In the early 1980s, when I returned to painting and studio art after five years as a cultural activist in communities throughout New York City, I was preoccupied with studying the construction of our definitions of self: Who we think we are is becoming more and more predigested, interpreted, and controlled. I saw that our national institutions and belief systems were increasingly employed as social control mechanisms. Entertainment was a soft baton whose marks do not appear on the audience.

I felt then, and still do, that news media, pop culture, and fine art transcribe and integrate what become acceptable values and behaviors. The underlying purpose, besides short- term money, being to bind the individual to the power structure and perpetuate the system. Since the 1980s, the media have shined floodlights down the path to a major cultural and political shift. The nation’s...

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