Courtesy of David Alcantar
As the final votes rolled in for the 2016 presidential election, local artist David Alcantar found himself upset, mostly for his wife and young daughter, that the United States had chosen as its new leader someone who “appeared to be contrary to American principles and ideals.”
“I was asking myself, ‘How could this country elect a person of such character?’” Alcantar said. “What was the negotiation that had to take place in order for this to happen?”
The answer Alcantar finally landed on was that in Donald Trump, Americans were looking for a savior — someone outside the political establishment who would rescue them from their hopeless situations.
“They put a lot of faith in this man,” Alcantar said. “In my opinion, everything that he promised hasn’t turned out to be true at all.”
As a direct result of the 2016 election, Alcantar decided to start a new artistic endeavor, the Superman Project. The undertaking began as a way to question the idea of heroism and the desire for salvation. Who better, Alcantar thought, than Superman to represent everything a superhero should stand for?
“The relationship between America and Superman is actually quite interesting and enduring,” Alcantar said. “Superman is a fictional character. He doesn’t exist in the real world, but we respond to the idea of him as if he were a real person.”
The Superman Project started with what Alcantar knew best — visual art. He drew and painted pieces that focused on Superman’s iconography as it relates to political discourse. In one drawing, Superman tells Trump how much he trusts him as president. Then, Trump responds with his infamous “Grab ‘em by the pussy” monologue.
Courtesy of David Alcantar
In another piece, Superman stands boldly, fists clenched as he says, “It was Krypton that made me Superman, but it is Earth that makes me human.” Behind him, text from the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act speaks to the policies the Trump administration has passed making it harder for legal immigration to take place. The irony, of course, is that Superman is an undocumented immigrant.
“Superman wasn’t even born here,” Alcantar said. “He’s not actually an American, but we claim him very readily and happily as our hero and champion.”
Over the past four years, the Superman Project has evolved depending on what has taken place during the Trump administration. For example, Alcantar’s ears perked up when rapper Kanye West visited the White House in October 2018 and compared a Make America Great Again hat to Superman’s cape. Alcantar riffed on the incident, drawing West wearing the MAGA hat and saying, “This hat gives me a different power in a way ... It made me feel like Superman … You made a Superman cape for me.” Above West is a drawing of Superman breaking through a curtain to the chants of, “USA! USA! USA!”
“It’s been difficult to keep up with everything that has happened since Trump took office,” Alcantar said. “But when Kanye explicitly mentioned Superman, it was perfect, so I knew I had to use it. I would say my artwork for this project became more refined as the presidency continued.”
As Alcantar developed his artwork, he also expanded the project into performance art and writing, including an unpublished editorial titled “How to be a Superman in a Lex Luthor Presidency.” In 1986, comic book writer and artist John Byrne re-envisioned the villain Lex Luthor as a rich and powerful businessman in his Man of Steel series, modeling the character after Trump. In the article, Alcantar shared how helpless he felt when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died in late September and how he worries it will change the country moving forward.
“So many of the world’s problems would be but nuisances if there were a Superman,” Alcantar wrote. “But there is no Superman. There is only us — mere mortals.”
Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Alcantar added another component to his Superman Project. He titled the performance art piece “The American.”
As part of the performance, the mild-mannered artist runs throughout the city wearing a Superman T-shirt and tiny red shorts while waving a massive white flag with the word “Vote!” emblazoned on it.
Alcantar hoped his runs would encourage voters to get to the polls.
“The message that I wanted people to get is that the power that they seek rests within,” he said. “It is their own doing that is going to determine whether they get saved or not. Fundamentally, that’s the lesson of Superman. He doesn’t want to rescue you. He wants you to rescue yourself.”
To see more of the Superman Project, visit Alcantar’s Instagram page.
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