The Smokebrush Gallery has a mission: Take the art out of the esoteric. In recent shows, such as Ugandan Spirit in Art and the annual ROLL Bike Exhibition, the gallery has taken more steps toward art's activist parallels.
The newest installation, Light of HOPE, is a collaborative exhibition that raises money for HOPE, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based nonprofit that supports humanitarian efforts in Darfur and throughout the world.
HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) grew out of the acclaimed 2007 documentary on the Sudan genocides, The Devil Came on Horseback, as told by former U.S. Marine Capt. Brian Steidle. Steidle and his wife Andi Scull started HOPE the same year.
It is the nonprofit's artistic bent that has made it famous. Drawing from a photograph taken by Steidle, artists throughout Southern California were invited to reinterpret the image for an art show in 2007. Contemporary artists Shepard Fairey, Brandon Boyd (of the band Incubus) and Jeremy Corbell contributed pieces, which drew attention from the art world and beyond.
The photograph features a young girl carrying her brother on her back through a refugee camp in Chad. Fairey's iconic take on the image made its way throughout the country via T-shirts sold at popular clothing stores.
"We're looking to empower artists and the average person who feels powerless to global issues such as genocide," says Corbell, now HOPE's vice president of art and special projects.
The HOPE set of artists completed another show this year, this time re-imagining an image of three young Rwandan boys taken by Corbell. Curator Holly Parker invited 14 locals to visually comment on the picture for Light of HOPE, which is the third HOPE exhibition and the first outside California. All together, roughly 30 artists will be on display at the show, including some from the original set in 2007.
One of the invited local artists, Marc Huebert, enjoys the business aspect inherent to HOPE artwork.
"I think it's really interesting what HOPE has done in basically branding an image," he says. "I feel like it's a unique approach to artists and activism."
Huebert admits he was pleasantly surprised by the image of the three boys he was given to work with: "It's a powerful photograph, and it's got a very positive tone to it."
Huebert wants viewers to find their own meaning in his painting, but adds that energetic brushstrokes and his Impressionistic style help guide the audience toward the possibility of a brighter future for the boys, while still exposing the sense of loss and urgency in Darfur.
Fellow local artist Douglas Rouse also sensed the photograph's mixed emotions and created a sketchy semblance of the boys highlighted by active, graffiti-like lines and background text hinting at the painting's title, "Definition of Hope." Rouse says that on a personal level, the show couldn't have come at a better time.
"Obviously any impact on a global scale is exciting. I've recently just embraced my local community," he says. "I've been here seven years and I've literally been trying to leave. And I've recently just had some transformation in my life that's changed all that for me."
An attitude for positive change on global and local levels forms the backbone of Light of HOPE. In explaining the show, Parker relates a maxim of Steidle's: "You can still effect change with whatever skill set you have."