Local artist uses her craft to encourage voting


Courtesy to MLive

Chavala Ymker

To Carol Johnson, one of America’s biggest problems is the idea that “it’s not my problem.” In her recent exhibition, “Attack on Democracy in America,” Johnson attempts to challenge that assumption by subverting the expected.

A few weeks ago, her exhibition showed at her offices at the Emerging Voices Center For Healing in Grand Rapids. The images layer the Black Lives Matter movement with representations of democracy to create images like a knee on the neck of the Statue of Liberty. Johnson hopes her art encourages people to vote to bring change, especially as she uses art to more directly confront her audience.

“When you have something in your face, it makes it more of a reality,” said Johnson.

One of her images depicts a Black person with a target on their head — a blunt representation of a grim American reality.

“I can ask, ‘Are you safe?,’” Johnson said. But see a person with a target on their head, and now when you say, ‘Are you safe?’ there’s a possibility that you aren’t safe.”

As the great-great-granddaughter of Sally, a slave who was freed at the age of 12, Johnson’s own life brings into focus how close the U.S. still is to the existence of slavery. In her own lifetime, she remembers not being allowed to enter restaurants. Now, she sees the pattern of violence against Black people as it continues.

However, with the Civil Rights Act, Johnson points out that voting helped change the blatant segregation. She still believes that voting can continue that change.

“I still have faith that we can make it,” Johnson said. “We can do it.”

Johnson was disturbed by so many taking for granted their right to vote.

“We have the ability to change through a non-violent way called voting,” said Johnson.

She was inspired by how long people in South Africa waited in line when they were first allowed to vote. One of Johnson’s pieces focuses on a raised fist, and one of the ways she believes we can raise that fist is through voting.

“When we stand together and raise our fist, no matter what color or age or gender, that is a symbol of unity saying I don’t like what I’ve got,” said Johnson.

Art is a global language to Johnson. It’s also a medium that continues to speak through the ages, as Johnson pointed out with cave paintings. She also finds art allows her to speak without people judging her message based on appearance.

Johnson hopes people consider how easy it is to vote and how important it is that a majority of Americans actually use their voices.

Her art calls out many of the challenges we are facing from police brutality to the pandemic and she reminds us, “unless we change by voting it will continue on in this manner.”

Johnson’s art can be purchased as prints or on t-shirts at [email protected].