Vienna Rye: The artist behind this year’s Tribute to activists who are no longer with us
| By Shelley Buckingham
Every year on November 29th, the global feminist community pays tribute to feminists, activists and women human rights defenders who have died, but who are still very much alive in our memories.
This year, we worked with visual artist Vienna Rye who brought her heart and soul to create beautiful pieces of art dedicated to the memory of 55 activists featured in our online tribute.
In her own words, Vienna tells us about her passions, interests, artwork and activism.
Who is Vienna Rye?
I’m a 26 year-old, self-taught visual artist, revolutionary community organizer, mixed asian, womxn, gender non-conforming, based in New York City.
"I use art as a catalyst to confront and uproot settler colonialism, racism, capitalism, and patriarchy. I believe the decolonized imagination is one of our most powerful tools for liberation. We can only fight as far as we can imagine. So if we can’t visualize a better world first, how are we going to build it?"
What are your passions & interests?
My passion is fighting for collective liberation against the violent interlocking systems of oppression. My interest is the overthrow of the white supremacist, capitalist, settler-colonial patriarchy and the abolition of police and prisons. I believe no life should be held in a cage. I don't believe in the legitimacy of the American state on stolen Native land, an empire built with stolen African labor. I don't believe in colonial borders. I don't believe in the notion of artificial scarcity sold to us by capitalism. There are enough resources for everyone to eat, to have housing, to have healthcare. This is what I think about when I create. I think about life. Art is just my survival and to seek sanity in an insane world. Sometimes only the surreal can unveil the reality.
What kind of work have you been involved in?
I have been creating art for as long as I can remember, getting a torrented version of Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Suite when I was 12 years old and just running with creating visual media, mainly as a form of self-expression and to deal with trauma.
In 2014, I began to use my visual art as a response to the racist state violence that was occurring around me. I became a co-organizer of Millions March NYC, which mobilized 80K people in protest of the state-sanctioned murder of Eric Garner, for which I oversaw media and tactical. I have created graphics for NYC, Ferguson, and national Black Lives Matter groups, as well as organized years of marches throughout NYC.
I also organized at Standing Rock against #DAPL in Red Warrior Camp, later created digital media for the Sioux Tribe, built a resistance camp with the Ramapough Lenape Nation against a racist land struggle and illegal resource extraction. I also organized and created media for The Campaign to Shutdown Rikers and I organized / created media for #AbolitionSquare (a 22 day occupation of City Hall which led to the resignation of Bill Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department).
Previously I have also created art for We Rise LA, where my work was picked up by the LA County Department of Mental Health and my art is now currently exhibited on 25+ billboards throughout Los Angeles. I have led art direction, including creative strategy, shooting, video-editing, graphic & web design for Van Jones’ #cut50 campaign, Roc Nation's #FreeMeekMill Campaign and Alicia Key's "We Are Here" Movement and Vote Pro-Choice.
My artwork has been exhibited throughout New York City, and my political work has been covered internationally by Al Jazeera Fault Lines, The Guardian, Democracy Now!, The New York Times, and other publications. I am currently represented by the ACLU in a lawsuit against widespread police surveillance of political organizing in NYC. Most recently, I spoke at the Radical Democracy Conference at The New School for Social Research, and I have work currently featured in an activism exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York.
What are you working on now?
I am currently a co-organizer of the “revolutionary branch” of the #MassBailout Action, a bold initiative by the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Organization working to bail out ALL youth and all women from Rikers Island. I am a lead-organizer behind the communications, strategy, tactical, content creation and content curation for the NYC grassroots coalition of abolitionist groups, as we plan direct actions, community outreach, and political education. I am also involved in the #NoNewJailsNYC campaign which directly opposes the NYC Mayor's proposed $10 billion jail expansion plan.
How do you think art, activism and feminism intersect?
I live in the intersections between art, activism and feminism. To be honest I don't think much about art or activism. I create with the sole focus of what will advance the material, moral, physical struggle for liberation. I think about life when I work. My great grandmother had bound feet and escaped war in Manchuria. Art was her survival. I am breaking centuries of silence and shame by existing as I am. I believe the role of art is to get as close to the truth as possible. What it is like to live. To die. To feel pain. To feel joy. To get free. To imagine new and better worlds. I create what is needed for our people. I create what my spirit needs. I create what our struggle needs. And in doing so, hopefully my art can connect to another person’s struggle, ease another person’s spirit, and decolonize another person’s mind. And all these little steps will push us towards a world of collective liberation. No empire will last forever, and this one is crumbling.
And lastly, I always tell artists — immerse yourself in the veins of your environment. Know your city. It’s a constant, disciplined struggle to remain in the trenches. It's a responsibility. That is where the truth lives. That's where collective power lives. That's where we get free.
Watch our interview with Vienna, where she gave a sneak peek at the artwork she has created for the Tribute, and told us what moved and inspired her as she worked on this project.
At AWID, we recognize art and creative expression as an intrinsic part of how women’s rights and feminist movements have advanced our struggles.
We are committed to working closely with artists like Vienna and Carol Rosetti - who created the artwork for the 2017 edition of our Tribute. Both artists have worked with us to honour feminists and activists who have died, and to bring their legacies closer to our hearts and minds.
Learn more about how art and creative expression within and across AWID will be nurtured and strengthened as part of our strategic plan to Co-create Feminist Realities