While many people around the country choose to protest the Trump administration’s policies by waving colorful banners, T.K. Butler is choosing to broadcast her feelings from her earlobes.
The Oakland-based jewelry designer and activist, who also goes by Tru FireElectric, has created a line of eye-catching earrings that effectively act as small-scale billboards. Each one-of-a-kind pair makes a statement about three of the President’s key focus areas: immigration, community security and “America First."
“My earrings are for the purpose of demonstrating, opening dialogue and building bridges in the political realm,” Butler says.
Her work has been seen at the Oakland Museum of California and is available for purchase online and at various stores, including Concept Forty-Seven in Oakland.
KQED recently chatted with the artist about her unusual form of activism.
Why make earrings as a form of protest against the Trump administration?
As an artist, it's my duty to comment on the social climate and times. Art is not created to solicit understanding, but rather to provoke emotion. Knowing I have the power to impact people's feelings means I have a chance to counterbalance the emotions triggered by the Trump presidency into a validated, humane and empowering narrative of redress.
What materials do you use?
The materials speak to me. I really enjoy working with wire and paint. I love using recyclable items to recapture times lost into new visions that communicate how never giving up and surviving through life's struggles are possible. Adding texture to my earrings helps tell stories of possibility. Anything can be a canvas and a canvas can become anything.
Tell us about your process.
I don't have one. I create each earring differently. This means I don't know what or how I will conceive, design, create or work or what materials are at my disposal until it happens. I don't sketch, force, or push concepts. I produce earrings based on what I have and what's available to make them. As mentioned above, I love to use wire and paint. But if a customer asks me to make something I've never done before, I give it a shot and figure out how on earth to do it.
What do you hope you can achieve, activism-wise, with these earrings?
While wearing my earrings, I hope people will feel seen and heard. I want them to become aware of how my earrings share a special place on their bodies as they themselves inhabit a special place in the world. My earrings will make them feel like they are in good company, so they won't feel alone. I want my customers to be imparted with a totem that represents a core value they are fighting to preserve or need to activate. I want them to feel their political and spiritual awakening through my art.
Your earrings cater mainly to a female audience. How do these earrings help to empower women in Trump’s era?
My earrings are specifically speaking to objectification because they are not mere lifeless objects. I breathe life into my earrings and they become a living art form. Women testify to these earrings giving them life. I want them to remember their true identity when embodying the free spirit of my art.
More from T.K. Butler can be found at her site.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED