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Robin Bell, artist and anti-Trump activist
Bell projected the phrases "Donald Trump harassed or assaulted twenty women". Photo: Liz Gorman /

by Cyril Julien / Gilles Clarenne

WASHINGTON (AFP).- Robin Bell, multimedia artist and Donald Trump foe, regularly projects messages onto the facade of Trump International Hotel in Washington to "visually" denounce the American president's policies.

On Tuesday, just before Trump delivered his State of the Union address before Congress, Bell projected the phrases "Donald Trump harassed or assaulted twenty women" and "Congress: Investigate Trump" on the hotel.

The hotel is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, a straight shot to Capitol Hill.

"The day of the State of the Union speech, it is important to highlight the fact that Trump is a sexual predator," said Natalie Green, communications coordinator at women's rights group UltraViolet, which collaborated on the project.

In December, three women -- two of whom say Trump sexually harassed them -- asked Congress to open an investigation into alleged predatory sexual behavior by the president.

"Congress has a constitutional duty to believe these women and start an investigation, and it is a national embarrassment if they don't," Green said.

Commando operation
As with each of his projections, Bell and his team had prepared with the detail and secrecy of a commando operation. He drove up and parked his van across the street from the hotel, got out quickly to install his projectors on a sidewalk facing the historic building, turned the switch -- then waited for police to arrive.

"We are getting the message out, I'm happy," he told AFP.

Projections last between two and 40 minutes, "depending on how fast security reacts," according to Bell.

Bell insists that he remains entirely within the law, exercising his constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free expression in a public place, without damaging the building.

The artist says he uses his messages to create "specific visual markers" to denounce Trump and his family for their racism and nepotism.

"Our country is based on people coming in from all over the world and how we interact, and I do think what the Trump administration is doing is just shameful, and so we're doing everything we can to kind of highlight that -- shine a light and say no this isn't okay," said Bell, who began his career as a guerrilla street artist and political militant in 2005.

A Washington native, Bell has organized close to 20 nighttime operations against the Trump Hotel, an edifice he sees as posing a danger to American democracy.

"Foreign dignitaries and governments stay at Trump Hotel to get direct access to the president," said the 39-year-old who sports a tattooed right forearm, with tousled hair, sideburns and a mustache.

Late Saturday he projected "#NoMuslimBanEver" and "Reject Trump Hate" above the entrance to the former real estate magnate's luxury hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few hundred yards (meters) from the White House.

The policewoman who responded that evening remained pleasant and courteous, but things sometimes don't work out as well.

The projections took place on the first anniversary of the controversial travel ban that Trump signed as one of his first official acts but which took effect only in December after a drawn-out legal battle. The Supreme Court will be reviewing challenges to the law, which critics denounce as discriminating against Muslims.

'Very cathartic'
In mid-January, Bell drew attention -- and saw his work go viral -- by projecting the phrase "This place is a shithole."

Trump was quoted as applying the phrase to African countries and Haiti, drawing a wave of international condemnation. The president later denied using the slur.

"Not a DC resident? Need a place to stay? Try our shithole. This place is a shithole," successive messages read, surrounded by smiling poop emoji.

That projection was done in collaboration with Matt Ornstein, director of the political documentary "This is Not Normal," about the 2016 presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency.

Several of the building-front performances have gone viral on social media. A photo of the "shithole" projection was viewed six billion times around the world within 24 hours, according to the artist.

The facade of the Trump hotel is not the only "canvas" Bell has decorated.

He has projected messages critical of Trump energy policies on both the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency and the convention center hosting the Washington Auto Show. He has also projected his views on buildings in New York and Los Angeles.
"It is very cathartic," Bell said of his work.

"If I were alive when horrible things happened during World War II what would I have done? I'm just projecting things on a wall, but it's at least doing something."

© Agence France-Presse

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