A provocative and poignant display has been installed at the home of an Aurora city councilor, including a life-size effigy of U.S. President Donald Trump, lounging in a throne, surrounded by gravestones marked “COVID 19.”
The president’s likeness, which was constructed from hay and chicken wire and spray-painted a garish orange, is depicted as almost nude, with an American flag draped across his nether regions.
“We tried to replicate his smug smile,” Mercedes Rhoden-Feely, one of the creators of the display and owner of the home. She is also an attorney at a Portland firm and is currently seeking a second term on the Aurora City Council. “He has an iPhone and is tweeting about the coronavirus being under control in the USA.”
The screenshot is of a real tweet from Feb. 24, printed and taped to an old iPhone.
It reads: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
Since then, the United States has become — and largely, remained — the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 8 million of the world’s nearly 40 million cases and 219,000 deaths, approximately one-fifth of the global death toll of 1.11 million.
“The grief and death are beyond our comprehension,” Rhoden-Feely said, in explaining her motivation for the display. “Trump’s administration is one of divide and conquer. With the coronavirus, that means something which should not be political — the pandemic, the science, the suffering, the loss, and the heartbreak of this — has been made political.
“And that creates a disconnect with reality. It did not have to be this way.”
There are a total of 1,013 gravestones, each one cut, shaped, sanded and painted by hand. Some were stamped with a rubber stamp made by a friend of Rhoden-Feely’s; for others, the name of the respiratory disease was written in with Sharpie.
“We wanted to have enough to give perspective and still be visible from the road,” she said. “We wanted at least a 1,000 because the volume is what makes the impact. Though the exact number just happened to be what we got out of 60 4x1s.”
Building a scarecrow display for this time of year has become an annual tradition for Rhoden-Feely and her step-sister, Raynee Roberts.
They have not always been political — but timely messages of social justice and racial equity have dominated the past few years. In 2017, their hay sculpture was a kneeling Colin Kaepernick.
The next year, it was an effigy of Smokey the Bear, with a raised fist forming the “I” in the word “RESIST,” a rallying cry for social justice demonstrators and those opposed to the president and his backers. In 2019, a bloody President Trump stood over the small figure of a child in a wire cage.
“The first two years, we did the Headless Horseman and Jaws,” said Rhoden-Feely. “Then the world pushed us in a different direction. So, we’ve got this interest and a platform to do something creative and impactful. We hope to return to headless horsemen and fish.”
Rhoden-Feely and Roberts’ scarecrow figures are made from chicken wire and hay, but they often incorporate other materials. The throne used in this year’s display — inspired by the throne of America’s first adversary, King George III — is made of wood, staples, nails, screws and “a lot of Gorilla Glue.”
The throne is adorned with the letters “MAGA” and an oversized check to the United States Treasury for $750 — a reference to a financial analysis by The New York Times purporting to show the president paid only that much in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
“The plastic stars decorating it are handmade out of molding plastic — that was fun, long and hot!” Rhoden-Feely said. “The MAGA letters are store-bought and glued on. We painted the throne with metallic gold paint. It is upholstered with a red satin sheet stuffed with hay.”
The displays are typically made over three nights, but this one took longer because of the gravestones.
Asked about the reaction this year’s project has received, Rhoden-Feely said “a spectrum, which arches toward justice.”
“People often admire the work,” she said. “This year, I hope they take a moment to reflect on the loss those gravestones reflect.”
The display is located on Liberty Street in Aurora.
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