Art & Activism

According to many, art is activism. From Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel to the ‘All Black Lives Matter’ mural in the middle of Hollywood Blvd, such works of art usually has a message to authority – ‘our voices will not be stifled’.

Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo 1508-1512

Protest Art, Art of Resistance, Activist Art are creative works, produced to support social movements, inform citizens or criticize large bodies of authority, including the state. Often such work is considered to be a part of civil disobedience demonstrations and dissent.

This poster, created in 1987 by a group of six gay men in New York City to draw attention to the AIDS crisis, harkened back to the pink triangle’s use in Nazi concentration camps to identify homosexual prisoners — a symbol that was reclaimed by the LGBT community beginning in the 1970s as a symbol of pride. (source)

Unlike other forms of activism, art is not only friendly to the financially limited, but forms a tool to create awareness, networks and accessibility. Protest art includes installation, graffiti, street art, literature, flyers, banners etc. More often than not, it bypasses recognized institutions and commercial galleries to reach a wider audience, often by word; and in this age of technology, now by the internet.

The most prominent protest artist would perhaps be Banksy, an anonymous British street artist, political activist and film director. Active since 1990’s, they’ve been making satirical street art, commenting on inequality, capitalism, poverty etc. One of his more recent themes included freedom (piece called Create Escape).

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937 (source)

Other famous works of protest art include; Pablo Picasso’s Guernica – a black and white painting that depicts the suffering of humans and ungulates wrought by violence and chaos. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, death, dismemberment, and flames.

Susan Crile’s series on the torture at Abu Ghraib; a prison in Iraq used by American Soldiers to commit what now we know are war crimes. Forewarning, the full series of images are distressing and thoroughly horrific, representing physical and even sexual abuse, for the entire series visit the artist’s site here.

Today, Protest Art has been even more accessible thanks to the internet and social media. Here are some artists who continue to make art pertaining to issues of right now.

Inspired by the original, 1980’s anti-communist walls of Prague – influenced by John Lennon; ‘Lennon Walls’ of Hong Kong are where protesters both upfront and anonymous are filling walls with sticky notes in protest of police brutality and the extradition laws.

The BLM mural in a street in Charlotte, Seattle – a mural painted on the street by 17 artists, after protests over the deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of police officers.

Dabangg Dadi, Dabangg Amma & Sister – a poster illustrated by Anirban Ghoshi of women and a ‘Dabangg Dadi’ (Gangsta Grandma); Bilkis Dadi, an octogenarian who became the face of the Shaneen Bagh, Delhi protests against the injustice of the CAA & NRC in India.

Three Finger Salute by  Mg Pyi Thu

The ‘Three Finger Salute’ has become a symbol of protest in Myanmar this past year since the military coup in February. Occurring minutes before the swearing-in of newly elected member of parliament, the country’s military junta seized power which in turn has empowered civilians to speak for their freedom.

The milk tea alliance is a online democratic solidarity movement mainly made up of ‘netizens’ of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, and recently, has included India, just after the India-China border skirmish.

This movement throws light on the above mentioned protesting countries; adding Australia for calling for an investigation into the WHO for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand after their pro-democracy protest, Belarus for their protest in opposition to the presidential election and Philippines for pro-democratic protests against the sitting president.

Have you been a part of these protest or made your own art? Share them with us in the comments below!

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