By Nathan James
Anyone who has flown across the United States on a clear day, has soared over the Continental Divide, which cleaves North America in two. Its significance is politically relevant in today’s world; east of this geological formation, all the rivers in the US flow towards the Atlantic, and likewise, west of the Divide, all rivers lead to the Pacific Ocean. Our national discourse is similarly divergent. We as a people are flowing inexorably away from each other, in an ideological Continental Divide as intractable, and seemingly insurmountable, as those towering mountain peaks that slit our country. With the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the white House, all pretensions of harmony and post-racial ethos that peeked over the horizon during the Obama years, were over, replaced by this deep chasm of thought and belief that now assails our national discourse.
Into this harrowing exposition of how fractured we’ve become, steps artist and fashion designer Garyk Lee, making perhaps the most provocative, yet sobering statement on the two Americas we inhabit, as we flow further and further apart from each other. He has created a Get out The Vote (GOTV) poster aimed squarely at the coming midterm elections that illustrates in stark relief, illustrating in unflinching detail how, like the rivers on either side of the Divide, we are moving towards vastly different destinations. The way we cast our ballots will, as Lee skillfully portrays, determine which of these rivers we sail on. “I saw what was happening in our country under Trump,” Lee observes, “and I wanted to try to speak to that with this poster.” Lee’s pointed composition is, appropriately, bifurcated by a tree which grows between left and right, between blue and red, between a thriving, diverse, strong community living in the light, and a dark, suffering, incarcerated dystopia living under the dark clouds of isolation and despair. The work is meant to highlight the dream versus the nightmare, with the veiled warning about how our vote will either drag us further into the morass of authoritarianism we find ourselves grappling with today, or up towards the best of what we can, and could truly be as an enlightened, egalitarian Republic.
“I wanted to say something to Millennials in particular about how important it is to vote,” says Lee, an out, gay stylist who has helped shape the look of popular culture for more than three decades. “I saw how bad things were getting,” He reflects, “and I wanted to do a poster that would get this message out. This one is just the first.” Lee evokes a sense of urgency in his dramatic comparison of the two Americas, emphasizing the vibrant diversity of our society on the left, or blue side, and the isolating effects of racism, homophobia, and intolerance on the right, or red, side. The tree’s two halves follow this theme; fruiting and leafy on the left, withered and dying on the right. Lee’s artwork is in step with his business philosophy, his latest collection focuses on sustainability in clothing, expressed in a new loungewear line, and a documentary meditation of his life in fashion, entitled Garyk Lee: A Retro Reflection. For his foray into political art, Lee pondered what today’s reality means for marginalized groups—LGBTQ people, African-Americans, immigrants, children—and modeled his creation after their plight. The recent controversy over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separating children of undocumented immigrants upon interception at our southern border (as of this writing, no illegal European immigrants have been separated from their children), and forcibly incarcerated in prison conditions, figures prominently in Lee’s poster. “I wanted to make people really see it,” the artist notes, “and hopefully this will motivate them to vote.”
Lee’s work has had a global impact, with his designs, films, and television productions winning him widespread critical acclaim, As America stands at a crossroads, this artistic impresario has lent his voice to the growing chorus of those sounding the alarm about the consequences of not voting—or of voting ion the wrong side of history. The November 6 election may be the most important of the last half-century, an d it represents in its depth the last real opportunity for the people to take a meaningful step towards restoring our storied system of checks and balances, and curbing the depredations of a megalomaniacal demagogue who occupies the most powerful office on Earth. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are in play, as are 35 critical Senate seats, gubernatorial races in 39 states, and countless local offices that produce future members of Congress, Senators, and Presidents. In Lee’s haunting depiction of our great continental divide, it is stunningly clear what is at stake. He challenges us to have the courage to make the right decision, as President Lincoln once admonished, “for all coming time”. You can discover more about Garyk Lee at his website, www.garyklee.com.