Artist Nate Lewis spent nine years as an ICU nurse in the Washington, D.C. area. And the Beaver Falls native has been more than a little aggrieved by public discussions of the coronavirus, especially how Donald Trump has downplayed the pandemic. But a new billboard campaign is giving Lewis and other artists a chance to shape the debate themselves.
“There’s a lot of trust that has been lost because of the President, really -- his disregard for science and his disregard for caring for people,” said Lewis.
Speaking of the virus on July 1 – and echoing a frequent talking point of his -- Trump said, “that’s going to just sort of disappear, I hope.” The illness has now claimed nearly 190,000 lives in the U.S. Trump's words are featured in Lewis’ contribution to Remember What They Did, a new, artist-driven billboard campaign meant to spark voter turnout in battleground cities.
Lewis’ design pairs Trump’s quote with the image of a CT scan of a COVID-19 patient. Lewis used the image because “it’s an eyewitness account… about how real this virus is.”
In late August, the billboard was pasted up high over Washington Boulevard, in Larimer, and on North Craig Street, near Bigelow, in the Upper Hill District. In all, there are four Remember What They Did billboards in Pittsburgh, and 10 others split between Detroit and Milwaukee. The campaign targets communities with high concentrations of voters who are young, Black, or Latino. A spokesperson for Artists United for Change, one of the nonprofit groups behind the initiative, said it will ultimately include “dozens of billboards … and hundreds of street art posters” in six cities total.
Artists United for Change is a political committee tied to progressive groups.
There are now seven billboard designs, each by a different artist. The artists include internationally known names like Shepard Fairey (known for his “Hope” poster of Barack Obama) and Swoon (a.k.a. Caledonia Curry, who coincidentally just opened a solo exhibit at Pittsburgh gallery Contemporary Craft).
Six of the seven billboards feature Trump quotes, including “fine people on both sides” (describing counter-protesters clashing with white nationalists in Charlotesville, Va., in 2017), and “When the looting starts the shooting starts,” regarding social-justice protests in May. A seventh billboard targets Sen. Lindsey Graham for saying “I don’t care” in regard to the lengthy detention of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The initiative's partners in Pennsylvania include liberal group Keystone Progress. All the billboards feature the injunction “Vote Them Out.”
Lewis’ artwork has been exhibited in galleries around the U.S. He said he left Beaver Falls in 2003, after high school, to study nursing. He took up art while still a student. In 2017, he quit nursing and moved to New York to pursue art full-time. He now splits his time between New York and Washington.
Lewis' work is often politically themed, and he said he hopes Remember What They Did inspires discussion.
“I hope that it reaches the young people … who aren’t pleased with the current administration, who aren’t pleased with the continual division that’s being sown,” he said. “I hope the people who want to vote the president out, that it sparks them to take action, really, to spread that action, to vote and use their right so that we can hopefully just move forward.”