The Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State College today announced the recent acquisition of two extraordinary works by accomplished sibling artists, Diane Bush and Jerry Ross.
Born in Buffalo, New York, Bush and Ross are activist artists who display their political beliefs throughout their art, both having success exhibiting their works locally, nationally, and internationally. The acquisitions are:
Jerry Ross: Portrait of Martin Sostre
Martin Sostre was an important political activist in Buffalo, NY stemming from the 1967 Long Hot Summer race riots and subsequent upheaval. In 1968, a group known as the Buffalo Nine were arrested when protesting the Vietnam War on charges of draft evasion and assaulting an officer. As a result, University of Buffalo students and faculty alike picketed the U.S. Courthouse, leading to widespread media attention of the group’s trial. Being a member of the Buffalo Nine himself, Jerry Ross was forced to change his name (born Gerald Gross) once the federal trials were over as he wanted to continue his work on behalf of the Martin Sostre Defense Committee while on the road. In a second trial, two were acquitted, two were convicted; but the jury was unable to reach a verdict for Jerry Gross (Ross) and the government dropped his case.
Portrait of Martin Sostre commends and honors the influential Civil Rights activist who served time in Attica prison after being arrested on alleged charges of narcotics, riot, arson, and assault and sentenced to 41 years in prison. In part, thanks to Ross’s efforts due to the Free Martin Sostre campaign he initiated, Sostre became a jailhouse lawyer focusing on prisoners’ rights, and was subsequently freed from jail in 1976.
Diane Bush: Make A Merkin Great Again
Diane Bush is best known as an American activist artist and photographer. Bush has embraced public art through public participation projects using fiber art (Yarn Bombing) and performance. “I think of myself as a problem-solver that uses art (and humor) to get the job done,” stated Bush. In her politically based work, Make a Merkin Great Again, she created merkins, an artificial decorative wig for the female pubic area. She credits her husband, Steven Baskin, with collaborating on the concept.
The work and its namesake provide a background of political satire after pondering allegations against former-president Donald Trump’s reported history of sexual harassment and his past sexually explicit comments; as Bush puns on his 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” In her merkin series, Bush has used hand-spun yarn provided from her pet cat’s fur. The yarn was bcrocheted with patriotically colored ribbons, and merkins were placed into triangular veteran flag frames 25 merkins make up the series, as she asserts “one for each of [former president] Donald Trump’s sexual accusers.”
Diane Bush periodically teaches photographic workshops and regularly contributes art and donations to Buffalo-based arts organizations.
Nancy Weekly, the museum’s Burchfield Scholar, Head of Collections, and Charles Cary Curator, reflected on two recent acquisitions by these artists: “Museums have increasingly become public forums for social discourse. We collect and exhibit art that addresses current issues and inspires dialogue. Both Diane Bush and Jerry Ross have a life-long commitment to speaking out on socio-political issues. Ross’s Portrait of Martin Sostre illustrates the Wikipedia entry for this historically important Civil Rights activist who opened the first African American bookstore in Buffalo. (It is now the site of the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library which, with Just Buffalo Literary Center, presented the cleverly titled The Civil Writes Project, To & From 1967: A Rebellion with Martin Sostre on November 18, 2017.) Bush’s reference is more recent. She audaciously uses sly humor to critique the former U.S. president for his alleged sexual assaults on women for which he remains unrepentant.”