face-to-face conversation and journalism in relation to art making.
He was particularly inspired by Mexican religious portraits from the 16th and 17th century that feature a single descriptive sentence of text wrapped like a ribbon around central figures.
“The swirls in the background of my piece are stand-ins for all the writing, conversation, and notes that were taken away from the discussions held with Samara and CKX,” Marti explains.
“I also thought of Sarah Charlesworth, a 1970s-80’s artist of the pictures generation, who made a series exploring newspaper formats by erasing large portions of a typical front page. I liked how she worked in a series and how she brought attention to the way newspapers tell a story compositionally.
“I believe in people being given the space and dignity to be able to articulate what their strengths are, on their own terms and however they want to use them in relation to the world. Sometimes not being an activist or completely involved in social issues can be just as valuable as someone who is.
“Although representing some of the difficulty, tension, and fragmentation of the role discussion plays in a democracy may be more pressing now - I felt the sense of the ideal of communication, the optimistic view of this exchange and its fundamental role in a democracy made more sense with the general nature of the collaboration with CKX and Samara.”
As part of their #StrongerDemocracy collaboration, CKX and Samara Canada invited four artists to tap into their creative expression to demonstrate their relationship and experiences with Canadian democracy, and their visions for its evolution for the next 150 years and beyond.
The commissioned works will be showcased in a series of events, while visual art pieces will be donated to democracy organizations across the country.