Although Andrea Bowers may be widely known within the contemporary art circuit and as a leader in multi-media visual art, for those who do not have an active interest in art or do not seek it out, her work may be entirely unheard of. This may be acceptable for artists whose work focuses primarily on the visual experience, but Bowers’ work is fundamentally motivated by her political ideology. To Bowers, Art is Activism. Art not only serves a visual purpose, but also promotes a political agenda and serves as a form of protest.
How can art serve as a form of civil disobedience? Nonviolence resistance can be successful only if the oppressed have a channel other than violence through which they can communicate their feelings of political dissatisfaction. As an outlet for political protest, art can represent political ideology and encourage others to think critically about the subject of the work.
Overall, Bowers’ work presents political issues to the viewer in a simple, yet direct manner. When looking at her work, it is impossible to ignore the underlying depiction of ideological conflict to which the art bears witness. Firstly, her most interesting works attempt to challenge and erode the barrier between the art world and larger society, meaning that her art invites people who are both interested in art and politics to engage with her work and understand its role in both arenas. Second, her art further erodes this barrier by creating a human face for ideological conflict, and humanizing political issues by almost exclusively featuring activists or victims. For those who are interested in her art purely for the artistic rather than political value, the humanization of political conflict makes it more compelling for the viewer to understand the issue. On a similar note, she continuously finds an individual within the masses, most often depicting political activists, and consequently relays the message that every individual is a critical component of ideological and political conflict. Bowers’ work openly critiques society, cultural, and political policies, and compels the viewer to consequently internalize her form of protest.
As in the role of art in the political context of the Berlin Wall, Plastic People of the Universe, and the ACT UP posters of the late 20th century, Bowers artwork blurs the stringent line between politics and art, and consequently educates an audience that would not normally be exposed to these nonviolent methods of protest. Her viewers may be both politically and artistically motivated in appreciating her work, but whatever the motive of her audience, Bowers’ compels the viewer to recognize and internalize the political content the pervades her pieces. Moreover, her exhibitions extend even further than infusing artwork with political context, as they are often accompanied by activities and events to educate an audience on issues, fund-raise for activists, and raise overall awareness to further educate the viewer. The goal is direct action to promote social change, and her artwork is a tool in achieving this change.
In the artist’s own words:
“My work focuses primarily on direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience enacted through the lives of women. I present the stories of activists to express my belief that dissent is essential to maintaining a democratic process, as well as to illustrate the importance of a political strategy that opposes violence and war. My work explores the intersections between art and archival processes, and aesthetics and political protest. Cultural production can be an integral part of political action and can help serve as a voice in counter-hegemonic practices. I investigate the role of art in documentation, in-depth storytelling and the reconsideration of historical recording. Many of my projects contextualize historical events in our contemporary situation and underscore their poignancy on our current state of affairs.” (CCF Fellowship for Visual Arts. “Artist’s Statement.”)
“Art and activism have always been intricately tied throughout history. It’s just the market of commodification that encourages us to believe they are at odds. I’m always looking for the commonalities between art and activism, as well as thinking through how each might serve the other. My work is always very opinionated in its political stance.” (The Daily Serving. “The Political Landscape: a Conversation with Andrea Bowers.” August 7, 2010)