Basharat Bashir

Art from Praise to Protest

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Art has evolved as everything else with time and so are definitions that governit. Apart from modern period artists solemnly depended on elites who sponsored their art and thereby controlled it. For a long period of time artists served Elites (Monarchs, popes, rulers of any kid etc) praising them and their ideas. One could hardly find any kind of resistance from artists to the themes they were supposed to work on. Although artist developed their own style but art in general was not a form of personal expression but more like a skill harnessed and motivated by elites. In 19thcentury Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, managed to illustrate a series of etchings ‘Disasters of War’decrying the atrocities of war that he witnessed. Although his etchings were published much later but probably, he is the first artist who showed his disagreement with the official role of an artist at that point of time. Goya is regarded as last of the old masters and first modern artist and his disasters of war documentedthe actual horrors of the Peninsular War of 1808–14 between Spain and France under Napoleon Bonaparte.

Artists have played different roles throughout history and much of the time they were supposed to and paid for glorifying as well as propagating official notions.Their skill was admired and they had a great sense of composition which is applauded even today but, they were restricted to certain selected themes. With the advent of modern world and its emphasis on freedom of expression, democracy as well as the growing number ofpatrons artists were able to express themselves with subjective themes. There were many progressions within the art world that changed the definition of art. These were the first phases of artistic protest led to many art movements challenging the preoccupied notion of art and its role in society. Such art movements were revolutionary within the spectrum of art without much social or political purposes.  These were the movements of art for art’s sake.

In 1914 a deadliest global conflict in history ‘WWI’ changed the perception of human experience and along with it forced artists and thinkers to reconsider their approach in terms of representation. In response to the conflict a movement of protest art was launched in1916 by a German poet Hugo Ball. DADA a name that suffices the purpose of the movement questioning the absurdity lying within human behaviour leading to catastrophic events. Dada itself used absurd ways to highlight the uncontrolled and illogical predisposition of human actions. For Dadaists, it was a reaction to the way that a war that killed millions of people was fuelled by so-called reason. If that was sanity, surely choosing madness was preferable.

Dada changed the entire notion of art; it was a revolution that gave a new direction to the growing art scenes around the globe. For Dadaists, anything and everything could now be called art; it no longer meant fine paintings on walls or sculptures on plinths. The movement’s most famous piece was Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, a commercially-made urinal that the artist bought and then presented as an art work. Although dubbed as Anti-Art movement Dada played an immense role in shaping the world art scene. It gave more freedom to artists who followed allowing them to experiment whatsoever without any restrictions.

Protest in art first started within the dominion of art and subsequently entered socio-political realms. It developed gradually and within its journey it touched several issues and broadened its spectrum.Late 20thcentury and the beginning of 21st century saw a peak in protest art around the globe focussed on confronting tyrant governments as well as commentary on pluralism and identity politics. To rise against tyranny within the socio-political platform has never been so simple or easy and in many cases, artists have faced a huge grunt from governments. In the middle east as well as in Asian countries artists have been persecuted for their anti-regime art.But nothing has stopped artists from continuing their bold approach to denounce unjust policies and inequality despite efforts from people in power to supress them. In addition, the sense of democracy and freedom has given long-repressed and marginalised groups a chance to become more prominent in society, enabling artists from these groups to produce work that focuses on their experiences with injustice and inequality.

The shift of art from entertainment, amusement, and appreciation to more concreate socio-political commentary has enclosed all forms of art. There are many individual artists as well artists working in groups whose work has created a rift in mainstream art and power aligned politics. Banksy for example uses street art to speak the voice of people his ideas are universal most of which addresses current global problems. Gorilla Girls is yet another example of artists working in a group to address a common problem faced by women artists in terms of representation by recognized galleries and museums. Gorilla Girls an anonymous group of feminists formed in New York in 1985 is focused to address the problem of under-representation of women in the art world. they have made a name for wearing gorilla masks and creating posters and billboards with statistics in support of their cause.

One can find protest art in every part of the world with emphasis on social injustice, political hegemony, religious biasness as well as environment degradation. In India the famous Shaheen Bagh protest in 2019-2020 witnessed the participation of several artists who used wall paintings, performance art as well as music and poetry to denounce what they felt governments anti-people policies and laws. Art has changed both in its meaning as well as in its use, its no longer abiding to the rules and patterns dictated by elites. Its now a voice that pierces the deafest and resonates unimaginable response around the globe.   Having said that there are also instances when people in power manage to corrupt artists and make them a tool to propagate their propaganda. And to understand what is propaganda and what is not is a personal skill and that skill is not much hard to develop.

Kerry James Marshall

Kerry James Marshall is an American artist and professorborn on October 17, 1955. He is known for large-scale paintings, sculptures, and other objects that take African-American life and history as their subject matter. Marshall uses his art to challenge the marginalization of African Americans with the formal rigor contributed by his knowledge of art history, including Black folk art. His subject matter derives from Black culture and stereotypes, as well as his own life experience. Marshall’s paintings frequently burst with colour, but their central figures are always rendered in a rich, unmistakable black. The injustices of colonial regimes are strongly emphasised in his painting’s use of allegory and symbolism.

Marshall spent his childhood in the Watts neighbourhood of Los Angeles, California, and he witnessed the Black Power and Civil Rights movements happening around him. His childhood experiences had a significant impact on him which later revealed itself through his paintings. Marshall uses extremely dark pigments for his figures, a style that he developed during the early years of artistic career and eventually became his signature. The representation of black figures with colourful surroundings represents his perspective of African Americans, specifically black men with separate and distinct inner and outer appearances. Simultaneously, they fight racial prejudices in modern American culture. This recurring topic occurred in his work over the ensuing decades, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, and continues to do so in his most recent works.

Marshall is well known for his lavishly decorated, large, un-stretched acrylic paintings. His artwork blends rough-hewn realism with collage-like elements, signs, and vibrant, highly pattern-filled backgrounds that appear like populist signs. The eyes of elaborate inscriptions and images are frequently visible to viewers. Many of his works use visual techniques, and some of them frequently underrepresent the black middle class. His works of art are very much a part of the Black Arts movement. Being Black in America is a topic Marshall covers in his art, but he also examines race in relation to the “Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, housing projects, black beauty, and the political and social invisibility of Blacks.”

In a 1998 in an interview with Bomb Magazine, Marshall had said,”Black people occupy a space, even mundane spaces, in the most fascinating ways. Style is such an integral part of what black people do that just walking is not a simple thing. You have got to walk with style. You have got to talk with a certain rhythm; you have got to do things with some flair. And so, in the paintings I try to enact that same tendency toward the theatrical that seems to be so integral a part of the black cultural body.”


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