Raise hell, question authority … be patriotic. Langley gallery opens “Dissent.”

Some of the greatest figures of history were, in their deepest heart of hearts, dissenters.

Copernicus, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, Henry David Thoreau, Willem de Kooning, Che Guevara and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind and represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, it is the nonconformists who play the largest roles in the historical canons, having been remembered for what they believed to be truth even against all odds.

The great journalist Edward R. Murrow, himself a brilliant nonconformist, managed to censure the toxic Sen. Joe McCarthy during the senator’s nightmarish and misguided period of intense anti-communist suspicion in the 1950s.

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” Murrow said. “When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”

In this election season fraught with high emotions over saving the country from imminent economic disaster, terrorism and an environmental meltdown, Karlson/Gray gallery owner Wendy Sundquist had an epiphany.

Sundquist asked several local artists, as well as some friends, to try to capture the spirit of the times in a show called “Dissent.”

The result was everything from in-your-face political messages to swirling, troubled landscapes.

The show runs from Saturday,

Nov. 1 through Tuesday, Nov. 25 at Karlson/Gray Gallery.

“The idea for this show came to me last year when I was trying to learn more about each of the artists that show with us,” Sundquist said.

Sundquist took a tour of some of the artists’ studios.

“In several studios I visited there was often a piece sitting off in the corner that had some social commentary attached to it,” she said.

“These pieces were generally not part of the normal body of work of that artist.”

“Dissent” is the show that reveals those sometimes political and perhaps highly personal pieces that may never have made it to a gallery at all.

The show includes works on film and in mixed-media from filmmaker Richard Evans, who explores ideas of dissension even while using the very linear and sometimes binding form of film.

“That which is not seen may provoke interest in that which is not shown, only in that which can be imagined. No longer passive, the spectator writes his own story, draws his own conclusions. Thus engaged in the process, he becomes, as Brecht suggested, an active participant, a performer. He is no longer merely entertained, but involved in the creative act,” Evans said.

Artist Lee Wexler gave the group its provocative title, and the show evolved from there, Sundquist said.

Maxine B. Junge, who has worked in art therapy for many years, has submitted paintings that feature imagery about the current state of the mental health care system.

Wexler’s pieces reflect on the two-fold ability of dissent to make a bold cry to the world or to use silence to scream even louder.

Fara Mazzola Wexler’s images explore the dissension in the voice of a mother or the power of a chorus of women’s voices joined in anguish and rebellion.

“But as well as all of the other issues that this show touches upon, it is about our First Amendment right to have differing opinions and to be able to voice them,” Sundquist said.

America, she said, has never been so fractious.

“Never have passions run so high. There’s something in the air — something that is making us a little more argumentative.”

As author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote so eloquently: “No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.”

An artists’ reception for “Dissent” is 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1. For more information, call 221-2978.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com.