Resilient spirit

Acclaimed artist’s ‘R.I. Angel of Hope and Strength’ provides new symbol in COVID-19 fight

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Shepard Fairey may not be a household name to most Rhode Islanders, but most of the state’s residents are likely familiar with at least one of his works.

A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Fairey is best known for his 2008 “Hope” poster featuring Barack Obama – an image that became inexorably linked with the future president and his campaign.

Prior to that, Fairey’s “Obey Giant” stickers – featuring the image of professional wrestler André the Giant – had earned him acclaim and followers across the globe.

Now, Fairey has produced a new piece of work specific to the Ocean State and its ongoing battle against COVID-19.

“R.I. Angel of Hope and Strength” was unveiled Saturday during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily briefing on the crisis. It depicts a young woman holding a torch, her shirt bearing a red cross in honor of the state’s frontline health care workers and first responders.

“This piece was created to celebrate the courage of health care workers specifically, and generally symbolize the spirit of hope, strength, compassion, and resilience that we can all find in ourselves and share collectively,” a description reads.

Raimondo said she reached out to Fairey several weeks ago and asked him to produce a “hopeful image” for the state as it faced the pandemic, and he agreed “without hesitation.”

“I called Shepard about a month ago and I asked him if he would consider donating his time to create us a hopeful image, because I think we could all use a hopeful image right now,” she said. “And he did exactly that.”

This week, the image is being projected on two buildings at RISD – the Market Square side of the school’s auditorium and the back of 20 Washington Place, visible along steeple street – starting at 7:30 p.m. each night.

It has also been made available for free download through the RIArts.org website, which the governor unveiled Saturday as a means of connecting artists and venues with members of the community through virtual performances and exhibits while social distancing restrictions remain in place. The governor urged Rhode Islanders to display Fairey’s latest image around the state or use it in other ways.

During a conference call with reporters following Saturday’s briefing, Raimondo said Fairey’s piece reminds her of the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” image from World War II. She said the young woman depicted in “R.I. Angel of Hope and Strength” is a fitting symbol in light of the current crisis.

“So many of the people who are frontline health care workers right now are young women,” she said. “And it’s a show of strength and resilience that I think we can all really appreciate … This is a ‘thank you’ from us to you, and this is for all of Rhode Island. It’s time to be brave. It’s time to be strong. It’s time to dig deep and get through this as a community.”

While sharing Shepard’s work, Raimondo also called on Rhode Islanders to tap into their own creativity.

She urged people across the state, of all ages and ability levels, to share family-friendly creative work from any medium on social media using the #RIArts hashtag.

“We want to hear from everybody … It’s a great opportunity to get your creativity out there,” she said.

The governor additionally highlighted the RIArts.org website – “I think you’ll be surprised at how much creative activity is still happening virtually, and I would encourage you all to enjoy it” –and the Rhode Island Artist Relief Fund, which is providing financial support to members of the state’s artistic community during the crisis.

Donations to the fund can be made by visiting artistcommunities.org and searching for Rhode Island Artist Relief Fund, while applications for assistance can be made at the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts website, risca.online.

“We have to be resilient to get through what we’re going through,” Raimondo said, and creativity is a part of that resilience.”

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