Natasha Mayers is still angry.
No, check that. Natasha Mayers is still outraged.
But the outspoken activist-artist from Whitefield has mellowed. She has managed to infuse subtle humor into her latest project.
“World Banksters,” on view through March 22 at Space Gallery in Portland, pillorizes the American banking establishment and what she calls America’s “sense of exceptionalism and entitlement. Somehow, these guys in our country think that they are above the law, that we are above the law and supreme economically and militarily.”
In her art, she inserts banking figures into touristy postcards from the around the United States. They are anonymous, faceless and often headless (and heartless?) figures, dressed in suits and ties that might be mistaken as straightjackets.
They’re anonymous, but one detects resemblances to John McCain and Dick Cheney, among others. They dominate the scene, lording over the White House, Capitol and even Mount Rushmore.
Mayers holds them and their policies responsible for all the ills facing America and for what she considers to be our country’s poor standing in the world.
But instead of hammering her subjects with the hope of inciting rage among viewers, Mayers simply hopes that people start with a chuckle before moving on to the issues.
“I found over the years that a lot of my work was full of anger to draw people in,” she said. “These postcards seems to be far more accessible and have the power to engage people with humor. I can be serious and be seriously silly at the same time.”
Mayers began her postcard series with a set of drawings during the early days of the financial crises that led to the economic downturn, which in turn fed a frenzy of foreclosures and economic despair for large segments of the country’s citizens.
Meanwhile, many of the bankers whose policies and practices led to the economic collapse seemed to float above the fray.
Mayers began inserting images of bankers in her drawings. She liked her drawings, but felt they lacked an edge.
“They weren’t enough about the issue, and they didn’t express my feelings and outrage. They weren’t funny or ironic,” she said.
Her project gained focus with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Mayers, who grew up in post-World War II America, appreciated younger generations of protesters raising their voices about income disparity and income inequality. Their words resonated with her.
That’s when she began incorporating her banker figures onto the postcards. That was the trick for her that gave the project its heart.
Postcards share a moment, she said. They represent a quick connection and tell little stories, often from exotic places. Her little paintings represent her commentary on capitalism, post-colonialism, globalization, cultural appropriation, cultural authenticity and differences, and sexism.
“Just by inserting these bankers into the postcards, it was more immediate and drew more of a response from other people. It was more fun — definitely more fun,” she said.
Mayers didn’t join the Occupy Wall Street protest. Her “World Banksters” work is her contribution to the cause.
She studied sculpture at Sarah Lawrence College, and served in the Peace Corps in Nigeria in the late 1960s. She took a job teaching in Maine after the Peace Corps.
Mayer’s art has always been about community. In the late 1970s, she worked with patients and Maine artists to paint murals and poetry in tunnels connecting buildings at the Augusta Mental Health Institute. In the 1994-95 school year, she helped her town’s fourth- and fifth-graders paint its history on utility poles.
She organized “Warflowers: From Swords to Plowshares,” a 2005-06 traveling exhibition by 44 Maine artists that launched discussion about how to convert our defense-based economy into a peace economy.
Mayer is an artist-in-residence for Peace Action Maine, and was a National Endowment for the Arts Millennium Artist in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Last year, she began working with other artists involved with the Union of Maine Visual Arts to create an Artists Rapid Response Team. They gather once a month to create banners for various groups across Maine lobbying for social and economic justice, as well for environmental groups.
“We’re channeling our outrage,” she said. “We’re doing it as artists. That seems to be the most effective response.”
It’s been almost a decade since Mayers has shown her work in Portland in a solo show. She is excited about this exhibition, and eager to share her work with a wider audience.
“My outrage is always there,” she said. “I have just found ways to use my outrage for a more positive end.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: