If Ardina Seward had to choose between having her current exhibition up at a gallery on Madison Avenue or at An Beal Bocht Café, she would choose An Beal.
“Honestly, I think I would prefer An Beal because of the reactions from the people,” she said.
Seward, a former photojournalist who worked in broadcast news for close to 29 years, is no stranger to sparking discussions about current events and how they impact people. After leaving journalism three years ago, she returned to her lifelong love of collecting random items and making art that does just that.
When Seward started creating pieces for “The Politics of Art” — an exhibition that explores political issues within the Trump era — she first turned to other art spaces and galleries in New York City, but had no luck in getting anyone to agree to put her work on display.
“They were afraid,” she said. “They were afraid of retaliation. They were afraid of funding being pulled.”
Despite her own growing hesitance toward putting up a political exhibition, it was Tony Caffery, the owner of An Beal’s 445 W. 238th St., location, that convinced her otherwise and reminded Seward what the establishment means to her.
“An Beal has and always will be the oasis of bohemian society in the Bronx,” she said. “An Beal is eclectic. It’s unique, and An Beal has always embraced progressive artists. It’s a haven for political opinion.”
“The Politics of Art” is now on display through April 30 and explores a variety of divisive topics that include race, immigration laws and gun control.
One of the reasons Seward was compelled to create many of the pieces in the exhibition was because she felt a need to be more vocal and proactive about the state of politics in America.
“As we near the 2020 election season, there seems to be an increasing need for political awareness momentum, and most of us who are anti-Trump are voicing our opinions in our own ways and many will voice that at the ballot box,” she said. “But in order to make people aware of what’s happening in our country, I think it was important for artists to make statements.”
Seward also grew tired of many being complacent with political figures like Trump.
“People are accepting a very base level of political morality,” she said. “Trump lies and we let him get away with it. The buzzword(s) are, ‘Well that’s just the way he is.’
“But why are we lowering the bar? Why are we accepting words and language that we wouldn’t even expose our mother to from the person who has the highest authority in the United States?”
Each of Seward’s pieces is created differently and tells a unique story, from a Trump doll dressed like a prisoner, to a piece that has the word “No” painted in white with a red gun in front to advocate for gun control. The red on the gun, Seward said, symbolizes the blood of the many people who have been victims of gun violence.
The gun violence piece has many layers for Seward, some that date back to her journalism days when she found herself having to cover at least three murders in New York City a week.
“I had a rule that after the third homicide, if I got assigned to a fourth homicide, I’d just call in sick that day,” Seward said. “Not that I couldn’t do it anymore, but I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Through her art in this exhibit, Seward discovered “how painful it is sometimes to have to delve” into her emotions after feeling like many people like herself go through life suppressing things just to get through day-to-day living.
“From a psychological point of view, you can suppress, suppress, suppress,” she said. “But at some point, you’ve got to raise those emotions and process those emotions and use those emotions.”
Seward wants people to leave “The Politics of Art” feeling uplifted. But if they don’t agree with her viewpoint, she’s not opposed to an open discussion about it.
“It would be wonderful if everybody came in and said, ‘Oh this is great, this is fantastic, we love it,’” she said. “But if people come in and say they hate it, then that’s fine with me. I don’t care. But if they hate it, I want to start a dialogue. I want to know why they hate it.”
And if there’s anything Seward’s learned from making art that will either take a few hours or a few weeks, it’s that she’s always up for a challenge.
“At some point you just say, ‘Screw it,’” she said. “But then after five minutes, you say, ‘Don’t screw it. You have to follow through.’ And that’s a metaphor for life. You’re going to meet that challenge, but then do you walk around it?
“Or do you meet the challenge? And that’s one thing that I learned: You have to meet the challenge and not walk away from it.”