The Role of Art in the Tradition of Non-violent Resistance

13 Feb

Where does art fit into the tradition of nonviolent resistance? Within the realm of protest, art has continuously played a prominent role in expressing the ideology behind the movement. In order for civil resistance to be successful, the oppressed must have an alternative outlet other than violence in which they can freely convey their beliefs against the oppressor. Through art, movements can communicate and spread their dissent to a broad audience of viewers in a non-contentious form. By employing the techniques of multi-media visual art, dance, film, theater, crafts, and writing, artists can comprehensively communicate their opinions and openly challenge the adversary in a meaningful, yet nonviolent manner.

“The history of civil resistance is also art history.” Through freedom of expression, people are empowered to speak the truth within their art, and to challenge a regime or policy, one must speak the truth. Art serves as the outlet in which this truth can be expressed, and allows artists to “shift the balance of power” away from the oppressor by challenging them in the public sphere. Art empowers the artist to bear witness to political issues, and simultaneously exposes the artists’ beliefs to the masses.

Civil resistance, like theater, needs a stage and actors. Whatever form of art utilized serves as the stage, and the artist serves as the actor publishing the script. The audience are the masses that will be compelled to think critically and internalize the message. Whether through theater, posters and logos, graffiti, video, painting, drawing, photography, etc, art becomes activism when it is pervaded by political ideology.


1. Roberts, Adam, and Timothy Ash. Civil resistance and power politics: the experience of non-violent action from Gandhi to the present. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

2. T.V. Reed,  The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2005.

3. Nonviolent Conflict. The Art of Protest: Creative Cultural Resistance. Academic Webinar 2011. 


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