ESP / ENG
Class struggle and the battle of ideas
shenby g is a transgender Marxist activist and cultural worker inside the United States. Their pronouns are they/them/she/her, and they are an organizer in Ohio with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. In this profile, we talked to shenby about their work, their artistic references as well as their view on the role of art in social struggles.
Self-taught art and collective politics
shenby’s work is presented under the creative banner “Left Aesthetic” (@leftaesthetic on Instagram). The project began three years ago and is meant, in their words, “to express commitment to the creation of socialist art and culture on a full-time basis.”
With a regular output covering national and international issues, from solidarity to liberation, Left Aesthetic offers an artistic window into present-day struggles for a better world.
“The work I’ve created under that banner is about advancing socialism in the battle of ideas, with the goal of creating art that speaks to the people, that is inspired by the people, and is for the people,” they explained.
My artistic training was self-taught, but my politics have emerged from the collective study and struggles I’ve engaged with in the years since.
shenby stressed that, despite taking art courses throughout her education, they consider themselves “self-taught.” However, it is a different story when it comes to their politics, which they described as having radicalized from a liberal/social-democratic starting point to Marxist viewpoint towards a “more total transformation of society.”
“My artistic training was self-taught, but my politics have emerged from the collective study and struggles I’ve engaged with in the years since,” the artist pointed out. “Through mass organizing, popular uprisings, political education through outlets such as the People’s Forum, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the politics I practice in struggle and through art has been collectively shaped.”
A range of influences
Though illustration (in pencil and ink) is their most common format, shenby also creates digital art, graphic design and has sights set on becoming more engaged in popular art education.
Asked about sources of influence or inspiration for their work, shenby cites a number of artists and currents.
“In my youth, my work was greatly influenced by cartoons and comics, which I think still informs my style today,” she said. “But, as I’ve become politicized and have become a people’s artist, I’ve taken great inspiration from the socialist revolutions of the 20th century and the cultural work they’ve created.”
In my youth, my work was greatly influenced by cartoons and comics, which I think still informs my style today.
They specifically highlighted the Cuban Revolution, and the works of René Mederos, OSPAAL and others as a demonstration of “the intersection of art and organization.” shenby likewise mentioned illustrations and paper-cuts from the Chinese Revolution, posters from the DPRK (the Mansudae Art Studio in particular) and the Soviet magazine Krokodil as great sources of inspiration.
Closer to home, they have studied posters and flyers from revolutionary American movements. Finally, shenby brought up artistic work being produced today as a constant source of learning as well.
“I think just as equally important as those I look at in the past, I’m incredibly inspired by my comrades’ work today. I constantly am trying to absorb the techniques and forms those around me are creating, studying and learning from those engaging in struggle.”
Reinforcing the struggle
One of Utopix’s guiding principles is the construction of visual arts/communication that not only accompanies but is at the service of popular struggles around the world.
On this relationship, shenby had very clear views: “art is an expression of the ideas of different classes and has explicit social functions.” They mentioned graffiti and hip-hop as examples of artistic production from the grassroots.
The popular struggle for democracy and for a socialist horizon is expressing itself not just through marches and demonstrations, but through ideas, and the creation of art and culture.
“The popular struggle for democracy and for a socialist horizon is expressing itself not just through marches and demonstrations, but through ideas, and the creation of art and culture,” they went on to say, citing a need to counter the “hegemony” of the ruling class.
Citing Fidel Castro’s “battle of ideas,” shenby argued that art and class struggle can reinforce each other. “The struggle builds, it expresses itself through art and culture, and that art and culture reinforces the struggle to build more, and on and on.”
They closed by reflecting on the role of artists, stating that art changes nothing if it just expresses individual interests. Instead, it is a “duty” to express the interests of the oppressed.
“It’s our duty to use our work to build the organization that advances our struggle towards our eventual popular socialist victory over capitalism-imperialism,” shenby concluded.
shenby g has collaborated with Utopix in a number of projects. A collection of their artwork is available in our Downloads section. Follow them on Instagram @leftaesthetic.