The Art of Protest: Political Art and Activism

The Art of Protest: Political Art and Activism. Published by Gestalten. Edited by Alain Bieber & Francesca Gavin. Bieber is the artistic director of the cultural institution NRW-Forum Düsseldorf. He used to run rebel:art which was one of my favourite art blogs. Gavin is contributing editor at a number of magazines. She has curated exhibitions across Europe. The one titled Mushrooms: The art, design and future of fungi was a particularly exciting one.

Finally! A book with lots of photos. A book I can lend to friends who have very very little patience for art. A book that makes art and activism digestible to all and that is full of great artistic discoveries for me.

The Art of Protest: Political Art and Activism adopts a very broad approach on activism and art. I think that to be efficient, engaging and truly political, art has to exit museums and galleries, to meet people wherever they are. Unless of course artists live in countries where politically-motivated practices might land them in jail. The authors of the book, however, have selected not only artists who take their work to the streets but also painters, photographers and practitioners whose work seldom moves outside of exhibition spaces. It makes for an energetic collection of politically engaged artworks that look at rising inequality (and its corollary rising nationalism), environmental degradation, discriminations of all kinds, authoritarian regimes, digital disinformation and the historic legacy of colonialism on culture and society.

Halil Altindere, Ballerinas and Police, 2017

Vincent Valdez, The City I, 2015–16 (detail)

The thematic chapters, on subjects as diverse as digital activism and intersectionality, sum up the questions explored by artists in a clear and efficient way. Overall, I found that the book defends with brio the role that art can play in shaping new imaginaries, articulating incoming crises and giving a sense of hope.

The geographical distribution of the artists selected deserves one last comment. I applaud the effort to present artists from Africa (albeit mostly from South Africa) and Latin America. There is an overwhelming presence of artists from North America. Fortunately, many of them are from very diverse backgrounds. Germany and Switzerland are disproportionately represented compared to other European countries like Italy, Poland, Romania or Belarus. There aren’t many artists from the Middle East or Asia either. Still, compared to most art books, the diversity representation is far from being disgraceful.

Yael Bartana, Two Minutes to Midnight, 2021

Yael Bartana, Two Minutes to Midnight, 2021

Elena Tejada-Herrera, The Girls Train to Fight, 2019

Miao Ying, Blind Spot – Words censored by, 2007. Photo by Alex Lau

Center for Political Beauty, Eating Refugees, 2016

Rael San Fratello and Colectivo Chopeke, Teeter-totter wall, 2019

Paula Baeza Pailamilla, Mi cuerpo es un museo, 2019. Photo: Lorna Remmele

Böhler & Orendt, Give us, Dear, 2013

Andrea Bowers, My Name Means Future (still), 2020

Dillon Marsh, For What It’s Worth, 2014-2016

Critics Company, Timothee (Sci-fi Short Film), 2021

Dineo Seshee Bopape, +/-1791 (monument to the haitian revolution 1791), 2017

Marianna Simnett, The Needle & The Larynx, 2016

Eko Nugroho, Negeri Kaya Fatwa, 2013 and Mayoritas Dihalalkan Minoritas Diharamkan (The Majority Becomes Halal The Minority Becomes Illegitimate), 2013

Claudius Schulze, TQ1066 RP5013.18, 2018

Book spreads:

Previously: Michael Rakowitz. The invisible enemy should not exist, Art and Climate Change, The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art, Caps Lock – How Capitalism Took Hold of Graphic Design, and how to Escape from it, etc.