The largest illegal graffiti piece in the world. A naked statue of Donald Trump in New York’s Union Square. Fake clowns dressed as KKK members and hung from a tree in Virginia. These, among other works displayed across many cities around the world since 2001, belong to the “American Activist Collective” called INDECLINE who aim to “focus on social, ecological and economic injustices carried out by American and International governments, corporations and law enforcement agencies.” This controversial group has gained popularity in recent years for their arguably illegal installments that have captured the eye of thousands.
Although this group had its start in the early 2000’s, the group gained a larger following in 2015 when they claimed to create the world’s largest graffiti mural. This mural, sprawled across an abandoned runway in California, expressed a provocative idea through its words “This land was our land” proposing that in modern times, the US government controls the freedom and autonomy of its’ people. In an interview with VICE magazine, an INDECLINE representative mentioned that they were compelled to do this piece because it was something that “required putting [their] freedom on the line, bolt cutters, and a ton of guerrilla tactics to pull it off.” Ignoring the actual words displayed on the runway and considering the act of graffiti alone in itself, and what it represents was a political statement of its own. A sort of “middle finger” to the government that revealed the desire to rebel and oppose the ideas and laws passed down from those in power. It is clear here that breaking the law was fully intentional. However, in some of their other pieces, legality can be argued and a proposal can be made that their work is simply an inconvenient eyesore for their oppressors.
As an example, in August 2016, another popular stunt was implemented by the group, this project was very well documented as a video on their website. A larger-than- life size statue of Donald Trump was constructed in New York’s Union Square, but this statue was missing two very important things, his clothes and his balls. That’s right. This statue paraded a naked Donald Trump with missing testicles and was cleverly named “The Emperor has no balls.” This artwork drew the attention of many pedestrians walking by as well as those who saw photos of the monument on social media. This statue was so effective in capturing the public’s attention that it only lasted a matter of hours before the New York Park’s Department took it down due to the fact that it was “unattended property.” Some argued that this was not an illegal work, simply an inconvenience for certain individuals. A clear political message can be drawn here, but words from an INDECLINE representative pull out an interesting aspect of this statue. According to “The Washington Post” the idea behind the statue was to “humiliate Trump while nodding towards his authoritarian tendencies, as dictators often erect statues of themselves.” Whether or not people saw this deeper meaning, the statute was extremely effective overall. The fact that it was taken down so quickly shows the ability of the piece to disrupt the lives of those that witnessed it, even for a short amount of time, and prove to be something people could not ignore.
Lastly, a very recent work by the group aimed to shed light on the conflict of “white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups” seen in Charlottesville, Virginia this past summer. INDECLINE dressed up eight fake clowns in KKK uniforms and hung them by the neck on a tree located in a park where a former slave rebellion took place. While this installment does not provide a solution to the issues of recent events, it certainly serves as a warning. The representation of these white nationalists as clowns, portrays them and their values as a joke. An article from Hyperallergic Media quotes a member of INDECLINE and reveals that the group hopes to show that “these racist movements are so small compared to those opposing them” this shows a call to action for such ‘opposing groups.’ Additionally, it is no doubt that updated technology and widespread social media helped this group gain a more significant following, and due to this, their recent works have been highly and carefully documented and posted on their website under the “flicks” link. The flick for “Ku Klux Klowns is especially effective because it is accompanied by a pro-kkk song featuring lyrics such as “Stand up and be counted, Go with the Ku Klux Klan!” This ironic song choice makes a joke of and weakens the influence of white nationalists and therefore makes the message from INDECLINE that much stronger. INDECLINE has mastered the art of controversial and short-lived art. The combination of these two things have made this group successful in their goal of drawing attention to a movement to rise up against social norms.
To wrap up, the willingness to break the law, have their works dismantled and keen use of modern technology and media has helped to make INDECLINE a widely known group and given them a platform from which they can spread their message and grow. The temporary and controversial nature of their artwork is at the center of their success and ability to burden those that oppose their ideals. A great lesson can be taken from this activist group; stand up for what you believe in, even when you know others will disagree.