An interactive protest: Richmond artist Anna Gahagan’s latest zine pushes for social and racial equality, detailing confederate monuments, police mazes, and the road to justice.
As protesters continue taking to the streets after 62 days of demonstrations, artists have stepped in to contextualize this moment in Richmond’s history. Anna Gahagan, a local Art History high school teacher, has created a zine titled “Deface This Monument” — a phrase that’s close to home for many who have joined the movement.
The project began following the removal of the Columbus monument by protesters at Byrd Park on June 9. Gahagan’s zine includes graphics and cut-outs depicting the need for removal of Confederate monuments and social justice reforms called for by the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as covering other social issues like redlining.
Gahagan’s latest zine expands on the mission of her first collection, “Symbols of Southern Pride,” which she began in 2017 after the violence at Charlottesville’s Unite The Right rally. The original artwork was created as a way to rebuild, but also acknowledge, the South’s important yet hurtful past.
“Those parts of history in the South might be more painful,” Gahagan said, “but I think [they] are important to know for people who, like myself, want to make impactful social change.”
To visualize her attempt to rebuild — but also not forget — the South’s past, Gahagan asked her friends what comes to mind when they think of the South. She received some lighthearted answers, like “biscuits and gravy,” “walking outside with no shoes on,” and “mosquitoes,” which she included in her first project.
“I started this drawing series by trying to find common experiences between people who consider themselves ‘Southerners,’” Gahagan said. “Something that would branch race, gender, or socioeconomic status… these collective memories.”
“Symbols of Southern Pride” was the idea that kickstarted Gahagan’s current “Deface This Monument” project. Both zines work to support minorities, especially Black people, who have historically been at a disadvantage everywhere — but especially in the South.
While Gahagan can’t physically join the protests alongside hundreds of people right now, she believes that “Deface This Monument” can be a form of protest in itself.
“I wanted to create a form of protest that I felt was accessible to people who might be in a similar position as myself,” Gahagan said. “When we’re protesting, we need to also make things accessible to people who have a disability.”
Just by the name of Gahagan’s latest project, it’s an easy guess that she hopes to see the monuments taken down once and for all. While she hopes they’ll all be removed, in the grand scheme of things, she said it’s merely “a drop in the bucket.”
“Sure, it’s great that these statues came down,” Gahagan said. “But again, I feel like it’s more of a distraction than it is a progressive move.”
In addition to bringing down Confederate monuments, Gahagan hopes the ongoing protests will help achieve other social justice goals in the area. She specifically wants to see more support for Richmond City Schools. Basic amenities like working sinks in school bathrooms, classrooms without mold, and struggles for funding to provide quality education in lower-income areas of Richmond are all factors holding back the public school system. Gahagan believes improving on these issues can help to eliminate social injustices.
Community outreach is another remedy that Gahagan holds dear. She has made an effort to get to know her neighbors well, and is grateful for it; she noted that not being close with one’s neighborhood creates a gap in the community which ultimately causes more issues.
“I think that’s a good first step, [for people] to get to know their neighbors and communities,” Gahagan said. “Put in the effort to be a member of that community… make sure your community is safe. I think, in the long run, that eliminates the need for police.”