Plastic People of the Universe

3 Mar

Overview

The Communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring of 1968 and the consequent Soviet occupation gave rise to an anti-politics movement established by cultural leaders who felt artistically oppressed by the government. The non-conformist rock band The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) was not created with the intention of challenging the political system, but soon drew a large audience united on the desire for freedom of expression and human rights. The band represented creativity and freedom of thought and asserted that their motives were artistic rather than activist, but their trial on the grounds of “disturbing the peace” instead suggested the political significance in the ensuing movement against an oppressive regime. Thus, in the post-Prauge Spring Soviet Communist nation, the underground music culture represented the group of dissenters articulating opposition to the political tyranny.  Eventually, the band became the leading catalyst for the drafting of a political decree Charter 77, which challenged the human rights and legal violations from the Communist government.

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ACTing Up against AIDS

27 Feb

“ACT UP, as much as any movement yet invented, has made self-conscious cultural struggle part of its core work. Those of us who now see culture everywhere, even in movements from earlier centuries, owe a great debt to groups like ACT UP, which have brilliantly highlighted the impossibility of fully separating cultural from political dimensions of movement activity.”

– 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.

Overview

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT Up established one of the most dynamic and successful social movements with the motive of instigating political change. ACT UP was established in 1987 by individuals “outraged by the government’s mishandling of the AIDS crisis” (Act Up NY). Through a commitment to direct but non-violent action, demonstrations, and creative exposure through the use of visual and performing arts, the movement challenged traditional media packaging of protest and trivialization of movements.

The "Silence=Death" logo  was created in 1987 by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

The “Silence=Death” logo was created in 1987 by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

As outlined in the above quote, the movement addressed political issues through cultural movements, and consequently broke the barrier between the two spheres for the future of art. As a result, the mass publication and broadcasting of aesthetically rich and moving images in addition to witty cultural slogans successfully reached and educated a mass audience that may have previously been numb or ignorant to the political context of the health crisis. Ultimately, ACT UP revolutionized the use of images, art, and slogans to bridge the barrier between the social and political realms and therefore demonstrated the drastic effectiveness of educating and appealing to a mass audience rather than specifically those most interested in the political.

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Artpulse Magazine: Art and Activism

27 Feb

Never Forgotten: The Art and Activism of Andrea Bowers 

Artpulse magazine, a leading art publication that specializes in contemporary art, is published quarter and often features extensive reviews of current exhibitions and artwork. Following Bowers’ large-scale exhibition “The Political Landscape” that portrays a variety of works of art covering images of women taken from immigrant rights marches, feminist rallies, gay rights protests and environmentalist actions. This article offers a comprehensive critique and review of the exhibit and further explains the motives and underlying significance of the political content inherent within this exhibit.

“East of Borneo”: Interview with Andrea Bowers on Civil Disobedience

25 Feb

Interview with Andrea Bowers on Civil Disobedience

In this interview with Andrea Bowers, online magazine of contemporary Art “East of Borneo” talks with the artist about the political activism of her work. The article not only highlights the motivation and political tone of her work, but also explains her thoughts on her exhibition “The Political Landscape.”

The Berlin Wall

13 Feb

Overview

In August 1961, the first pieces of barbed wire were added to the Berlin Wall, which served as a physical barrier between Soviet controlled East Berlin and West Berlin of the Allies until 1989. Trapped on the eastern side, one would see a barren wall without human interaction due to the fact that individuals in East Berlin faced imprisonment if they were caught even attempting to mark the wall (Tzortiz) . berlinwall_0Conversely, the western side was covered inch by inch with colors, images, words, and overall life and zest. The two sides of the walls could not have more starkly contrasted each other. To graffiti artists of West Berlin, the wall was their Mecca—the ultimate, unobstructed canvas in which they could freely express themselves to an audience of the entire public. Moreover, there was no better medium to express political ideology that the physical representation of grimness, oppression, and a harsh geopolitical reality. Graffiti may have associations with criminal activity and vandalism, but the political context of the Berlin Wall’s art suggests the possibility of political activism through graffiti (Schmemann).

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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.

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