Migiwa Orimo is a visual artist in Yellow Springs. The work she creates in her studio, might end up in a traditional art gallery – or carried through the streets during a political protest. Because alongside her formal studio work, Orimo makes protest banners. She’s been showing her art work in galleries for over 30, years but recently her banners were included in an exhibition of protest art called “Still They Persist.”
Through the two separate practices—formal studio art and protest banner making—Orimo demonstrates harmony between artist and concerned citizen. Community Voices producer Tess Cortés visited her in her studio in Yellow Springs and brings us this story.
“Usually my banners are three feet by anywhere from seven to nine feet wide,” explains Migiwa. “You don't want to put a lot of expense to it, you use the house paint, and usually black, red, maybe some other color. At that point, as soon as I make my banner, the ownership sort of disappears. I keep seeing in Washington D.C., and Cleveland, the banner that I make. People feel really free to own them.”
Banners have been used as a call to join, and Orimo has been making them for twenty years.
“In the nineties, Yellow Springs was trying to save some of the farm land from being developed. I started doing a lot of banner making for that,” she said. “The last few years, I've been doing a lot of banner making for the local Black Lives Matter movement.”
Local activist Bomani Moyenda says that being Facebook friends with Orimo lead to the creation of a banner that features a quote from acclaimed writer James Baldwin.
Moyenda unfurls the banner and reads, “'It comes at a great shock to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance has not pledged allegiance to you,' James Baldwin. I saw this, I think I posted it on my Facebook page, and she commented, “Oh that's beautiful,” and I said, you know, I'd love to have a poster or banner! And she said “Yes, that would be great!”
Moyenda describes another banner that Orimo made, a portrait of a young man shot and killed by police at the Beavercreek Walmart in 2014. “My favorite one is the one she did with John Crawford's likeness, that says 'Justice for John Crawford,' and there's a painting of him. It's been to Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ferguson, Missouri—it's been used so much, that I loaned it out and I've lost track of it. There would be like a vacancy in this whole movement and effort without her contributions.”
“To me,” Migiwa says, “even though I don't put my name on it, this whole banner making and banner using is a public art. Twelve years ago, I started this project called the House Visit Project. Instead of just showing your work in the gallery space, you take your work to individual homes and have a conversation around it. Eventually that type of art project became so-called social practice or participatory work. And in a way, my banner work is sort of in that category. Once you create that, it's a people's art rather than singular artist's work. And in that sense, I can think of that as an on-going art project, too."
Curator Maria Seda-Reeder, at the Wave Pool Gallery in Cincinnati, describes Orimo's banners included in the exhibition, Still They Persist, Protest Art of the 2017 Women's Marches. “There's actually two pieces of her work in our exhibition 'Still They Persist.' One that she walked with in D.C. which says, 'Inaugurate Resistance,' it's a white sheet with red painting on top of it. The second one, the 'Chin Up, Fangs Out,' that's a really hot pink piece of sheet that she painted on with white and black paint. Those two pieces fit in perfectly with our work. Not only are they actually two of the biggest, over-size scale pieces that we have, but they are a commanding presence.”
Seda-Reeder continues, “Contemporary artists, living artists, react to the world that we're living in right now and share their opinions on it with people who are also living right now, so that changes culture, that drives culture, that can make all the difference in how we understand the world around us. You know, I think that the world needs more artists like Migiwa.”
The exhibition “Still They Persist” is currently on view at Salisbury University in Maryland through March 16, and will travel to Oakland California in 2019.