An expeditious conclusion when contemplating on art in 2017 is that it is starting to reflect how fucked up the world is. The world has always been unfair and full of oppression but people are beginning to speak up intensely and demand change. Art happens to be a platform to convey a message or discontent. Throughout the years, artists have found different ways to find common ground between art and activism.
There is a fine line between contemporary art that is innovative and incomprehensible and therefore inaccessible. If no one but the artist and some snobby musty art historians with a monocle can understand what the art is about, what good does it do? But then again, if art has a clear-cut activist message, doesn’t it risk to be, well, boring? It also raises the question: “but is it art?” when the artwork merely consists of a straightforward political statement. However, if it aims to be politically challenging, should it be easy to be comprehended to be apparent to a broad audience?
We have The Guerilla Girls who refuse to put up with the female and minority representation within the arts and present tongue in cheek posters that challenge the conditions of the art world. They do so by presenting facts, like how many female solo exhibitions there were in New York Museums or percentages such as the amount of depicted female nudes in comparison to female artists. It’s politically engaged, inclusive due to its clear motive and message, and it never dull or uneventful. In their 2016 guide how to behaving badly, they point out that political art that just points at issues often preaches to the choir. Using humor to reach people who have a different opinion has a much better potential to change people’s mind.
Another example of political art that is not ambiguous or difficult to entangle is Jenny Holzer’s Truisms series. It is a collection of dead-on oneliners put on billboards, flyers, and t-shirts, that could be classified as cynical, moralistic, liberating or strident. Excellent examples are ROMANTIC LOVE WAS INVENTED TO MANIPULATE WOMEN or SELFISHNESS IS THE MOST BASIC MOTIVATION. You kinda get what she’s aiming for right? A picture of the truism printed on a billboard saying Abuse of power comes as no surprise stemming from the end of the 70’s became a token of the #metoo movement within the arts at the end of October. And honestly, it doesn’t come as a surprise, does it?
Another example of British street artist Barbi has created Lie Lie Land a parody of the hit movie La La Land. Only, in this case, we don’t see Emma Stone dancing with Ryan Gossling but it’s your fair-haired (who for the first time ever doesn’t look orange because it’s a black stencil piece) and most cherished politician: Donald Trump paired up with the other crowd pleaser Theresa May. I have no idea what the relation is between the dancing queens and the title but maybe I need another minute to think about it. Mmm, let me think let me think let me think.
All mentioned artists above are in a way straightforward and easy with a dash (or plenty) of humor. It still isn’t as palpable as writing “end oppression now” on a sign. It still makes you think about it, might invite you to relate it to your own thoughts and could potentially change your opinion if it offers you a new perspective. Due to their public manifestation, being a wall, flyer, poster, talk, or t-shirt, they reach a broad audience, also outside the gallery walls. And that’s what we want.