I am pleased to be entrusted with the honour of editing the next three issues of Art etc. news & views, which focuses on Protest Art.
In April 2009, I was instrumental in initiating an exhibition titled Art Against Terrorism in collaboration with nine major galleries of the city. This was followed up with a show Social and Political Injustice: Trends in Contemporary Art in September, 2011 at Aakriti Art gallery. Hence the seed of this idea had already been sowed, but, I felt it needed some more divergent paths to fulfill the theoretical obligations that a concept of such dimension demanded. For this a fair amount of research had to be done from pre-war era to the 21st century socio-political protest movements. The team at the office thought that my previous initiative and experience in dealing with this kind of a project could be more meaningful if I could take the role of an editor of these three issues.
When you say Protest Art, the first image that comes to your mind from the history of art is that of Picasso's Guernica. There is raw power and enormous angst hidden in every shade of this huge dark work by Picasso in protest of the combined German and Italian bombing of the Basque Country on April 26, 1937 at the order of the Spanish Nationalist Forces during the Spanish Civil Wars. Besides the pictorial inventiveness of the forms drawn upon the support structure, Guernica probably remains one of the most influential images of a voice of protest.
But protest Art has many other shades. There has, and will always be a confrontation between the creative and the systematic, and protest art is actually a result of this confrontation between creative minds and the system be it social, political, cultural or bureaucratic. There are several examples across the globe in different phases where creative minds have taken significant steps to build up a discourse on social and political issues through their artistic practices to engage the attention of the public and provoke a reaction. Ever since art became the vehicle of self-expression it has been there throughout the history of social movements, wars and revolutions. In this issue, we focus on the history and historical metamorphosis of Protest Art.
Protest can be delineated by ridiculing the modern bourgeois social structure or critically manifesting the brutality of war through personal chaos giving an account of an anarchist ideology the Dada movement initiated by some artists from Europe in the post-world war period. On the other hand, the tortured and mutilated visions of suffering have found an intense sense of despair in the portraiture of the dark forces of panic, terror, fear and hysteria. A revolutionary national fervour with respect to anti-Government and anti-American demonstrations was documented in various modes of visual representations by the artists in their works of the post world war-II era. How the present civilization has reacted to the recent representations of anarchy and how rational we have been in our understanding and analysing political scenarios such as the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo incidents and give unbiased representations of the same is of critical importance to our consciousness.
The essence of sharing real space alongside life-size sculptures magnifying the deformities, wounds and pain, psychologically invades the personal idiom to narrate a story of conflict, gender discrimination and violence. Jane Alexander's works give an account of the deep political and social understanding of the history and identity of the apartheid movement in South Africa.
The political instability and role of dictatorial regime of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries accounting for the intermingling of religion and politics saw the outpouring of hatred visualized in the street art of the region. The art of graffiti has been further embellished by the visual statements with regard to poverty, child abuse and anti-establishment to anti- capitalism in the works of Banksy who has stenciled his bold socio-political protest statements in a satirical nature.
In America, Object Orange (formerly Detroit. Demolition. Disneyland.) is a project conceived and executed by local artists in Detroit, Michigan which seeks to draw attention to dilapidated buildings by painting them orange. 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.
The Peredvizhniki (Russian: often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants in English), were a group of Russian realist artists who in protest against academic restrictions formed an artists' cooperative; it evolved into the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions in 1870 and was active till 1890. Rebelling against the taste of the aristocratic rich culture and the conservative norms laid down by the Academy, the cooperative aimed to erase the distinction between high and low art by reaching out to the different sections of the society, thus making people aware about the larger content existing in Russian art.
The desire to love, to be loved, hate, cry and be respected found a new form of angst in the works of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The gaze of her own-self gave her reason to understand life against the undercurrents of the phenomenology of her behavioural response, protesting against the spectatorship of art.
I have aimed to decipher these and many other genres of Protest Art from the historical perspective in this issue. In the forthcoming issue, I propose to focus upon Groups and Movements in Protest Art and the last would be on Contemporary and 21st Century protest. It is in keeping with this perspective that I present this issue of Art etc. news& views the first on Protest Art. This issue will also be available at the upcoming Art Dubai and Art Chennai Fairs.
Hope you like this attempt, which to my knowledge will be the first in documenting protest art cover-to-cover at least as far as niche Indian publications go.