Some of the most powerful protest art in this world have been not merely in response to incidents but also social situations that called for massive attention and needed immediate correction. And, in this genre, perhaps one of the most important artists is Diego Rivera, a prominent Mexican artist whose murals, several of them, brought the struggles of the working class under the lens and crisply narrated their agony.
In the year 1931, Diego Rivera painted The Uprising in which a demonstrating woman with a baby at her hip and a worker resist attacks by a soldier as a riotous crowd clash in the background with soldiers who are trying to bring the demonstrators down. It is believed that the scene is set in some Latin American country and it was considered to be representative of the great unrest among the labour class of this region during the time.
In Sugarcane of 1931, once again, Diego Rivera has portrayed the struggles of the working class. The scene is built on a sugar cane plantation and dark skinned workers are shown toiling while a white skinned foreman is shown lazing away in his hammock.
The same year saw the birth of yet another powerful statement against existing social injustice in the form of Liberation of the Peon wherein a worker who was beaten and left to die is cut down from the post by soldiers. This painting protests against Peonage, a system of servitude that was widespread under Spanish colonization of Mexico.
In 1935 The Flower Carrier was born as an oil and tempera painting made on Masonite symbolizing the struggles of the laboring class in a modern world.
If that was in the 1930s, the 80s saw the birth of an anonymous group of female artists in New York who fought and continue to fight the nagging issues of sexism and racism within the world of art. They bring attention to the greater issues of gender inequality and other such in the form of posters, public appearances, billboards and books and they do all this by remaining anonymous under gorilla masks and pseudonyms. The idea of being anonymous is itself to emphasize the truth that the issues they highlight are more important that their identity.
In 2002, they came up with a billboard in LA that read The Anatomically Correct Oscar with a male torso beside the letters. This was in protest against the male dominance at the Oscars! And that’s not it; the Guerilla Girls have been part of biennales where their works have attracted immense attention, especially from women whose sentiments find resonance with their artistic creations.
Another manifestation of protest art is what is called performance art, which often questions the boundaries and conventions of visual art. Performance art is a more intense expression of ideas where there is much focus on the body which is seen as a vehicle of expression. Intriguing and often strange, performance art is born when the artist feels a vacuum in the process of artistic expression and then decides to experiment seeking other methods to answer their needs.
So more on performance art next week!