Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa worked in America in the mid/late 20th century. She concentrated on abstraction and created formal arrangements of three dimensional masses (making her an unlikely candidate for this series of posts about art and politics). However she was interned (along with her family and a multitude of other Japanese Americans) at the beginning of World War Two. The experience of living and working in these internment camps formed her view of art and her long career continued to reflect the complexities of her time in history. You can read much more about her story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/arts/design/ruth-asawa-an-artist-who-wove-wire-dies-at-87.html

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The sad story of America forsaking it’s proclaimed values and unjustly interning an entire population of people due to fear and prejudice is something we should all remember in our current age. Many of the families who endured imprisonment in this era were forced to sell their property to their unscrupulous white neighbors for pennies on the dollar – and had to completely rebuild their lives after they were released. Many artists and designers like Asawa refined their artistic practice in the camps and proceeded to thrive in post war America — in spite of the injustice that was done to them. All of us should commit ourselves to making sure this never happens again, no matter how frightened our leaders try to make us, or how much we have to sacrifice to stop it.

Untitled. 1962. Copper and brass wire.
Source: https://www.artsy.net/artist/ruth-asawa
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Diego Rivera

Here is a quick introduction to the work of the famous Mexican Muralist, Diego Rivera. He created politically charged images like this one in response the the Great Depression and the political revolutions that occurred all over the globe in the early 20th Century. He attempted to use his artwork bring about positive change for common working people, and all his paintings aim to condemn oppression/promote justice. Like many of the socially engaged artists of his time he was a committed Marxist, and he was swept up in the flow of history as Fascism, Communism, Socialism, and Capitalism all vied for dominance. He has a fascinating life story, well worth further study.

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The Uprising. 1931. Fresco Mural.
Source:https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/rivera/content/mural/uprising/detail.php
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz was a German artist who worked in the early 20th century, primarily between WWI and WWII. Her work always approaches the political and revolutionary issues of the time from a compassionate and Humanistic point of view. She saw the consequences of extremism first-hand – her husband was a doctor to the poorest of the poor, and several of their children perished in the wars that Germany ran headlong into fighting. She was eventually banned by the Nazis as  “Degenerate” artist and passed away shortly after WWII ended. Her prints stand as a witness to the irrationality of war and violence, but in this image we see an expression of the pent up rage that injustice can unleash.

The print is one part of a series that tells the story of a failed revolution by the poor against the rich and powerful. Like many of the artists I will highlight in this series of posts, she worked tirelessly to convince her society to change and turn away from it’s destructive and hateful actions. In the “Peasants War” series she highlights the plight of the oppressed, the violence that inevitably results when there is no hope for justice, and the tragic consequences for all involved. You will have to look up the entire body of work to see how it ends.

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Outbreak. (Sheet 5 of the cycle “Peasants’ War”). 1902/03.  Line etching, drypoint, aquatint and soft ground.
Source: http://www.kollwitz.de/en/Zyklen_Bauer5.aspx
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Kara Walker

Kara Walker is a contemporary American artist who has been creating challenging/difficult pieces that deal with the racist history of our country since the mid-90’s. Her work is a good reminder that the consequences of the shared history many of us would rather ignore is always present. Repressed… or out in the open… it will continue to ripple into our current time.

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Kara Walker. A Subtlety. 2014 . A project of Creative Time
Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, NY, May 10–July 6, 2014
Photo: Jason Wyche. Source: https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/event/2014-kara-walker-lecture
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn was a Jewish refugee who immigrated to America with is family as a child to escape persecution and find a safe and secure life. He was a politically active “Humanist” in the best sense of the word. I could have selected any number of his images for this post, but I chose this piece in light of the tragic anti-immagration actions our government has implemented in early 2017. Shahn’s work speaks to religious discrimination and the terrible tendency we have to compromise the principles we claim to hold most dear when it suits our interest. As a person of faith I am required to speak out against this tendency – something that must be opposed by faithful people everywhere.

I also picked this work because it was published and promoted without profit by a huge American corporation. The Container Corporation of America believed that flourishing businesses had an obligation to pursue something bigger than profit so they commissioned this series in an attempt to promote the best values of humanity (more info can be found here: http://www.codex99.com/design/great-ideas.html). If we are going to survive our current era with as little tragedy  as possible we will need the humans who are in charge of our businesses to step up and resist alongside the activists and artists.

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Ben Shahn. You Have Not Converted a Man Because You Have Silenced Him. 1968. Poster; photolithograph printed in brown and black. 114.3 x 76.2 cm (45 x 30 in.) Source: http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/193091
This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis – Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence was a twentieth century American artist who documented and celebrated his African-American community – grappling with themes of justice, social change, and and class. He explored history (the great migration), idyllic scenes from his Harlem neighborhood, and this image from a series about the great abolitionist/activist Harriet Tubman.

Sometimes political art is strident and didactic – other times it provides positive counter-representations of communities that have been marginalized/stereotyped by the oppressive majority culture. Jacob Lawrence found a way to do both things throughout his career.

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Jacob Lawrence. The Life of Harriet Tubman. 1940. Panel no. 9: “Harriet Tubman dreamt of freedom (‘Arise! Flee for your life!’), and in the visions of the night she saw the horsemen coming. Beckoning hands were ever motioning her to come, and she seemed to see a line dividing the land of slavery from the land of freedom.” Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 × 17 7/8” (30.5 × 45 cm). Hampton University Museum, Virginia. © 2015 Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Art Resource, N.Y.
Source:https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2015/onewayticket/jacob-lawrence/13

This post is part of a project intended highlight an example of how art has dealt with political/social criticism once a week — from the 2017 Inauguration forward.

 

Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis

Like most everyone else out there I have been trying to figure out how to respond to the madness of our current political situation. If you have followed my work at all you know that I have made plenty of art that makes fun of how our culture “does politics,” and that I have attempted to use satirical art to challenge the insane rhetoric that is flung around in our contemporary monkey cage. Much to my chagrin, work that was intended as outlandish satire has turned out to be less shocking than reality. Everyday a new story or rumor emerges that would have sounded like an exaggerated late night comedy skit a few years ago. It’s tough to know how to satirize a “post-truth” culture that satirizes itself.

This has pushed me to think hard about what I am doing as an artist – what impact do I hope to have on the world through my art? Most of my favorite artistic influences were attempting to criticize and change the corrupt/unjust systems they found themselves in, but sometimes all they accomplished was bearing witness to the terrible tragedies of human history. What should an artist do in a time of crisis? What can art actually accomplish?

So I thought I would give myself a challenge for the next year. I intend to post an example of political/social criticism once a week from the 2017 Inauguration forward. In the end I hope to have 50 or so examples of artists who dealt with the madness of their times – and a nice record of political art that might be useful to others. The scholarship will be sloppy – the attitude flippant – but hopefully it will be cathartic for me and it might provide viewers with some comic relief from the circus of our current politics (and perhaps some solace in knowing that there is nothing new under the sun).

I though I would start with one of my favorites. An anonymous artist made this great print of the Pope and the Emperor wrestling for power in their underwear. Art attempting to bring low the high/powerful/proud/pompous.

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Annon German – 15th Century. Allegory of the Meeting of Pope Paul II and Emperor Frederick IIIc. 1470woodcut, hand-colored in green, red lake, yellow, tan, and orange

Source: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.11637.html