With a passion for politics, a talent for art and a privileged disposition, the white middle-class man from the Midwest said he had no reason not to make work that might put him in jail.
“I don’t have the struggle, so I create my own struggle,” Clark Stoeckley told audience members Tuesday in the Cafritz Foundation Theatre in The Clarice as part of a series in the Festival of Subversive Artists and Minds.
Stoeckley grew up in Missouri where he said he was the only liberal in his high school. And, in 2004, when voters re-elected former president George W. Bush, the Republican who had put Stoeckley’s brother in a warzone, the artist embarked on a lifelong journey of combining art and advocacy.
The subversive festival, a collaborative effort between the School of Theatre, Dance, & Performance Studies and the university’s College of Arts and Humanities, started as a “big idea to create a festival of people who really rock the world,” said Adriane Fang, the festival’s director.
She said Stoeckley is a great example of an artist who sees something wrong with the world and takes action. Not many people see a problem and choose to do something about it, Fang said.
“When I made the switch to being an activist – or artivist – the major change was that the art was no longer the product,” Stoeckley said. “It was the tool.”
In 2008, he said he felt inspired by then Sen. Barack Obama and, for the first time, felt there was real change in store for this country.
Stoeckley used his first tag – a graffiti artist’s signature – to encourage citizens to vote. He said he traveled across the country, particularly to urban areas and swing states, to graffiti his “vote” tag.
But in March of the following year, Stoeckley said he found himself disillusioned once again, this time with the system.
He changed his tag to the word “evolve” and once more to “graffiti keeps me clean.”
But Stoeckley’s work as a subversive ended with the first day of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Stoeckley played an active role in the movement and worked to draw attention to the cases against WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, for leaking war videos, U.S. diplomatic cables and reports to the public.
He bought a U-Haul truck and converted it to appear as a WikiLeaks news van with a message: “Release Bradley Manning.” He then drove it around the capital.
When Manning’s trial began, The New York Times, which had partnered with WikiLeaks in the cable’s release, and other mainstream media outlets were absent from the courtroom.
Stoeckley began to sketch. Though he hadn’t drawn people in years, he essentially took on the persona of a courtroom sketch artist and followed the trial himself while putting some pressure on the Times for its lack of coverage.
He compiled the sketches and released a book “The United States vs. PVT. Chelsea Manning,” an account of the court proceedings. He plans to release a second book for the appeal in what he described as a landmark case for civil liberties.
Stoeckley said he prefers a wide variety of mediums to gain the largest public exposure.
It’s important to expand art beyond the white walls of a gallery to reveal it to people who might not have an opportunity to see it, said Colette Krogol, a first-year fine arts master’s student and festival assistant.
“I’m looking at my audience as anyone and everyone,” Stoeckley said. “I want to make my audience aware and show them things.”
Jordan Branch is a junior multiplatform journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.