Arts Desk

Reviewed: “The Chamomile Tea Party” at Curator’s Office

Jeff Gates—an artist, graphic designer, and lead producer for the Smithsonian American Art Museum—has a message for America's silent moderates: Start raising your voice, lest it be drowned out.

Through Nov. 7, the day after the results from this latest contentious election have been tallied, Gates' project is being exhibited at Curator’s Office on 14th Street NW. The collection, "The Chamomile Tea Party," is a series of reworked World War II-era propaganda posters emblazoned with slogans like “Bipartisan Reform DOA” and “Exaggerated Hyperbole Will Sink Important Legislation” among many others.

Gates started this project in 2010, not only as a counterpoint to the political Tea Party movement that was gathering steam at the time, but to generate a more thoughtful dialogue amid increasing partisanship since 9/11. Chamomile tea, of course, suggests calm—the opposite of the hysteria and anger that has characterized the last several years of American politics.

The Chamomile Party’s tagline: “When party politics, character assassination, and rhetoric take precedence over the good of the country and its people, it's time to say enough is enough!”

The posters and slogans in the series are arresting. These are, after all, examples of the most powerful American wartime propaganda created in the last century, "appropriated for the present political climate," as Gates' website says. The pictures have an immediacy that is meant to inspire viewer to action.

During World War II, the viewer was the average American cast as a type of hero, while the Axis Powers were the villains that could only be combated through vigilance, fortitude, and an entire country's worth of cooperation. Gates’ images also put the viewer in the hero’s seat, but this time America’s greatest enemy isn’t Nazis or Communists abroad—it is the partisans, specifically those in Congress and, perhaps, the media outlets that have helped foment all of this political toxicity. Gates suggests that if the rhetoric and partisan gamesmanship continue as they have, America will be the ultimate loser—no matter who wins the election on Tuesday.

Gate's scorn has no political affiliation. Two of the strongest posters skewer both sides. One shows a soldier with his arm pulled back, clutching a grenade, and ready to release. “Let ‘Em Have It Filibuster It’s the Republican Way” is emblazoned across the image. Another one shows a smiling woman in late middle age. “Mothers of Democrats,” says the text. “Give your children more milk to build stronger backbones.”

Yet, another poster underlines the point with an image of a grieving elderly couple gripping a Tea Party flyer. “Americans suffer as our two party system stagnates,” says the text. “Support the radical center."

The exhibit is on view Saturday and Wednesday at Curator's Office, 1515 14th St. NW

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