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Photography Robin Bell

This artist projected ‘shithole’ onto Donald Trump's hotel

Earlier this week Trump deemed Haiti and countries in Africa as ‘shithole countries’

Over the past year, Robin Bell and his team of artists based in Washington DC have made it their mission to create conversation around the controversial premiership of President Trump through projecting words onto their local Trump hotel. This weekend, the words Bell chose were, “Not a DC resident? Need a place to stay? Try our shithole. This place is a shithole” alongside an animation of the smiling poo emoji spilling outwards from the entrance of the building – much to the glee of passersby (and the internet). 

Earlier this week Trump deemed Haiti and countries in Africa as “shithole countries”, in a statement about immigration. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” The Washington Post reports he said after being presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from those countries. Despite his denials, the reaction to Trump's words has been swift. The UN's African Union said in a statement that they were “extremely appalled at, and strongly condemn the outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks attributed to the President of the United States of America”.

We spoke to Robin, who started making art of a political nature after he was falsely arrested at protests, about why he's chosen to create projections which challenge Trump's racist rhetoric:

How did this all begin?

Robin Bell: The first one we did this was was almost a year ago – a couple weeks after Trump after was elected. We did a homage to a DC punk rock protest meme, which was ‘Experts Agree: Trump Is a Pig’.


Robin Bell: Since then we've done 15 more. The fifth one got international attention: ‘Pay Trump Bribes Here’. We've been going back and it's become a place we like to project onto. It's extremely site-specific, and it's endemic of a lot of the problems that we have with Donald Trump and the administration. The building used to be public land – it was the old post office pavilion. Trump rents the property from the government. So there's a conflict of interest – a lot of people see it as being a public entity that's being used in a corrupt way. And on top of that, foreign dignitaries stay at the hotel so they can gain access to the president and organisations will set up their meetings and conferences at the Trump hotel because if you're spending a quarter of a million at the Trump hotel, someone will know. It was the one spot where we could visually show that corruption.

What did you think about the statement Trump made about Africa and Haiti?

Robin Bell: It's mind-boggling that a president would openly – or even behind closed doors – call them shithole countries. With the projections, we did about six or seven different things, but obviously ‘shithole’ is the one that's going to go viral. The Trump administration is going after immigrants in a way that is so frightening. A lot of people who have emigrated here with refugee status are being told that they need to go back home. I live in a Latino neighbourhood and there's a lot of El Salvadorian people here and they're making over 200,000 El Salvadorians go home. There are 32,000 people from that country who live in our area. So I'm literally looking across the street at people who are being kicked out. Just this week we heard rumours there would be an ICE immigration raid at the convenience store across the street from my house.

Normally I specifically don't use foul language in my projections. For the past year people have been asking me to write ‘Fuck Trump’ on the wall. It's just not the kind of art I want to create. But he brought that word into the domestic and global conversation meant that it was open. If CNN posts up shithole, it's still vulgar but it's within public discourse. This comment might even create a shutdown of the federal government next week, which is insane. 

And your projections are a way of challenging that?

Robin Bell: When we do the projections it's not so much to piss off Trump than to let people know around us that it's not okay. We see what he's doing and we're really trying to make a message that will get out to the rest of the world that it shocks us just as much as it shocks you. It feels like some of the scariest things in history are happening right now. But at the same time, we can't be too doom and gloom so something like ‘shithole’, which is funny but highlights the issue, gives people energy to have the conversation.

How do you get away with doing the projections without getting in trouble?

Robin Bell: We're fast, and we've done this enough that we know how to get in and out. By the time they called the police we were out of there. Our beef is with the Trump administration, not the police. To the best of our knowledge, this is technically legal.

And what are the reactions to your work usually like?

Robin Bell: It gives people hope. By and large people on the street love what we do. We have an insane amount of support. Not everyone on the internet is nice to us but we've had so many people reach out to us. When we first did it I thought someone might come up and punch me in the face! Instead, cars will stop and honk and cheer. There's a lot of people in this country who are not on board. We should create as much art as we to connect us.

Thanks Robin, keep doing what you do.