Research area 1: Learning about Protest Art

  • Protest art is a broad term that refers to creative works made by activists or social movements. It’s aim is to question, satirize and rebel against issues or problems the artist disagrees with.
  • Protest art does not only exist in posters and slogans but can have many forms such as film, cartoon, theatre, sculpture, propaganda, installations and many more.
  • Protest art forms a key part of social protest and is a powerful tool that can target large business corporations and government, conveying messages and causes in compelling, emotive and sometimes controversial ways.

The primary function of protest art is to educate, question, shock and inform people of current economical, cultural, social, political and environmental issues.

This art form can be used to present more personal opinions or views of the artist to the public. Their art may translate their ideas into bold forms that the confront the viewer, making them challenge their own ideas.

People may employ art to help translate ideas or communicate issues to the general public that may well of gone unnoticed, if for example, they’re not reported by the news or are cohesive with popular beliefs and social norms.

Norman Rockwell’s ‘The Problem we all live with’

Protest art is also used to inform the viewer of changes in society the artist wants to see. This could be in political structures such as overthrowing government or oppression led by a dictator. Protest art has also impacted Race and Gender equality. An example of this is Norman Rockwell’s oil on canvas — ‘the problem we all live with’.

Example of Ai Wei Wei’s refugee piece

Ai WeiWei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist who has produced many important protest pieces. In this piece to the left, he’s draped 14,000 refugee life jackets on the pillars of Berlin’s concert hall Konzerthaus. This Pro-refugee public installation carries resounding poignancy. It comments on the many lives lost at sea, as thousands of refugees attempt to make the dangerous crossing into Europe. Ai hopes the bright orange installation will grab the publics attention and inform them of the current refugee crisis.

Sunflower Seeds, 2011

Ai is most admirable as he continues to voice his views through art, despite multiple arrest by the Chinese Authorities, including during the exhibiting of one of his latest installations ‘Sunflower Seeds’ at Tate Modern London. Without explanation Ai was detained for 81 days, during this period the RA elected Ai an Honorary Royal Academician, in solidarity. In 2011, Ai had 100 million sunflower seeds poured into the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Each was uniquely hand-crafted from porcelain in Jingdezhen — the Chinese town that once produced imperial porcelain for over a thousand years. It took 1,600 artisans over two years to make the seeds, which were created out of the kaolin from local mountains, hand-painted and fired at 1,300 degrees.

I think Ai owes the success of his work to the shear size of it. His installations simply cannot be ignored or over looked, Ai confronts the viewer in such a way that they’re almost forced to recognise his subject matter.

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