Activist art is a term used to describe art that is grounded in the act of ‘doing’ and addresses political or social issues.
The aim of activist artists is to create art that is a form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures rather than representing them or simply describing them. In describing the art she makes, the activist artist Tania Bruguera said, ‘I don’t want art that points to a thing. I want art that is the thing’.
Activist art is about empowering individuals and communities and is generally situated in the public arena with artists working closely with a community to generate the art.
1. Before you do the reading, think about the description of activist art above and then think back over the class and the artists, movements, and periods that we have discussed. Can you think of an artist that you have learned about in this class that fits into the above definition of activist art?
The following two links present a brief history of protest art from the Dadaists to today. Read the articles on the following links and then answer the questions below.
1. Define protest art. What does it mean to you? What kinds of issues to protest artists address?
2. We have come across Dada before when you had to watch the video of the sound poem performance by Hugo Ball (who wore the lobster claw suit). How does Dada fit into the above description of activist art? How is that performance an example of activist art?
3. What does the graffiti artist Banksy address in his work? Look up an example of his work and explain what is being protested.
4. Compare Banksy’s work to the Arab Spring movement. What is similar about them?
5. As you discovered in the reading, a lot of activist artists utilize graffiti in their practice. Why do you think these two things, graffiti and activist art, go so well together? What about graffiti lends itself well to protest artists?
6. Which artist/artist group did you read about that you found the most intriguing? Why?