In 2020, while much of the world was confined to our homes, navigating an overwhelming uncertainty about the future, Desiree Aspiras was also at the start of something of a shift in her social consciousness.
“For a while, before 2020, there was a part of me that wasn’t critically conscious. At least, not enough. I wasn’t paying attention enough,” she says. “There was part of me that was essentially operating on the belief of, ‘I’m becoming a therapist, I’m helping others, I’m dedicating my life to being of service to others, surely that’s enough. I’m modeling being a good parent and trying to teach my children all the ways to be a better human being.’”
Inspired by an Instagram story on the work of an organization of bakers who were hosting individual bake sales to collectively raise money for racial justice organizations and causes, she reached out to them about using their model to do something similar, but with printmakers. That year, she started Printmakers Against Racism, which helps organize and provide resources to printmakers like herself who want to create and sell their art, donating the proceeds to social justice organizations they choose. They’ve raised nearly $50,000 for Black Lives Matter and other causes, and their latest campaign, “Fight for Trans & Queer Lives,” concludes today. On Tuesday, she is the featured speaker in an online artist’s talk in partnership with the Women’s Museum of California to talk about the intersection of art and activism.
Aspiras is a practicing couples and family therapist who also teaches graduate-level counseling and therapy students at the University of San Diego and at Bastyr University San Diego. Her latest project is the Deep Breath Network, a diverse mindfulness and meditation space to support people who are active in social justice work. She took some time to talk about Printmakers Against Racism, her upcoming artist talk, and navigating her own process of growth and learning in the causes and communities she wants to support. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version of this conversation, visit sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-lisa-deaderick-staff.html.)
Q: You founded Printmakers Against Racism during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? Tell us about your organization.
A: It started in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. I think, like many other people who maybe hadn’t been engaged in any kind of social justice work, or volunteering or even learning and thinking about ways to be involved, I was looking around at what are some of the things that I might be able to do. One of the things I enjoy doing has been creating art, printmaking, so I thought, ‘Well, are there other printmakers out there who are selling their art to raise money to possibly support organizations and mutual aid funds that are fighting racial injustice?’ Although I saw many individuals and artists doing things on their own and in their small pods or groups, I was yearning for something to kind of jump into and belong to. I thought that maybe there are other folks like me who haven’t really been engaged in this way. Maybe other people are waiting to be invited, as well. That’s part of what drew me to starting the project.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your own understanding of racial justice work before the pandemic? And what was it that compelled you to become active in this way?
A: In 2020, a few things coincided: my own meditation and mindfulness practice deepened; then, as I think everyone did at the start of the pandemic as we were all hearing and seeing the visuals in the news related to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of the visual impact of that; and being stuck at home, going nowhere, and following the different social media accounts of other activists, who are also artists, and listening to how to challenge everyone. There was one disability rights activist, in particular, I was listening to. Her name is Walela Nehanda and she was talking about the potential of the artist’s role in liberation, in revolution, in bringing other people into awareness, in how we can plant seeds in others that might blossom. Listening to her and following her really helped move the needle for me of, ‘Wait. What I’m doing right now is actually not enough.’ I know I can’t do everything and I’m only one person, but that was part of the process of moving me toward this being something that I can do.
Q: On Tuesday, you’ll talk about the intersection of art and activism in your online artist talk with the Women’s Museum of California. What can people expect to hear, explore, and learn?
A: They’ll be hearing parts of what we talked about here. I know part of what my interviewer [from the Women’s Museum of California] wants to know is how did this project develop, what is it about art, in particular, that can help activate people and move them toward learning and meaning and being in community and trying something different? When we activate that creative piece, it kind of opens up new ideas and alternatives for us and what we might be willing to do or try, so I’ll be talking about art as a tool to connect us to what’s meaningful to us and to explore and to express. Whether that’s to express pieces of who we are, or to express dissent or outrage, or incredible grief; all these deep emotions and responses to these really difficult things that are happening in our world, art has the capacity to hold all of that. That’s part of what I’ll be talking about, as well as inviting people in.