March, April & May 2012
Protest art aims at engaging the attention of the public and provoke a reaction. Ever since art became the vehicle of individual self-expression it has been there throughout the history of social movements, wars and revolutions. Modern protest art was initiated probably by the Dada artists who used art as the weapon to criticize the irrational brutality of the World War I. Now protest art encompasses race, gender, colour and caste issues, neo-capitalism, political beliefs, social hierarchy or any kind of brutality towards human and nature.
Protest art means questioning the authority and thus it is subversive, anti-institutional and often a form of counter culture. Its mediums are diverse that include demonstrations, marches, signs, posters, banners, performances, installations, music, songs, literature, comics, theatres, paintings, graffiti, photographs, video art etc. With the advent of new media, both printed and virtual, protest has ceased to be localized that targeted a comparatively small circle of audience. Transcending geographical boundaries, social classes, language barriers and the white cube of a gallery space its voice is universal and all-encompassing.
‘Protest artist’ is not a generic term. Any artist, as a socially conscious being, can be infuriated by any event, any injustice and express his/her anger through his/her chosen medium. There are many politically charged pieces of fine art - such as Picasso’s Guernica, some of Norman Carlberg's Vietnam war -era work, or Susan Crile's images of torture at Abu Ghraib and among Indians Husain’s Safdar Hashmi, Bikash’s Naxal Period, Shuvaprasanna’s Change, and works of Frida Kahlo, Goya, Andy Warhol, Dali, Van Gogh to Mona Hatoum, Ai Weiwei, Larissa Sansour, Banksy among others. For example Willie Bester is one of South Africa's most well known artists who originally began as a resistance artist. His works commented on important black South African figures and aspects important to his community. Another artist, Jane Alexander, has dealt with the atrocities of apartheid from a white perspective. Her resistance art deals with the unhealthy society that continues in post-apartheid South Africa.
Guerilla Girls is feminist group who has been fighting gender discrimination in the fine arts world since the group’s formation in 1985. It began with the exhibition titled "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture" hosted by the Museum of Modern Art where out of 169 artists only 17 were women. Later their area of protest included women artists of colour as well. The group, working internationally, arranged for protest marches, surveys and used mass advertising media such as posters, stickers, billboards, slogans etc. The members of the group, once they joined, took up pseudonyms preferably of dead women artists and to remain totally anonymous, they wore gorilla masks. In 2011, the group split into three independent organization as the original group ceased to exist.
Object Orange (formerly Detroit. Demolition. Disneyland.) is an artistic project in Detroit, Michigan which seeks to draw attention to dilapidated buildings by painting them orange. The project is composed of local artists, who go by their first names only (Christian, Jacques, Greg, Mike and Andy) for fear of prosecution. James Canning, communications coordinator for the Mayor's office of Detroit, views the artists' actions as unlawful and vandalism, stating that any demolitions which took place following the project's painting expeditions have been coincidental. The artists chose the colour "Tiggerific Orange" from the Disney paint catalogue by Behr for its similarity to traffic cones and the safety orange worn by hunters.
Graffiti has long appeared on railroad boxcars and subways. The one with the longest history, dating back to the 1920s and continuing into the present day, is Texino.
During World War II and for decades after, the phrase "Kilroy was here" with accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and its filtering into American popular culture. Shortly after the death of Charlie Parker (nicknamed "Yardbird" or "Bird"), graffiti began appearing around New York with the words "Bird Lives". The student protests and general strike of May 1968 saw Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchist, and situationist slogans such as L'ennui est contre-révolutionnaire ("Boredom is counter-revolutionary") expressed in painted graffiti, poster art, and stencil art. In the U.S. at the time other political phrases (such as "Free Huey" about Black Panther Huey Newton) became briefly popular as graffiti in limited areas, only to be forgotten. A popular graffito of the 1970s was the legend "Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You", reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that U.S. president. A Documentary Film, Radioactivists: Protest in Japan in Fukushima, is taken under by two German Filmmakers, Julia Leser and Clarissa Seidel. This film is about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident which happened on 11th March, 2011.
Peredvizhniki (Russian: often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants in English, were a group of Russian realist artists who in protest at academic restrictions formed an artists' cooperative; it evolved into the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions in 1870.
In the forthcoming March, April and May issue we shall deal with the varied kinds of protest art we have come across whether it is an individual protest or through a movement. The writers will be focusing on violent protestations in the History as well as recent, ‘Middle East’, ‘Arab Spring’, 'Animal Rights Organization Anima Naturalis', ‘Occupy Wall Street’, 'Beijing's Artist Village Gallery', ‘Nandigram’, etc.