Is Activism an Art?: The Creativity of Change

Art is a form of expression which has the powerful capacity of illustrating narratives and perspectives, which might be open to interpretation or be direct. Since the days of cave paintings, art has been a vital mode of communication of political trends around the world. In today’s age, protests have become a commonality, and all of them have one language in common art. Whether it be street plays or posters, one is bound to find art in some form or the other in a protest.


What is this Form of Art?

Protest art are creative works which arouse base emotions in people, and in return may increase the climate of tension and create new opportunities to dissent. It includes performances, graffiti, street art, but is not limited to these. It’s not made or performed within the confines of the four walls, but rather on streets and public spaces. As art takes lesser financial resources, more people even if they aren’t professionals can participate and do their part for the ongoing protest. 

Protest art acts as an important tool to form social consciousness, create networks, and operate accessibly. It helps challenge traditional boundaries and rules set by those in power without shying away from the violence of resistance. There are many pieces of protest art, ranging from Norman Carlberg’s Vietnam war-era work to the work of the Guerilla Girls.

What is an Artist’s Role?

An artist helps voice the discontent of people. By giving a voice to the unheard, they help in creating a language for those who are voiceless, which not only places their political speech at fore but also makes the world conscious of the critical truth. In many cases, female artists have created protest art to honour women. One such example of this is of Paula Rego.

The Portuguese artist, in 1998, created a series of work in response to her country’s government taking steps to legalise abortion. Each canvas depicted the image of a woman undergoing an unsafe abortion. 

Paula Rego commented on her works as well, saying, “It highlights the fear, pain, and danger of an illegal abortion, which is what women have to resort to. It’s incredibly wrong to criminalise women for this. Making abortions illegal is forcing women to an unwanted solution. I’m doing what I can with my work, but both men and women need to stand up to this.” 

However, artists need to be careful about the art they create. While creating art, they need to be wary of whether their art could trigger someone. With the help of a search engine like Google, which allows us to know about any matter in a minute, it’s important that an artist must have knowledge of the issue before creating. 


Why is it Important?

20th-century philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, “All art is an uncommitted crime.” By writing so, he meant that by its very nature, art has always challenged the status quo. Throughout history, artists have reacted against various inequalities by standing up for the marginalised and voiceless. This form of art can influence the thinking of the general public. Another essential feature is that languages often divide people, as it’s challenging to get past this barrier. However, art can make the same message accessible and universal. 


Social Media

With the rise of social media, anyone can post a form of protest art paintings, writings, photography, etc. Everyone has equal visibility to share their own message. However, it’s important that in times like these, we amplify the voices of the marginalised communities. It’s tough to speak up when your community is being attacked, and it’s essential to let those who can still speak about these issues raise their voices. 

Another aspect of social media is that of anonymity. Many artists are uncomfortable with revealing their identity, unsure of what could happen to them if they do. One such example took place in Hong Kong in 2019. Artists adopted imagery to create logos, graphics, and illustrations which were published on Telegram. Due to the fear of execution, most artists worked anonymously, taking the example of Phesti. Phesti took up imagery from local subway signs to create a logo of many figures holding hands. The image, with the slogan “HongKongers Stand as One,” immediately went viral. 

As protests continue even during the pandemic whether it be in India for the Hathras case or in the USA for Black Lives Matter the question that arises is how helpful is protest art? Protest art might not be able to overthrow regimes, but in the end, it seeks to change the perspective of people or show light on a previously ignored element. A shift in the way we perceive the world can go a long way in setting into motion the changes we want to see.

Written by Kaavya Azad for MTTN

Featured Image by Akshaya Ramesh for MTTN

Image Sources: Guerilla Girls, Paula Rego, Phesti

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