When artists set society free

From a certain point of the day, swearing is censored from television and bodies are carefully pixelated to preserve modesty. These barriers are created to protect the modern day audiences. In adolescence in particular, there is a fixation on rebellion for the sake of it and on breaking the limits through expression, whether it is Explicit Content t-shirts or listening to loud music with profanity and derogatory comments. However, I am more interested in art which breaks social limitations in order to broaden the public’s perceptions of biased and cruel elements of society.

The Guerilla Girls are a group of artists founded in 1985 who are famous for their feminist art which boarders on activism. Their most well known poster  ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the MET Museum?’ is currently on permanent display in the Tate Modern. Like the poster, their art is provoking and often accused of being too aggressive. However, the intensity of their work and the anonymity that comes from being hidden behind guerrilla masks makes these artists superheroes heroically breaking the unsaid limitations of the art world.

Even their pseudonyms, such as Kahlo, Kathe Kollowitz and Zubeida Agha, are the names of dead artists of the past and detract attention from their own specific careers to focus on promoting the female artists as a cause. They have most certainly made a stand against the limitations of the public art world in museums and galleries such as the Whitney, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan, which only until recently did not have any exhibitions purely by female solo artists. However, the movement is nowhere near finished. It now targets social media and the music industries with a new rendition of the MET Museum poster saying ‘Do women have to be naked to get into Music videos while 99% of the guys are fully dressed?’

David Hockney’s ‘We two Boys Together Clinging’, completed in 1961 when he was still a student at the Royal Academy of Art, shows two abstract figures. Set in a bathroom, it shows secrecy and its need to be hiddem from the public eye. The redness of the painting illustrates the passion and anger which many members of the gay community felt in a period when homosexuality was illegal. For this reason, the painting is personally endangering to Hockney in making a bold statement about his sexuality.

Like the Guerilla Girls, he has used text to convey a message to the viewer, for the painting’s title, written across the canvas, is a direct reference to the nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman. This shows a unification of the creative industries in order to defeat the primitive limitations of a severely homophobic society. The way that the letters of this title have been scrawled rather than neatly printed like a newspaper shows a naïve style which implies that homosexuality can be taught to children of a young age without being thought of in a prejudiced manner. The style itself can be attributed to the brutalist and abstract work of Jean d’Buffet. This brutalism hints at the danger of not only the painting, but those in circumstances relayed in the newspaper clip: ‘Two boys Cling to Cliff all Night’, portraying sacrifice and pain.

The contemporary American artist Kehinde Wiley also uses mixed media of paint and photography to recreate limiting racist and supremacist traditional art with empowering images of members of the black community. This can be traced from his early work in particular, which depicts members of the Harlem black community in paintings in the style of Rubens and Velazquez. Unlike Hockney or the Guerilla Girls, there is an element of playfulness which both appreciates and mocks old masters. This is most evident in Wiley’s Stain Glass window collection, reminiscent of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, in which subjects wearing hoodies and white trainers, often associated with violence, appear as saints or archangels in tranquil positions of prayer. These paintings both undermine racial stereotypes and reinvent cruel prejudiced perceptions in a humorous manner in order to work with rather than fight against their viewer.

The limitations of art are made in order to be broken. Many people see fine art in particular as irrelevant in an era of technology and social media. However, art is arguably as progressive in its projection of emotion. A viewer can experience any of the artists mentioned and feel a totally different experience to being sat in front of a computer screen, for they are catapulted back to a moment of time where the limitations that artists felt were broken and set free by their anger, pain, sadness or pride in order to create a more liberated society.


About Author



March 2021
Latest Comments
About Us

The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

If you would like to get in touch, email the Editor on Follow us at @ConcreteUEA.