Art in Protest


For many years, since first being introduced to Santiago Sierra I've been quietly fascinated with the art in protest and art as social change and art holding up a mirror and saying "THIS ISN'T RIGHT".  Many years ago now I took part in The Communist Gallery, held above a pub. The work I created for it is embarrassing (as we often feel about pieces created years ago), and I wish that I could have another go. This fascination extends to artists such as Ai Weiwei and Amalia Ulman through to so many others.

A while back now my Father bought me Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, written by Claire Bishop; a book that focus' on artworks that not only encourage the viewer to become part of the artwork, but that are political in nature and through these participatory methods promote and encourage liberal social relations. Throughout the book, Bishop brings the readers attention to not just the artworks and politics that have inspired the pieces, but also the ethics behind using the viewer as part of an artwork. The book questions not only the aesthetics of such work, but the ideologies behind them.

Infographic_V3_12_FIN_V2Art in protest can be seen in a variety of forms, from such works by Anthony Gormley (tame to some), to Phil Collins (no, not the singer). There is a discourse through art history that some seminal projects are not always included, as they do not fit the current idea of 'art'. Is there any reason why placards created for protests and marches are not an artwork in themselves? Holding a mirror to the lives we live, and the state of the world. Political artworks have been slowly gaining exposure under the watchful eye of the general public. Many populations enter into disagreement with their Governments (see Trump, see Cameron and the Tory Party, see Syria, see China, etc etc etc). Those of us on either political side will use the tools available to raise awareness of issues we see as troubling. Graphic Designers offer their services in an attempt to get an extra person to click that link or read that pamphlet, musicians write songs to be angry to, these events may well be immortalized in literature or theatre.

Political protest and social activism has a long entwined history with visual arts (also music; see The King Blues), art in protest[s] becomes a tool for solidarity and for that of spreading a message or messages. Art becomes an archiving tool, the ephemera from a moment in time when the creative world responded to the political climate, this ephemera able to inspire a younger generation into action. Art in protest has a longevity, Guerrilla Girls have been active since the 1980's and still aim to raise awareness and begin dialogues on men and women and art. Art in protest is centered less around aesthetics and more about substance. Art in protest transcends styles and movements and creates it's own bubble of 'political art', which is related to, but does not always include 'feminist art'.

Art in protest does have a tendency to (occasionally) hop aboard the angry-lefty-train, as being a social justice warrior becomes cool. To say that art is in protest against something, elevates it and the creator to a new level, the real art in protest comes from those pieces that have a soul and an in-depth awareness of what it is that is wrong. Ai Weiwei's piece on the Sichuan province earthquake and Sierra's 'NO' Global Tour are both examples where it is less about the artist and more about the under-lying issues that drive the artists practice. These artworks, too, introduce the viewer to events and concerns that may have otherwise passed them by, the viewer directed to empathise with victims of these injustices. And those individuals that feature in Ai and Sierra's artworks, are they exploited? Are their circumstances (and pain) fetishised in an attempt to encourage the public to care?

art of protest

Luzinterruptus managed to pair aesthetics and ideology beautifully, the resulting artworks calling attention to issues that many can relate to. The Luzinterruptus collective is one that inspires me constantly, despite my artwork being un-political. I am politically aware, but my artwork remains an escape from that. It has to for my own sanity and because I wouldn't know where to start making political work. The collective use art in protest to encourage the viewer to look and look hard, in a muchly similar way to Mark Jenkins, who uses simple and effective techniques. When pieces have a large story it seems that the best approach is simplicity.

It's the looking and thinking that is required of the viewer that inspires me so when we are confronted with such politically charged artworks. There's a questioning of the status quo and dialogs begin that are much needed. I cannot say that a political piece of art is better than one that is not, as they exist in different factions and have different reasons for coming into being. Those political pieces of art often have a dark backstory which can be more fascinating than the original artwork, but often the backstory to anything that is created from human emotion is touching. As it should be.

Art in protest draws the eye, and encourages participation, it becomes a tool to getting the message out and (especially online) encouraging someone to click that link. Art, in the broadest terms encourages inclusivity, a rallying together against rules and systems.