Basharat Bashir

Art and Activism

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Art has always been used to fascinate viewers in the first-place but most importantly art has a kind of power that can be utilized to make an impact. An impactful art has the tendency to do more than just grab the attention, whether it’s for beautification or created for resistance, it can leave an impression on its spectators. The artist and the artwork resemble each other and intentionally or unintentionally an artwork is becomes an expression of self, but the artwork although it’s a self expression can also represent a whole society, connect many hearts and impact many minds. So, art is closely connected to the society and it is always proven effective as a means of activism. Art and activism are both meant for revealing fact and reality. Through various mediums of art, powerful messages can be conveyed across the various language and cultural barriers. Art can trigger ideas for both the artist and the audience, and pose a question to think critically about different approaches to activism. Also, art is essential for activism because, if something can make an impact it will definitely leads to the change. Describing art is difficult as it can take on so many physical and emotional forms. But, the goal of art has always been to evoke a certain meaning or feeling among viewers. Therefore, art activism combines the creative skills of the arts to emotionally connect us to a form of activism where the goal is some sort of social change or political change.

“Activist art” is a term used to describe art that addresses political or social issues.This represents and includes aesthetic, sociopolitical, and technological developments that have attempted to challenge and complicate the traditional boundaries and hierarchies of culture as represented by those in power. Activist art practice emerged partly out of a call for art to be connected to a wider audience, and to open up spaces where the marginalized and excluded can be seen and heard. The intersection of art and activism has always existed, through protest art and shared messages of hope through graffiti and street art.“Protest art” is yet another term for the resistant artworks, these are creative art works produced by activists and artists in social movements. It’s a traditional means of communication, utilized by a cross section of collectives and the state to inform and encourage citizens.  Protest art helps to awake base emotions in their audiences and to make them aware with their sufferings, generate new opportunities to dissent and creates a kind of pressure on tyrants. Activist and Protest art acts as important tool to form social consciousness, create networks, operate accessibly, and be cost-effective. Social movements produce such works as the signs, banners, posters, and other printed materials used to convey a particular cause or message. Performance, site-specific installations, graffiti and street art are also part of protest art, and it also crosses the boundaries of Visual arts genres, media, and disciplines.

As awareness of social justices around the world became more common among the public, an increase in protest art was witnessed. There are many examples of protest art that can be found in early 1900s, like Picasso’s Guernica painted in 1937. From last thirty years we have witnessed and experienced a great increase in the number of artists adopting protest art as a style to transmit a message to the public. Campaigns around the world, such as the #ClimateStrike movement by Greta Thunberg and the #BlackLivesMatter movement following the death of Trayvon Martin in February 2012,#CAAmovement in 2019 #Farmer’s movement in 2020 sparked international cries via social media and web platforms. There, people around the world shared messages of support and solidarity for these global movements and world events. However, art activism has existed for generations. The following are a few examples of recent movements that can lie under the banner of art activism.

Painting titled “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso painted in 1937 during the Spanish civil war, is considered to be one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history. It is painted in monochrome in gray, black, and white, portraying the suffering of people and animals in the face of the violent Nazi bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in Northern Spain. It was a powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the devastating bombing.

The painting “Flag Day” painted in 1966 during the Civil Rights Era painted by American artist and activist Benny Andrews. This powerful image poses many questions on American government; Is the man protected by the flag, or imprisoned by it? Whose freedom is safeguarded by the American flag? Can the flag be used to reinforce oppression? The image was relevant to that time but it is still resonant in recent society of America.

A literary movement in Assam called “Miya poetry” is a reclaiming of one’s Muslim identity by the Bengali-origin Muslims of Assam; protest poetry that rebels against subjugation and oppression. Miya poetry seeks answers to the questions of belonging and citizenship. It echoes the fears of a community threatened by exclusion from the NRC — the National Register of Citizens.

The work series ‘Indelible Black Marks’ by Kulpreet Singh created in 2021 is a mirror to the society at large. It was the outcome of the peaceful protests in the farmer’s movement in India turning violent and resulting in those unforgettable losses and experiences by the use of sticks and stones, and water-cannons, be it the rioters or the political dispensation.  A large-scale public performative and visual art intervention recreates violent scenes and atrocities to capture those actions into marks.Cotton cloth, black ink, sticks, stones and water canons were the medium used in the work.

Pillar of Shame is a series of sculptures done by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt in the remembrance of the loss of lives during specific events or caused by specific circumstances in history. Each sculpture is an eight-metre tall statue of bronzecopper or concrete. The first sculpture was inaugurated at the NGO Forum of the FAO summit in Rome in 1996. Since then three other pillars have been created, in Hong KongMexico, and Brazil.“Pillar of Shame” at the University of Hong Kong marking the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed recently. The removed statue depicts a column of piled-up torn and twisted corpses with anguished faces to commemorate the hundreds – possibly thousands – of pro-democracy protesters killed by Chinese authorities in 1989.It was one of the few remaining public memorials in Hong Kong commemorating the incident. Its removal comes as Beijing has increasingly been cracking down on political dissent in Hong Kong.


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