New Milwaukee Art Campaign Calls April's Election A 'Crime Against Humanity'

May 14, 2020

If you've driven through the intersection of First Street and Pittsburgh Avenue in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood during the last few weeks, you might have seen a bold statement painted on the windows of BlackPaint Studios: Wisconsin's Pandemic Primary = Crime Against Humanity. 

According to the latest estimates from Wisconsin's Department of Health Services, at least 67 people are likely to have contracted the coronavirus from voting in-person during last month's election. 

The Eyes-Open Window Project is part of a broader effort by several local artists to document and immortalize the perceived injustices of Wisconsin's electoral politics — both before and during the coronavirus outbreak.

Katie Mullen is the art director for BlackPaint Studios, Laura Dyan Kezman is owner and director of LionArt Media, and Dakota Hall is the executive director of Leaders Igniting Transformation. They were all involved with putting together this project. 

Hall says they use the words "crime against humanity" very carefully and define it as "a deliberate act that causes human suffering or death on a large scale." He cites the many cases of voters not receiving their mail-in ballot on time, and whose only choice was either to forego voting or risk their health to vote in-person on April 7. 

BlackPaint Studios then took that messaging and turned it into a provocative window piece. Mullen says their space at the corner of First Street and Pittsburgh Avenue is important because it forces drivers to stop and stare at the windows.

"We recognize the power of just the location itself, in getting messages like this out there," she notes. "Whether they be just bold text, like this one demanded, or in the future, sometimes playing with more illustrative elements."

Editor's note: This video contains language that may be offensive.

Another piece created by LionArt Media is a short film documenting the five polling places that were open in Milwaukee on April 7. Kezman says that as a filmmaker she wanted to tell a different story than the policy and logistics aspect of this election. The film uses footage captured from a social distance from each polling place with the stories of voters and poll workers played over it.

"What was most important that day was capturing the human element of what was happening," explains Kezman. "The last thing that I wanted to happen was for this experience to be just a drop in a bucket and get lost in the noise."