Activist art

“If anything, art is […] about morals, about our belief in humanity. Without that, there is simply no art” -Ai Weiwei

Art is everywhere and, arguably, everything. We are now interconnected in ways that we would have never deemed possible years ago. The world is an active global community that could transform our struggles into a harmony that we would be proud to share.

Perhaps, to some, this may seem too idealistic, but I believe that this is because the world has forgotten how to bond and/or are denied the time to unite. Art has meaning to us all : by this I mean all that we encounter shapes our identity in whatever way we choose. With this in mind, art has the potential for igniting feeling in all of us, and it can cause us to analyse our actions and behaviours. If politics and art have one thing in common, it is the ability to raise questions.

Ai Weiwei’s quote can resonate with every one of us. As a political activist, he has been highly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated the cover-ups surrounding the “tofu-dreg schools” that came to attention after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. His activist art consisted of a blog that revealed his own findings and debated the issue at hand; after a gathering of followers, this was eventually shut down by Chinese officials. Further, he and his team collectively covered the Haus der Krunst building with 9,000 student backpacks to spell out the cries of acknowledgement from families. Given that this is a historical and famous construction, the act had a great impact. Slowly, more deaths have been counted, though all of the children have yet to be named and, therefore, have their short lives recognised and remembered.

This movement has been incredibly successful when one considers the strength of the Chinese government and the global credit that Ai Weiwei has received for shedding light on this issue. Although we have not all directly been affected by the circumstances in China, we can all experience it through his artwork.

It is this activity of interpretation and emotional involvement that erupts a fire within us and allows us to respond.

Does this mean that we all instantly take action after staring at a painting? Of course not. Political artist Chris Jordan, known for giving statistics meaning, voices that “if we can feel these issues – then they’ll matter to us – then we’ll be able to find in each one of us the question ‘how do we change?’ – ‘how do we each individually take responsibility to the one piece of the solution that we are in charge of ?’ – I’m not pointing the finger in a blaming way – we have a choice”.

His project Running the Numbers creates images through pictures of non-recycled plastic cups, where he digitally reproduces the exact 4 million cups that U.S Airline flights waste per day. Through art, statistics become visible and apparent. We can no longer deny our behaviour. Art allows us to comprehend the full scale of our actions.

When we are all too busy with increasingly demanding lives, focusing on our own contribution can seem benign. On an individual level we may not be globally influential, but as a community we are much more. Maybe when society allows us to take time for ourselves and cherish what is important to us, we will all be able to forcibly be politically involved. Until then, our small choices make for a big impact. Maybe you don’t consider yourself much of a civil power, but we all have feeling. We all have art.


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May 2022
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